From Comfort Zone to Confident Zone: My Internship Experience with Fidelis NA, LLC

Intro

by: Luis A. Ramirez

I am a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I am also a Veteran of corporate America. The experiences I was provided in both the military and in the luxury automotive industry can all be traced back to opportunities I had along the way - personal and professional development. These moments in my life were at times faced with uncertainty that placed me out of my comfort zone. This is where I thrive the most. I always knew that stumbling onto an unresolved problem or the need to create new processes allowed me to explore new solutions. These occasions sparked new ideas which allowed me to collaborate with people while solving real-world problems. And guess what? Problems need to be solved with other people!

I brought this approach of solving problems by talking with internal stakeholders when I interned in the after-sales department of Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. I was “fresh” out of serving in a diplomatic capacity in the U.S. Marine Corps. I found it refreshing to have had many impactful opportunities to work out problems in multiple business capacities that where generally new to me in the automotive industry such as optimizing the after-sales experience for customers, development of business in multiple cities/states to mitigate financial loss through automotive remarketing, supporting the regional and national sales team through analytics, and rolling out national financial marketing programs. It took one person to believe in my ability to add value. Luckily the opportunity I needed was provided via an internship and it allowed me to develop professionally.

Hence, the internship at Fidelis was launched  for multiple reasons. #1 Internships provide both the candidate and the employer the opportunity to see the talent, grit, and determination plus see if the company or industry is a good fit. #2 As a start/up, we needed help. We still do! Due to the nature of our business, when I posted the internship position, I did not know if people would be interested. But many people did apply to our marketing internship designed to impact our risk mitigation business!. When Miaoxuan Zhang began her internship at Fidelis, I knew she was capable of achieving greatness by using her talent, grit, and determination. She looked at me in the eye and said, “I know nothing of marketing, but I am willing to learn. I am a math major”. I knew right then and there she would knock it out of the park because she is willing to learn. She had no pre-conceived solutions to problems and was coming with a fresh mind to the start-up world.

I felt responsible for ensuring Miaoxuan had the opportunity to get introduced to the business start-up world, network with other business owners, and empower her to master her skill sets while developing new skills. I thank her for her valuable contribution!

Luis A. Ramirez, MBA, MIR

Founder, Fidelis NA, LLC

My Internship Experience with Fidelis NA, LLC

Miaoxuan

I interned with Fidelis NA, LLC (Fidelis) between July 5th and August 20th, 2018 as a data analyst and an accounting specialist. I learned a great deal from this internship experience even though this was just a part-time, short period internship. In this case study, I will first evaluate the main tasks assigned to me during my internship, and then I will address five takeaways I learned from this experience.

I was mainly assigned three tasks. The first was to analyze Fidelis’ banking transactions and its client invoice transactions to create monthly financial statements. The second task was to learn how to utilize the Accounting Software from Intuit’s Quickbooks. The third task was to conduct market research for study abroad programs in different universities and our competition. I will discuss each task in detail, including the challenges I encountered with its solutions plus the lessons learned.

Three Main Tasks:

First Task: Analysis and Development of Financing System

I was asked to develop a balance sheet, an income statement, a profit and loss statement, and cash flow statement at the beginning of my internship. I am a math major. I only took two courses related to accounting. Even though I got an "A" for both courses, I was still a layman to accounting and financial statements before this internship. But since I like challenges, I accepted the first task.

I found and reviewed my notes on previous accounting courses before diving into the financial statements. Since Fidelis was just founded in November of 2017, it did not have a rigid system and a standardized procedure for accounting, which was both good and bad. For the good part, I had a lot of freedom to explore and try different strategies. Luis, Fidelis' founder, and I learned and improved the process together, so the sense of team became stronger. For the bad part, I was only given banking transactions from November 2017 through June 2018 and was tasked to produce four financial statements, which was like constructing a building purely out of bricks without a blueprint. I felt very stressed but not hopeless.

Under Luis’ suggestion, I decided to break the task down into manageable portions, starting with categorizing the bank transactions into expenses and revenue. After one and a half week of efforts, I finished categorizing each transaction and began developing the financial statements—the balance sheet was first. I learned something really important which I thought was my biggest challenge. The effective date of a contract is different from the date when the business receives the payment. Furthermore, the service date is also different, which impacts the accounting structure completely. For example, if a contract is serviced on Jan. 31th, but paid on Feb. 3th and written on Dec. 20th, how does a business account for this!

