Andreas Muller - Group Head of Human Resources at Sefar

Human Resources
05 May, 2023

Andreas Müller is the Group Head of Human Resources at Sefar in Heiden, Switzerland. He began his HR career at AIDA Cruises, before joining A-ROSA, Swiss International Air Lines, Swissport, CEWE Stifung & Co and Beyond Gravity.

What have you learnt as a leader over the last 12 months?

There are two thing that I have learnt. Firstly, I believe all industries and all businesses are people businesses. When you realise this or when you return to work, you’ll notice people are laughing, hugging each other, showing their emotions, and there’s happiness and fun taking place all around the office.

It’s really good to see that we are a people business – every business is a people business, so it’s very important to have these relationships to really drive businesses. I realised this much more during the coronavirus pandemic. I think we really need to focus on our people and create a more people-centric organisation to keep all these people happy, engaged and so on.

The second learning experience - starting with the coronavirus pandemic and continuing with the Ukrainian war - I think we have been in a crisis mode for more than three years now and, for me, as a leader, it’s really important to be helpful, be pragmatic, find solutions, and be very flexible in adjusting the targets to the changing environment, so this is what I learnt.

I don’t believe that we should ignore all of the strategies and visions, but I think we just need to be more flexible and more agile in adjusting to a changing environment, so that we can become successful. If you stick to your targets and milestones and so on, you may end up with a successful project, but the question is, is that project stable?

What’s the biggest challenge for leaders overseeing remote teams? How did you as a leader get through those challenges?

It’s based on the company pressure and on your own mindset. To give an example, when I changed my job to join a very traditional company, it was very challenging for the leaders to trust people. So, it’s all about trust, but, of course, overseeing remote teams means you have to use Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, etc., otherwise people will just disappear.

You have to be clear about the targets, what you want to achieve and what people have to achieve when clocking in the offices or clocking in remotely. In terms of target setting, there is no difference, but there is a difference in how to communicate and how clearly you define the targets. This is very important, and again requires communication and interaction.

Management actually leads by objectives, so this became more important to me. You have to follow up on topics and you have to provide feedback. If you don’t trust people remotely, then your relationship doesn’t really work out.

What I learnt is that you really have to invest much more of your time and plan time for communication, and you have to make sure as a leader everyone is onboard.

What you realise is that some people may not be present, in terms of switching off the camera and you don’t see them anymore. When this happens, you don’t know if your team member is engaged or still in the meeting.

Therefore, I think it is very important to have a mixed approach. This involves remote leadership, but also physical meetings in the office to see each other, because - for me - that’s important in terms of innovation, co-creation and developing new things together.

If you don’t see each other often, I believe productivity declines, along with people engagement. Also, what we realised during the big pandemic was that some people can’t really work on their own and may need further leadership, or they just don’t really have the work environment at home.

For example, imagine you are a single mum doing home schooling, and don’t have a specific room or space to really focus on your work. Also, this is not very often the case, but some people do not have very healthy relationships at home, so you have to really focus on those people and still support them more as a leader - this is a challenge in leading remote teams.

What risks did you take throughout your career and how did they help you to get to the level that you did?

I wouldn’t call it risks; what I really did several times in my career is I volunteered for new tasks. For instance, when it came to the Lufthansa Group transformation, I took the lead for that transformation for Swiss International Air Lines.

However, I am a pioneer, so therefore I think it is important that you be a safe starter, so I’m talking now about competencies. Competencies like curiosity, the power to stay focused, even if you fail in certain steps, along with having courage.

Being a pioneer may be risky, but if you’re successful, people start appointing you. I think it’s more being curious and being passionate about what you do. This personal confidence has helped me a lot in developing my career.

What is the secret to building a strong network?

For me, building a strong network and having a very reliable network is kind of a give and take. You have to invest a lot, sometimes you give advice, sometimes you help and support others. You’re sharing new ideas and, in return, you receive that from your network.

You also have to invest more in terms of time. Also, personal interaction is really important for me - meeting for lunch, meeting for coffee or for dinner; this really helps when building a strong network in terms of your career.

Naturally, to me, when I meet people, we share ideas. For instance, a director from a different company in Switzerland contacted me and we were sharing ideas or experiences in terms of setting up a shared service centre, debating whether or not it should be in Switzerland and its advantages.

We met two months ago, we kept in touch. This is what I mean - building a network and sharing ideas, supporting each other can bring different perspectives.

If you were to go back and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

I would offer two pieces of advice. The first one is, if you really want to make it to the top, you should start career planning in the mid-30s, at the latest. Personally, I never planned my career, but career planning is key, and you have to start with that very early.

Secondly, be patient in terms of your career, especially if you’re employed with a big company like I was employed with Lufthansa or Swissport. I applied for several positions, but I think my advice would be to keep calm and carry on, as you never know what will happen within the next following months - maybe there’s a better opportunity just around the corner.

I moved on when I found all these new challenges outside the company, but now, looking back, I think sometimes that it would have been much better to stay and wait for the next opportunity, so this would be my advice to the younger Andreas.

Who are your main stakeholders that you typically deal with internally?

I think IT is important, especially when talking about HR digitalisation, so we have a very strong relationship with the IT guys.

Finance is important in order to steer the company from a financial point of view; talking about HR KPIs, facts and figures is important in my role. Also, being ahead of the game and having the ability to really steer the people agenda into other people topics and the human capital of the company.

When it comes to programming, marketing, selling and employer development, then Communications and Marketing are my main stakeholders.

Last, but not least, ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] and Corporate Responsibility, as the sustainability topic is becoming more and more important.

Investing money, time and investing in people – this is what the ESG topic is all about, so these stakeholders are important, especially for the HR function, because a lot of the topics discussed in ESG are related to the HR function.

How will digital transformation change the role of HR?

I think digital transformation will really boost the HR function in terms of becoming really relevant. I mean, this happened to several companies already. For me, this is the underlying foundation.

I think you have to digitise HR processes, because this will massively increase the efficiency of all the transaction processes. This helps you to free up resources for tasks like employer branding, bringing change, focusing on talent and attrition, etc. 

This will bring HR to the boardroom in some companies, like the bigger ones. But small companies still have to do this, and this is my advice: Focus on reviewing the processes, define the processes in a much more efficient way, then digitise it. Then, you will free up a lot of resources, which you then can invest in these innovative tasks.

Thank you to Andreas for speaking to Keely Straw, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in Switzerland.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment