Kalle Kormi - Controller - Western Europe at KFC

Finance & Accountancy
15 March, 2023

Kalle Kormi is the Controller – Western Europe at KFC in Lausanne, Switzerland. He previously spent over eight years at Alcon and more than six years with O-I.

How do you build a high performing Finance team from scratch?

It all starts with recruitment and recruiting the relevant people with the right competency. I want to recruit talent and, of course, a variety of talent. I also like to recruit a diverse team, so people who are at the beginning of their career, people who have ten years’ experience, more senior people - having the right mix of talent is very important.

First, I really focus on how to create the environment for a team to be successful and high performing. It starts with creating a safe space - a psychological safety that everybody in the team feels safe. You can take risks without being afraid of the consequences. If you succeed, or even if you feel insecure or even embarrassed, it’s a safe place for everybody; you can say silly things and you ask silly questions and are not afraid of the reaction or the consequences. It’s very important for me that I create a safe place for my team, because I think when you feel safe that’s when you can try to drive the performance.

The second point I normally focus on is dependability in the team. What that means is trusting my team, colleagues and teammates that they all deliver what they promise. For example, if I say, “I haven’t done that report, but I will get that report done tomorrow,” My team should trust that I deliver tomorrow. Also, finding out if every team member can trust all their team. What is very critical for me is dependability.

Next, the structural clarity. Knowing if everybody understands what the goals are, why we do what we do as a team. Also, the clarity of roles and responsibilites and the understanding of each other’s roles, along with if they need further clarification.

Team vision and where we want to be as a team, now, in the next three months, next year. Ultimately, if I look at what makes a high performing team, I need to know how to keep the team motivated. Knowing why this work is personally important to me. I mean, we all work to get paid, but going beyond that and what makes the work meaningful to me. Believing in the work I do, knowing if I am making a difference, what my role is and the bigger picture, why my work matters and what’s important.

What we do is very important for the crew, because ultimately it all goes to our external reporting, which is then shared with the investors in Wall Street. The work that matters and the bigger picture – those are the key factors.

Also, building a safe space, to give the team clarity, what’s the team vision, why we do it, can we count on each other, why the job is important, why does it matter to me - and it starts with recruiting the right people.

How do your outdoor activities help you decompress in your personal time?

I run three times a week and then I do hikes or skiing in winter. If I have a sport that gives me the chance to really focus on the activity itself, for example, if I’m skiing and I really need to focus and concentrate, or I am climbing the mountains, I forget everything related to work. I will just focus on the activity at hand.

It is very important for me that when I do activity outside of work, like a ski day, it really gives me a chance to forget work and give me the good, clear boundary between work and life.

How is KFC reducing bias in the hiring process?

First, I think it is very important for all of us - managers, people hiring - that we actively do training on understanding our bias. We all have both conscious and unconscious bias. There’s lots of online courses I’ve taken on LinkedIn, for example, which we give access to all our employees on how to train, understand, and recognise both your conscious and unconscious bias.

The first interview we do is usually with a camera off, so we don’t have influence based on the person’s looks.

Also, what is very nice is we normally have a number of stakeholders involved, so for any recruitment process, we have three or four people working on the role, and at least three people interviewing. We can then compare notes, so it’s not only my own bias, we always have a consensus.

I personally believe that everybody seems to be much more interesting when I meet them, compared to what the CV could maybe indicate. It’s also nice that, when I have interviewed people, there are usually silent competencies that I might only discover when I talk to people, which they might not highlight in their CVs.

For example, there might be CVs that I will just look at to see if they have relevant work experience or what their level of education is, and I could miss a lot of high potential people. Other times, when I do the interview, I discover they might have a silent competency based on their hobbies, or even just the way they interact and explain things, that they didn’t think were originally relevant for the role.

Of course, it’s a time constraint - I can’t interview every single person who sends a CV. I need to do some pre-selection, but sometimes I’m okay if the person doesn’t meet all the criteria. Nowadays, if I look at the requirements for the job, hardly ever will I meet a person who will meet every single requirement we put on the job ad [advertisement]; so, if a person meets 70% of the requirements, then at least we can give those people a chance to be interviewed.

