Loud and proud in Switzerland: Interview with Laila Giwa CA

Laila Giwa CA
By Robert Outram, The CA magazine

26 January 2016

We sound out Skullcandy’s Laila Giwa CA about the buzz of working with a multinational team of 'passionate people' at the US company’s Swiss HQ.

Think of a business headquarters in Zurich and you’d probably imagine a banker in a grey suit, sitting in a dark, oak-panelled office. The European HQ of Skullcandy International is a bit different from that: the walls are adorned with street art and posters, not oil paintings, and there are brightly coloured snowboards among the desks and computer screens.

It’s an image that fits with the Skullcandy ethos. The Utah-based company makes headphones, earbuds and a variety of audio accessories, all aimed at delivering top-quality sound to your ears wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Like its products, the company’s image is bright, funky, alternative and just a bit rebellious.

Laila Giwa CA has been head of finance, EMEA and India, with Skullcandy since January 2015. She relishes the buzz around the business: “It’s a really cool place. The people here work hard and play hard; they are very passionate people.”

Laila and her team manage finance for the whole of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, altogether accounting for about 15 per cent of Skullcandy’s revenue.

Working at Skullcandy

Skullcandy is NASDAQ-listed and has a global turnover of around $300m (£207m). Its origins lie on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, where founder Rick Alden was looking for headphones he could use while snowboarding. From its origins in winter sports, Skullcandy has become a popular brand with music lovers and gamers generally.

Laila said: “In the US we are hovering between number one and number two in terms of unit sales. It’s very competitive. We have lots of styles and colours [variety and styling has always been a Skullcandy signature], but now others are doing that too.”

You have to document the documentation of the documentation and then document that you’ve done that.

She described her role in the organisation. “Making sure the numbers are right, and that we get them on time, and that we have got the right assurances; making sure that my team are fully supported, and they know what they’re doing; managing the audit, and overseeing stock control processes and procedures," said Laila.

“Inventory management, is also important, to keep the risk of ‘inventory obsolescence’ as low as possible. We need to be able to forecast the stock, and demand, correctly.”

Challenging role

Working for a US-owned company has its upside. Laila said: “My US colleagues have got a real can-do attitude and they are super-positive.” Then there are its challenges. While the time difference between Zurich and Park City, Utah (eight hours) is manageable, one challenge is the paperwork required by US regulations.

As Laila put it: “You have to document the documentation of the documentation and then document that you’ve done that.”

Laila Giwa CA

Currency fluctuations, with a strong US dollar, also present a challenge when trying to remain competitive.

Laila says of the year ahead: “We’re continuing to grow in our markets. We’re a small company and we have to strike the right balance between controlling costs and doing the right things to increase brand awareness.

“For the finance team, we will continue to improve our processes. It’s an ambitious team and we are always trying to do the things we do better.”

CA life in Switzerland

Laila trained as a CA in Manchester, with BDO (formerly PKF), before moving to London in 2011 to work as a tutor with training group BPP – “I love learning, and teaching,” she said.

When Laila’s partner was promoted to a role in Switzerland, she moved too, working as an assistant manager with Deloitte in Zurich before taking up her current post.

Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and broaden your horizons. Basically my advice is go for it!

She said: “Switzerland is a beautiful country and Zurich is a beautiful city. There are mountains, lakes, rivers; you can go hiking in the mountains in summer and snowshoeing and skiing in the winter. My US colleagues say Utah’s like Switzerland, but I tell them Switzerland’s better.”

Another plus for Switzerland, Laila added, is: “You meet people of so many nationalities. In our team alone we have people from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Italy and Martinique.”

There is also an increasingly active CA community in the country. Laila has attended several events and said: “ICAS has been great at keeping in touch while I’ve been here. If anything, I feel even closer to ICAS now than when I was in the UK.”

CAs looking to find opportunities abroad should be active networkers, Laila said, including on social networks such as LinkedIn.

She said: “Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and broaden your horizons. Basically my advice is go for it!”

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