There are usually two types of university students. There are those who try to fly through their semesters as quickly as possible and give a wide berth to anything else university-related, and then there are those…
The path to Rockaway leads through different alleys that are not entirely the same for everyone. For Dana Běhálková, who holds the position of Financial Controller in the group, the journey began nine years ago in the business district of London Bridge City. While working at a sushi restaurant over the course of four months, she watched elegant financiers rushing past the legendary glass City Hall to one of the “Big Four” firms – and it occurred to her that this was it. A few years later, she was leading the entire audit team at the Czech branch of KPMG and in October 2019 she joined Rockaway, where she is in charge of the financing of dozens of companies in the group’s portfolio. Though the phrase “If you can dream it, you can do it” may be attributed to Walt Disney, it could just as well have been written by Dana.
When she started university, however, the future student of the Faculty of Economics did not have a clear plan. “I graduated with a rather unusual combination of subjects – mathematics and basic social sciences. I enjoyed both the humanities and the exact sciences, and studying economics at the University of Economics in Prague seemed to be a logical choice where these fields intersected. But I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.
As was the case with many other Rockaway colleagues, the turning point for Dana came while she was abroad. “I didn’t go directly to Erasmus. I decided to go abroad on my own to visit a friend who had been living there for some time. I didn’t have a job arranged in advance. I went there, had my first interview and that’s how I found a job.” Dana thus found herself in London Bridge City, specifically the More London area, where she worked at the Itsu restaurant. It was there that financiers from the Big Four went for healthy Japanese lunches every day, as More London is the address of several such restaurants. Only then did Dana start to become more interested in what kind of companies this actually involved. “It was the first time I saw big business here and I really liked it. And it slowly began to occur to me that perhaps I could be in their position someday, but I never thought it would happen.”
FROM THE AIRPORT TO THE BIG FOUR
After returning to Prague from Britain, Dana had a clearer idea of what she actually enjoyed and during her studies she joined a small airline at Letňany Airport. Over the course of two years there, she became familiar with the administrative, financial and business aspects of the company, from initial contact with customers through all processes to final departure, literally. “I really enjoyed getting to know the whole operation of the company. But when I finished school, I knew that I needed to try something bigger so that I would know how things work elsewhere,” Dana says.
However, she did not envision the career of a typical graduate of the Faculty of Economics, i.e. a clerical job or a position at the Ministry of Finance. Though she enjoyed the banking world, she was also aware of a certain ossification of such institutions. Thanks to her indirect experience with the “Big Four” in London, she set her sights on KPMG, where she immediately joined the financial-institutions audit department. Dana compares the beginning of her time there to being thrown into the water: a newcomer learns gradually, starting with simple tasks and gradually addressing more complex issues. Dana was not spared a similar process, though within a few years she had worked her way up and was capable of leading the entire audit team.
“KPMG creates conditions that strongly motivate people to stay. But after four years, I felt the need for a change. It’s true that I wasn’t entirely sure – I was afraid that I would be bored somewhere else, that people wouldn’t be as go-getting and would just want peace and quiet in their positions and, mainly, no changes.” However, one conversation with a former colleague, whose path to Rockaway had also led through KPMG, was enough to convince Dana to take the leap into – until then – uncharted waters. “While working in audit, I encountered a lot of companies, but investment groups had never crossed my radar, so I didn’t have that much knowledge about their operations. But one thing was clear to me: someone who came from the same background and has a nature similar to mine is terribly satisfied at Rockaway? That’s the best reference!”
Though the interview with the company took place in a bit of commotion and was “slightly punk”, Dana was not put off by such a minor issue and joined the finance team in the position of Financial Controller two and a half years ago. “I am responsible for dozens of different companies through which Rockaway owns various investment verticals. My responsibilities include not only financial reporting and taxes, but also financing, administration connected with the purchase and sale of investments, cash-flow planning and supporting the CFO in the broadest range of analyses that he needs,” says Dana, adding: “I think Rockaway’s strategy is not to invest in companies that are already running perfectly, but in those that we feel have potential, and we provide them with know-how and support them financially. And that is another huge part of the finance team’s work – how much money goes to companies, when and how.” This requires many hours of thinking things over, structuring and paperwork, because everything has to fit together precisely.
Can such a position be creative at all? According to Dana, it certainly can, because the finance team does not have to follow orders from the parent company. “We don’t get any instructions ‘from above’. In most cases, we are the shareholder who proposes and implements solutions following internal agreements.” And she emphasises another component of working in finance that is unique and very typical of Rockaway: close and interconnected collaboration with the Legal Department, as everything has to work for all parties in terms of the business, legal and financial aspects. “I can come up with anything here, but it may not necessarily work at all from the business or legal perspective. And what I most enjoy is finding that harmony. I learn something from Legal every day. I used to have no idea what corporate lawyers do, but they really inspire me at Rockaway. Both teams are incredibly supportive of each other and push each other forward.” Dana further highlights one more very important thing: even though there is a much stronger male presence within the company, no one at Rockaway has ever even insinuated to Dana that her word or decision would carry less weight. “Yes, it is still very much a man’s world, but I have never felt that I wasn’t being taken seriously. And that is surely also due to my nature – I am resolute and I’m not afraid to speak my mind.”
Finance employees at Rockaway do not live solely for the work. As Dana acknowledges, the group is exceptional from yet another perspective, which she says she very much appreciates: the cohesion of the team and the overall atmosphere. “Everything is done to ensure that it is nice for us here and that we feel good. When I mentioned during a shared breakfast what I had a taste for next time, it was in the refrigerator for the next breakfast. That’s a seemingly small thing, but it’s by no means a certainty everywhere that someone will truly listen to you. Or one of our investment partners will come to us and ask, “Hey, what do you say we go to the mountains?” Everywhere else, there are fights over meal vouchers and other pseudo-benefits – but those things are not important at all in my opinion, because we just have it differently at Rockaway,” Dana smiles.