I really believe that we make a wish-list when we make these job ads and all the different criteria, and those people hardly ever exist in real life - they’re unicorns. I have recruited people who didn’t have the relevant education, but they actually were super good in Accounting, which they learnt while doing the job. I have taken some risks before and they did pay off.

How does KFC work to retain high potential employees?

Actually, I’m very impressed with KFC and how much we do for employees. All employees - not just the higher roles - have an IDP, which is an Individual Development Plan. We define a plan with the employee, where they want to go in their career, what’s the next role, what’s the role in the next five years, and what are the gaps for the employee to go to that role.

We look at whether they have the skills, experience, and then we can look at giving them stretch assignments and other functions. We start with every employee and we identify what their plans are. As a leader, I really believe that if I can help the employee unlock their full potential and elevate themselves, I am fulfilling my role.

I might only retain them for two years in my team, and then they move on to the next, and I am really happy with that; that really gives me satisfaction. I do it to see how I can elevate the people. I don’t expect them to stay in the same role more than two years - that’s absolutely fine - and I really want to help them to get to the next stage in their career, and that’s why it’s good that we have this structure, which is now the IDP.

For high potential people, we normally look at how we can push them out of their comfort zone, because, if you are really good at your job and I give you something that you are not so familiar with, it will help grow them more as they drive on these sort of things.

How do you see the Swiss economy evolving in the next five years?

Five years is a very long time - I wish I had a crystal ball. Both from a macro and micro-economic standpoint, Switzerland currently is a bit shielded. Given the current trends we see, the Russian war of aggression, the high inflation pressure in most countries, coupled together with the soar in energy costs, Switzerland is being shaded to a certain extent by the strong Swiss franc; it’s protecting Switzerland to a certain extent from the high inflation pressure, as Switzerland buys the goods from the European Union.

At the same time, the strong Swiss franc is not doing any favours for the local tourism industry, as more people decide not to come to ski holidays because the Swiss franc is so strong, and they go to Austria instead. So, the strong Swiss franc is both pleasant and a curse.

Another thing which is interesting to watch out is what happens with the new bilateral agreement with the European Union - it has been in the making since I moved here. For ten years, there has been a discussion, and Switzerland is not fully compliant with all the agreements that the Swiss referendum back in 2015 made. It was made clear that we shouldn’t have a free movement of people for the recent members of the European Union, and they have been discussing the new bilateral agreement that would replace all the hundreds of different individual agreements.

I think how that will evolve will impact on the Swiss economy, because for Switzerland, the key part is the European Union and to have the access to free trade of people, service goods - capital is key and Switzerland of course can’t just cherry pick. We will see probably what the UK will have. Ultimately, the relationship with the European Union probably will be something similar to what Switzerland is trying to achieve.

The relationship with the EU, the outcome of the bilateral agreement, and if we could get the talented people from the EU without the whole visa process, along with if Swiss companies have access to their common market and share capital. It would be interesting to see what the final agreement will be, as it’s still in the making.

I believe that the service industry will continue to grow, the banking industry might lose a bit of the importance it has now - as I look at the business of Credit Suisse becoming Debit Suisse and UBS, more banking work may go to Singapore or outside. It would be interesting to see if Switzerland would stay as relevant a location for investment banking as Germany.

At the same time, I do believe Switzerland will continue to be very innovative and a competitive place, so it will attract companies also in the future to come here, set up their European headquarters here, or even global headquarters, regardless of any OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] tax ruling.

Switzerland has signed a tax rule with OECD, so we can’t compete with just lower tax rates, but I think most companies don’t come here just to benefit from a low taxation; we come here because Switzerland is very innovative and a competitive place for companies, and I think that will continue to develop more. Access to the talent pool is also very key - that is why companies tend to locate here.

What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you to get to the level you’re at?

I have been mobile from a very early age in my career before having a family – it has definitely helped me a lot that I was able to be mobile and I took a risk. The first risk was in 1997, when I decided to go to study in the UK instead of Finland. That already opened my exposure to working and studying in a different language environment, which is more international.

I spent six years in the UK, before moving back to Finland in 2003, where I managed to stay for only two years. I joined an American multi-national and then they started a big integration process buying a French company, and they asked me if I’d like to move to Paris in 2005, and I said yes.