In the university accounting courses, I learned T-account and learned how to adjust different payments as well as revenues according to GAAP (General Accepted Accounting Principles). But my professor had simplified all cases. I never had a chance to deal with such complex, real-world problems in my previous classes. I was both anxious and excited to work on this real-world problem, partly because this would be an unknown experience for me and partly because I liked challenges.

I looked up a lot of tutoring materials online. Luis was not an expert in accounting either, but he was definitely an expert regarding encouraging and helping people. He asked several of his CPA (Certificated Public Accountants) friends on what a proper solution was. He also helped me search on Google for accredited advise and best practices on the matter. When he was on conference calls, I could still ask him questions by writing things down on a piece of paper. He would then write his responses to me. His brain was like an octopus, which was capable of performing 8 tasks at the same time.

Meanwhile, I also talked to my aunt, who was an accountant in China. She also helped me in identifying and balancing several transactions. It was excellent and encouraging that I knew I was not alone when struggling with different accounting statements. Partly because of Luis’ encouragement and partly because of my own will, I directly faced the challenge and never said: “give up.” With the help from Luis, Luis’ friends, Google and my aunt, I managed to exceed on my performance evaluation by finishing all four financial statements as a Math Major before the deadline. I felt achieved, learned a lot throughout the process, and helped Fidelis get on track with proper accounting. During this experience, I understood that nothing was as daunting as it appeared to be if you made efforts. If a math major can complete accounting tasks, nothing is impossible.

Second Task: Acquire New Skillset through Quickbooks

After learning the intricacies of accounting and developing the financial statements, I was assigned to learn an App called Quickbooks, which assists companies to manage their accounting to facilitate the development of financial statements. Quickbooks had different features when using iOS and Windows. Most online tutorials from Quickbooks are designed for Windows. However, my laptop is a Mac. I hence had trouble following online tutorials. I also could not figure out all of Quickbooks functions just by playing with the app and clicking on different features. Luis suggested I call customer service and ask them questions to help me utilize the software efficiently. Initially, I was reluctant to make phone calls. Since English is not my first language, I did not want to speak English to another person over the telephone. I prefer to talk to people face to face because I can understand people better when reading their facial expressions and body language. Especially since many companies use AI technology. Their phone conservations start with a robot asking for information first and follow by a real staff in the customer service sector. I personally do not like dealing with robots because of my accent.

Nonetheless, Luis suggested that contacting customer service was the best and quickest way for help. In the beginning, I was a little bit unhappy, to be honest. I did not want to make phone calls. But later I realized that I need to overcome my fears and change my set mind. I convinced myself that I at least needed to try before saying no. I hence dialed the 800 number of Quickbooks customer service. Unsurprisingly, the conversation started with a robot. The robot asked me to spell my phone number, my name, and my email address. I always had trouble pronouncing letters of r, m, n, and l. If I talked to a real person, I could explain those four letters in different English words.

Nonetheless, repeating and speaking slower was the only solution for me when talking to a robot. I at least repeated my email address four times. I was on the phone for almost 15 minutes to reiterate my personal information. I felt it was such a waste of time initially. Nonetheless, after I talked to a real customer service representative, she solved my problem immediately. She also showed me some other features that I was not even aware of when exploring the App myself. She also talked to Luis and helped him with some other problems. Luis was extremely considerate because he taught me what he learned after talking to the customer service representative. Therefore, I learned double, both from the phone conversation and from Luis. I am glad that I made this phone call. After this experience, I realized that business is often conducted via telephone. Now I am more confident in my phone call abilities, which means in the future I may be a greater help for other businesses. Furthermore, I overcame my fear, called the customer service, and solved the problem! Even though this challenge might be too small to even mention to most people, it to me was as great as a giant mountain at the beginning. My biggest obstacle always comes from myself, not from external forces. If I can overcome myself, I can be determined enough to overcome anything.

