Our Facilitators – Money Maestros

Let’s face it, for many, the word “finance” sends shivers down spines.  It’s seen purely as an obstacle that has to be surpassed, a chore of sometimes unimaginable difficulty that prevents the crucial conservation efforts from completion…

But of course, if you have no money, you have no project. It can be argued that knowing how to manage your finances is a keystone skill of utmost importance for conservation project management. Knowing the ins and outs of the process might well be the key to success.

This is a belief certainly held by our finance facilitators.
Frankfurt Zoological Society’s head of finance, Florian Becker-Gitschel, began his life in finance at the age of 12. He used a few Deutsche Marks to purchase shares in Pan American World Airways, a company that would unfortunately collapse in 1991, but by this time Florian had made returns on his investment and grew a passion for international financial links. After many years in the private sector, Florian brought his skills to FZS, where he balances the books for the organisation’s global projects.

Similarly, Dennis Hilleman of KPMG Law Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft mbH, started young. Beloved childhood movies such as “My Cousin Vinny” inspired Dennis to become a lawyer. Following this passion, through his education he felt most at home in the world of financial law. Today he follows his golden rule system and knowledge of funding law to thrive amongst the talent of one of Frankfurt’s leading law firms.

So, what does a job in finance look like? It’s easy to imagine a life spent staring at spreadsheets, and throwing calculators at the wall after finding out the numbers yet again don’t add up. Is this really the case? We asked our facilitators a couple of questions to see the hidden side of life in the financial sector.

In your respective positions at FZS and KPMG, what was the greatest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?

Florian told us that “Every day brings a different challenge, there’s no day with the same tasks. I work with projects on 4 continents across 3 time regions. I must work with colleagues in Asia, Europe, Africa, America, at different times of day, it’s a 24-hour job.”

His greatest challenge is never being able to specify in one area, Florian handles all financial aspects of a project, including the different people and different systems, across different currencies. He can never concentrate on one project, but regardless, he thrives amongst the diversity, handling it all.

Dennis Hilleman was once faced a with an extremely important political mandate. He and his team had lots of pressure to deliver an answer, with just a couple of days to deliver it. “It was a very challenging and stressful time, but we overcame it by keeping a structured work pace. I always tell associates that the best advice is to stay true to your aims, and don’t forget Douglas Adams’ famous words: “DON’T PANIC”. In financial law, the biggest tasks are more easily overcome when they are well-structured.”

And your greatest triumph?

For Florian: “Personally, I’m most proud of the smaller wins. Most commonly, preventing FZS from outside hits.” Some people with a great love for conservation leave legacies for the work of FZS, after they pass. “Sadly, alternate heirs who hope to change the will of the deceased often scramble for the cash. We face big challenges to fulfil the last wishes of those passionate in conservation. When we succeed in enacting the final will of these wonderful people, that’s what makes me feel most proud in this job”.

Dennis too enjoys the smaller scale achievements “Last year had I had a client very dear to me. He had to undergo complex negotiations on a political level. With a great deal of hard work, we managed to conclude a very complex cooperation agreement. The client was extremely pleased, and we advanced his work for him. Ultimately, the work is all about making the clients happy, that’s what drives me.”

What do you most hope our students understand about the world of finances, from your fleeting time together?

Florian Becker-Gitschel – “They have to be aware of finances, they have to spend every euro wisely and correctly. It’s our responsibility to every donor to apply money in the right way. This is not easy. Communication between finance and projects is essential to ensure this. For those who want to be project managers, take care of your finance team (with schnapps ideally), and your work will run smoothly.”

Dennis Hillemann – “If you follow the Golden rules for working with public or private funds, in your future professional work, be it in conservation or any other profession related to finance, you can achieve what you need to achieve.”


Thanks very much to our fantastic facilitators for their patience and time in making such a complex topic digestible.