After four months in Paris, they set up a European Headquarters in Lausanne, and I came here. I was mobile first as a one-year project worker, and then they offered me an expat contract for three years, and I was mobile.

Sometimes, it’s not only looking at the vertical move - take horizontal moves in your career just to broaden your skills, plus your experience. I have taken horizontal moves; I am not always looking to go higher or get a promotion. Sometimes, horizontal moves have really helped me in the long-term more. I think that’s my advice for young people, and also, don’t always think you need to get a promotion or move up.

Also, I took a one-year sabbatical leave in 2011, and it definitely helped to realise what I want to do and where I want to go. If ever people have a chance to take sabbatical leave before they start their families and having children, I strongly recommend.

For me, it had no real impact on my CV, either. After I came back to Switzerland after sabbatical leave, it took me three months to find a new job. I don’t think people should be worried about having a career gap on the CV. If ever you want to have a little pause and think what you want to do, a sabbatical leave is a great opportunity for that.

What’s the secret to building a strong network?

You need to be frank and curious. Have a genuine interest in other people. People can easily tell if you just do it for self-promotion. Its just like, what’s in it for me? At some point, I stopped - it’s a very fine line.

There’s a lot of networking opportunities in Switzerland. I think I’m very picky and selective, like when do I want to go, what events, and is it a self-serving purpose. For the network I build, I think it’s important for people that they know that they can trust me. I generally care for people; I really want to be generally interested in people.

Never burn any bridges and, when you leave the company, always do it in a friendly way, because you never know what will come around. It has helped me; I stayed friends with the colleagues I had, they move around Switzerland, and we share career opportunities.

Be authentic. You need to be social; you need to show interest in other people. And also, the network doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been here 17 years, so it’s come to over ten years that I have known the people, different consultants, different audit firms, different bargains I had.

If I look at the network that I have now, which is quite extensive, it didn’t come in one year - it takes some time. You can’t rush that. It’s the people you work with in different projects - the contractors, the consultancy you have used - you know if they are good, you want to work with them again.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Professionally, I was told by my peers and even my ex-boss that I am a role model, and praised for how I care for and how I stand up for my team. I don’t want to be overprotective of my team, but I do stand up for my people.

Outside of work, I’ve been told that I have a great, but very twisted, sense of humour, and I guess that’s the six years in the UK. I love sarcasm – the British sense of humour is very dear and near to me. Ultimately, the best compliment I could say is hearing my daughters saying that I’m the best dad.

Particularly, since COVID-19, how have you seen your approach to Finance evolve?

I think the hybrid, flexible work models have become relatively normal. For myself, before COVID, I used to go to the office four days a week and have one home office day. During COVID, I worked for almost two years from home with my teams here in Switzerland, but also in Denmark, Germany and Italy, and we found an acute way of working.

We did quarter close, we did year-end close, we did audits, everything remotely. Now COVID is over, so I see sometimes we do need to have physical people at work, especially when building a completely new team of people. You need to spend some time with each other before you can get us on Facetime, and onboarding new people is easier.

That being said, I’m very flexible. I believe we can deliver very strong Finance reporting, Accounting whether you work three days, two days at home - I don’t really care. People are learning to appreciate this flexibility, and also flexible working hours.

If you don’t have a customer-facing role, I don’t really care if you just work from eight to six. If you prefer to work four hours during the day, take a few hours off to be with your family, and come back online after nine o’ clock, if that’s what suits you, I’m fine.

I think this is what more and more people are expecting from employers, as well. It’s better that you have a hybrid model, so that you can work remotely if you wanted to with flexible hours. We rely much more on things like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

I used to travel a lot, as I had teams in Denmark, Germany and Italy. Now, I travel less. I try to make that travel more impactful when I go, but there’s less need to meet in person, which is also good, because sometimes it can be a hassle – for example, going to a country for a half-a-day meeting.

COVID gave us a chance to also question a lot of the habits we used to have and what really is necessary; I really like that, as we can work in a hybrid model - that’s at least the picture since COVID, and I hope this will stay.

Talented people know the deadlines. How they get there? I leave it up to them. I believe if I meet my people once or twice a week, it is enough.

Thank you to Kalle for speaking to John Bower, Director in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in Switzerland.

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