Third Task: Conduct Market Research

My third task was to conduct market research for study abroad programs in different universities and our competition. The biggest challenge I encountered was to search efficiently and to keep focus on my computer screen for a long time. Market research requires patience and meticulousness. I had to sit down for hours to do the same thing. Sometimes my eyes hurt and I felt too overwhelmed by numerous information to continue. How to overcome physical fatigue and pick useful information from thousands of thousands of different webpages on Google were what I learned through the experiences. One method I came up with was to listen to soft, pure music while doing research. Pure music could calm me down and has relaxing effects. In terms of how to search things effectively, I opened several browsers at the same time and compared the results after I put different keywords. By doing so, I was able to find the best way to search for information. After finding the best way, the remaining job would become much easier for me. Compared to the first two tasks, the third task demanded more physically. I learned that in the real world, searching for information was not easy but very important. Even probably I will not need to do market research in the future. I will still need to research other fields. What I learned through the market research experiences can be applied to my future jobs. Researching things effectively is a prerequisite to clearly understand a situation, while clearly understanding a situation is a prerequisite to coming up with a solution. Even the smallest task of searching on the internet can make an impact.

Five take-aways:

Learned how to ask questions

During my internship, I was provided with numerous networking opportunities. On my first day of internship, I was permitted to attend a meeting with Digital Buckeye, a Columbus-based company specializing in VR technology. That’s my first time attending such a meeting. I was very anxious and not sure what I was supposed to do. Especially when I saw both Luis and Olivia, another intern, were taking notes, I did not even bring my notebook. I remembered I took some notes on my laptop just to pretend that I am a professional. Luis was very considerate. He introduced me to the founders of Digital Buckeye and explained everything to me. He also paused while he was negotiating with Digital Buckeye and asked me if I had any questions. However, how to ask questions became the most difficult things to me. Because I was nervous, I was unable to phrase my sentences properly. Luis and another intern helped me to paraphrase. Sometimes I felt I was confused, but I was even not sure what kind of questions I could ask. Later I realized that I did not have to be nervous at all. I could ask whatever I wanted to ask. Being straightforward but polite and confident when asking questions was what I learned from this experience.

Learned how to initiate a topic with unknowns at networking events

MIaoxuan.jpg

Luis invited me to a Luncheon hosted by the Franklinton Board of Trade. The featured speaker was Kathy Crandall, Director for the Franklin County office of Homeland Security. Her presentation was titled, "Central Ohio Face of Terrorism". People from different companies were in the room and talked to each other. I felt lost and did not dare to take the initiative to talk to people. When I saw Luis, my only thought was to follow him. However, he forgot something and decided to go back to his car. I needed to wait for him inside the room. I knew nobody there. One financial advisor started to talk to me but, I did not know what kind of topic we should talk about. But fortunately, the financial advisor went to China before, which was my mother country. Since we had this common topic, I was able to talk to him. There was another time Luis invited me to a baseball game as part of a business networking event hosted by Schneider Downs Wealth Management Advisors. He networked with different people while I was sitting awkwardly without knowing how to start a conversation with others. Luis was really sociable. He later invited me to join the conversation. After listening to him and observing what he did, I found out that initiating a conversation might not be as hard as I think. “Be genuine, be straightforward, be polite, and be humorous” are tips I learned from Luis.

Learned how to write emails to introduce myself and connect with people

Luis tried all ways to help me expand my social network and introduced people from other companies to me. The first time when he introduced me to a young lady at the Chamber of Commerce by email, I was not sure how to respond via email at all. I felt awkward if I just emailed “Hi” and did not say anything else, while I was not sure what else I could say since I had never met her before. I hesitated for hours and finally decided to ask Luis. I felt I was foolish because I did not even know how to write an email. Luckily, Luis did not judge me. Instead, he was very encouraging and helpful. He wrote an email template for me. I was really appreciated. Since then, when Luis introduced me to someone else by email, I was able to email directly to the person, introduce myself, and ask for a time to meet in person. I believed that what I learned from this experience will benefit me throughout my life.

