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Ashik Santimon

Commercial Manager, BT

"Whilst my friends are just starting out in their careers, I have completed my apprenticeship and have become one of the youngest commercial managers in the BT finance team as well as one of the youngest ACMA, CGMAs in the UK."

Please tell us a little about yourself
I lived in India until I was 10, when my family decided to move to the UK.

I grew up in Hillingdon and went to The Douay Martyrs School to study A Level Maths, Biology and Chemistry.

I am very competitive and enjoyed playing cricket at a high level until I was 16. 

Ashik SantimonI always had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, I was good at Maths and knew that I wanted to pursue a career that was maths or finance related.

The advice from my careers service was to do what you are good at but you also have to take in to account the economy and career prospects.  

I had initially accepted a place at the University of Surrey to study Maths and Economics.

It was actually my friend who came across the BT finance school leaver scheme (which shortly after was recognised as the higher apprenticeship scheme).

I looked in to it and found that it was as good as any graduate scheme with a great starting salary of around £18K. 

After being shortlisted, I had an interview followed by an assessment centre. I remember being woken up by a call over the summer holidays to say I had been successful, but typical teenager that I was, I just put down the phone and went straight back to sleep. 

When I received the full details of my apprenticeship, I knew it was a good opportunity and that I would be studying CIMA and so I turned down my place at Surrey.

Many of my friends went to University and are now on graduate schemes.

They are all doing well, but they all have at least £20k worth of debt and whilst they are just starting out in their careers, I have completed my apprenticeship and have become one of the youngest commercial managers in the BT finance team as well as one of the youngest ACMA CGMAs in the UK. 

How did you find your apprenticeship and studying for CIMA? What were the highs and lows?
When I joined I met James Grigor, who is now Director of Internal Audit at BT and Executive Sponsor of the Finance Apprentice Scheme at BT.

James had completed the CIMA Foundation (as it was known then) and Professional Qualification in 3½ years and being so competitive I told him, “I’m going to beat you and do it in 3.”

At university I would have had so much free time and too many distractions to be disciplined, whereas at BT I worked all week and studied all weekend.

It gives you a different mind-set, increased responsibility and focus, this with the ability to thrive in a high-pressure environment makes you more employable.  

I would say my biggest challenge has been my age (22). Within the finance community everyone rates you by your level and quality of work, whereas outside of my team I have had to work hard to prove that my age should not be associated with a lack of experience, and that I have all the experience and skills of those who are much older. 

My biggest high has to be an event at the top of the BT Tower to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, 2014. Sir John Vincent "Vince" Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2010-15) presented on the benefits of apprenticeships to the economy and the skills gap. You just wouldn’t normally get these opportunities at the age of 20. 

How has BT supported you through your CIMA studies and employment?
BT is an extremely supportive employer; and so many of their finance community, as well as senior management, are CIMA qualified so there is a great bank of knowledge to tap into for technical questions or advice.

I am also mentored by a member of the senior finance team. The scheme facilitates multiple rotations across key areas of finance such as control, commerciality and business partnering.

This in turn ensures that graduates of the finance apprenticeship scheme are well rounded finance professionals.  I have recently moved to the commercial finance team in BT Security where I will be managing bids, pricing and product launches for the Cyber Security portfolio.

Although I’ve completed CIMA, I’ve not ruled out further qualifications entirely as learning is a lifelong process and I may look to add a Master’s to my CIMA qualification sometime in the future. 

What would you say to anyone considering the higher apprenticeship in management accounting?
If you aspire to become a doctor, dentist or teacher, the university route might be the most appropriate  but if not, really explore your options and if you have the opportunity to do the higher apprenticeship, just grab it with both hands and go for it. 

What BT have to say about Ashik’s success.
“Ashik has excelled during his time in BT, outperforming his peers with a maturity and intelligence that transcends his years.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him and hope that I provided an environment where he could learn and grow as a professional. He will have a long and successful career ahead of him,” Stephen Horrex, Senior Finance Leader at BT Openreach. 

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What do employers say?

See what James Grigor, Director of Internal Audit at BT, has to say about the finance apprentice scheme at BT.

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