Learned how to overcome my set mind and made changes

I had a significant amount of leadership experiences. I have been a leader since childhood. In College, I am a student manager in a dining place. I am also a president of a student organization. Because I have a lot of leadership experiences, I got used to giving directions to other people. As soon as I made a decision, I hardly changed my mind. I remembered when I was making the Profit and Loss Statement Luis insisted on giving me a template that I considered as redundant from his accountant. I, therefore, deleted the template. However, Luis added the template back to my Excel Spreadsheet himself (cloud shared) so I can utilize as a guide. I told Luis I did not need it and deleted it again. He added it again to my Excel Spreadsheet. I therefore deleted it again. Later he added it again with only relevant rows. This time, he tried to reason with me and showed me the functionality of the template. Nonetheless, I still thought I did not need it. So I recreated a new sheet and did not use the template at all. After I went home on that day, I felt very regretful. Even though Luis was a very open-minded and easygoing CEO, he was still my manager. Why could not I just listen to him? He had more experiences than me definitely. Why could not I just listen to him? I looked within, and I realized that sometimes I was overconfident in myself. I cannot be a leader in all fields. I need to listen to others advice even if I made up my mind. Even as a leader, it’s better for me to be open. It will never hurt to listen to people’s advice.

Therefore, when I tried to figure out Quickbooks, and Luis asked me to call the customer service, even though I did not want to because I did not want to waste time talking to a Robot (Robot can hardly understand my English accent), and I was confident that I could figure this out myself, I still chose to listen to Luis and called the customer service. I am glad that I convinced myself to make such changes. Now besides being a determined leader, I am also an open-minded team player. I will remember the lesson I learned from this experience.

Learned how to manage my time properly

This summer, besides interning with Fidelis, I also designed websites for a professor, worked as a student manager in a dining place, worked as a volunteer to do video editing, translated articles for my religion, and studied for graduate exam-GRE. Every week, I worked 12 hours for Fidelis, worked 15 hours for my professor, worked 10 hours as a student manager, spent 10 hours on video editing, 10 hours on translation and at least one hour per day for GRE. I also needed to set aside some personal time every week. I had been extremely busy during the summer. How to manage time was a big challenge for me. I always thought I had good time management strategies because during the regular semester, I was able to take 6 difficult courses together, worked for two paid jobs and one volunteer job, run a student organization, and maintained my cumulative GPA as high as 3.979 out of 4.0. I still felt struggling during the summer, however.

Luis was as busy as, or even busier than me. Because I was busy, I sometimes emailed Luis at 11 pm as I could not find any other time. He always emailed me back very soon. Whenever I asked him questions, no matter it was 11 pm, 11:30 pm or even 12:00 am, Saturday or Sunday, he always got me back quickly. When I worked at the office, as I mentioned before, Luis was like an octopus and could do 8 tasks simultaneously. Before taking this internship, my time management strategies were merely prioritizing tasks and not procrastinate. Now I learn how to perform multiple tasks together from Luis. Because I am able to perform several tasks simultaneously, I almost finished all my tasks on time this summer. Performing multi-tasks simultaneously becomes a big takeaway for me.

Summary

I am really glad that I interned with Fidelis in July and August. I am really glad that my supervisor is Luis, who is open-minded, easygoing and encouraging. I learned a great deal from him, and also from Fidelis. Fidelis NA, LLC was newly founded but has expanded rapidly. Fidelis is surely not comparable to big companies like Facebook and Amazon. But you can learn things that you can never learn from big companies. You are able to get help directly from leadership such as the CEO directly. You are able to discuss your ideas to the CEO directly. You are also able to develop a personal relationship directly with CEO. Think as a founder and act as a founder is one requirement for Fidelis' internship, which means you are able to experiment with solutions to problems. There is not an absolute right and wrong answer in Fidelis. You have the freedom to experiment and choose your best way to solve the problem. You can see your impacts as long as you make an effort. Moreover, you are able to try different things in Fidelis, instead of specializing in one part like most big companies require. You are hence able to figure out your potentials and interests during your internship. One part I like interning with Fidelis is that I am able to meet people from all areas and talk to them with Luis’ assistance. One numeric example is that I only had 5 LinkedIn friends before this internship. After this internship, I have 31 LinkedIn friends now. What you learn from this internship will benefit you throughout your life and cannot be measured by time and money. As a previous intern, I want to let you know my deep appreciation for having an opportunity to intern with Fidelis NA, LLC.