Executive Interviews

Experiences shared
by leading experts

Luigi Maria Fierro - Global Head of HR Strategy and Analytics at ING

  • October 06, 2021

Luigi Maria Fierro joined ING Group in 2015 and is currently Global Head of ING HR Strategy and Advanced Analytics, leading HR’s future strategic agenda with clear focus on analytics and data.

During his journey in ING, he covered several roles as Head of HR Transformation and Head of Performance Culture, leading several strategic initiatives like new HR operating model design and implementation, and Group’s new performance management culture and framework.

Prior to joining ING, Luigi Maria worked for 10 years at McKinsey and Co., serving several leading financial institutions in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks to these experiences, Luigi Maria has developed an extensive knowledge on the financial institutions sector, combining HR business and strategic perspectives, which he is also leveraging as lecturer at Bologna Business School, start-up advisor member and international conferences speaker.

What is the best and worst interview experience you’ve had?

This is a good question. For me, every experience is about the feeling that you have at the end of the interview cycle. It’s really not related to the company or to the outcome of the interview process, but it’s more related to the way you interact with people and, especially, I’m referring to how much the interviewer is looking after you as a candidate, bringing you up to speed about the process and giving you feedback on the overall interview process.

The best interview experience has been when I received a lot of information about the interview process, the stages, the people that I was meeting etc. After every meeting, I was given a mini debrief. The worst interview experience is when you, as a candidate, have to chase the company. In my view, the interview process gives you a lot of insights. The interview process is a fair representation of the company culture, but especially the culture of the people, of the team you would be working with. The role of the people is key - if they do not answer the phone, do not write back, not fully sharing with you what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling about the process, then this is where alarm bells should be going off about the culture and way of working in this particular company.

ING is one of the market-leading companies in the Netherlands, so how would you say your company works to retain high potential employees?

I think there are mainly three elements: we allow them to steer their own careers; we allow them to invest in their craftsmanship; and we allow them to find the right balance between personal and professional life.

Steering your own career means that, in ING, each of us is accountable for taking the lead in moving their careers forward and, therefore, moving ING forward by keeping our skills and expertise up to date. We create the environment in which our people are empowered to develop, taking into account their own history, purpose and ambitions, while ensuring we provide ING the capabilities that it needs to deliver its strategy.

Our philosophy is that people should invest in their own craftsmanship. We encourage people to consider: Where do I belong in ING? Which part of the company? Who are the people I would like to work with? We have a strong emphasis on self-development. Connected to that is a heavy investment on the craftsmanship side. So, if I am investing in you as a professional, I’m also asking you to invest in yourself and to understand what you need as a next learning experience. I’m asking you to proactively think what is going to be the next career path and for you to be on the driving seat of your craftsmanship connected to your career.

And the last one - and this is really being accelerated by the pandemic - we pay a lot of attention to the balance between professional and personal life. It does not mean that we are asking people to do less, but to really focus on the deliverables, on the achievements, focus on the final goal and giving people flexibility. For example, working from home, we give them opportunities and we ask them to make an investment in themselves. I think this is also something that is positioning us quite well on the Dutch market as a very good employer, as we take care of our colleagues by giving them opportunities, and we ask them to invest in their vitality and craftsmanship in return.

What changes have you seen to the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what in your opinion have been the drivers to these changes?

I believe there are mainly two elements most likely happening in the Netherlands market. There is, on one side, even more focus on non-financial characteristics that working offers. What I really mean is that a lot of especially junior colleagues or new colleagues that are joining are looking for information in terms of the non-financial benefit, the compensation, but there is a lot of attention on work-life balance, having flexibility, healthcare benefits etc. Non-financial benefits are increasingly considered as a value-add, to ensure a very good quality of life and balance between personal life and professional life, and I think ING is well-positioned in this area.

Secondly, there are many fintechs or other start-ups that have entered the market. Many of them have now become scale-ups. They can offer something very different than a large bank. Because these companies are younger, with less clearly defined organisational structures, it can be attractive for some of our employees to join such businesses after working with us for a while. It’s an interesting evolution.

Fun question, what is your personal highlight of your career so far?

It’s another great question and not an easy one. I think the key highlight has been the opportunity in the last year to explore different topics, different functions and different regions. So, if I look back to the last 15 years, I have done consulting, I have worked in financial institutions to telecommunication, I’ve been working on the Risk side, Finance side, HR, now Analytics. I’ve done jobs in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to change the set-up frequently, so I never get bored. Maybe the highlight of my career so far is that I’m still feeling like a teenager in my career; I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I consider myself quite blessed for this. I turned 40, but I feel 18 - but it’s still okay for me.

What are your tips on achieving work-life balance?

I learnt that the hard way; it is to listen to yourself and listen to your body. I think your body can tell you when you’re doing slightly too much and when you’re pushing too much. Listen to your body, and then try to really understand whether you need flexibility on how to best balance your working and professional life.

For example, on the family side, bringing the kids to school is something that is giving you happiness that makes you feel proud; if that is part of what you would like to do, do it and then just move the meeting later on, start later in the day, no one will complain. My suggestion is to listen to yourself in case you’re doing too much, and then really think through in terms of which is the part of your personal life that you would like to protect, and make it clear and be transparent to your manager and to your colleagues. By saying I will not start before 9.30 because I want to bring my kids to school, unless there is an emergency, but otherwise, I am going to start at 9.30. If you do this - especially as a manager - people will do the same and everybody will find their own balance, and everybody is going to be slightly happier and more engaged.

So, if you could go back and give your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

Study Middle Age history and become a professor. I think the career advice is: sometimes we can get lazy and follow the flow, and especially when you’re young, you think you have all the time in front of you to do all the experience that you want. Instead, sometimes when you start having the feeling that it’s time to change, go for the change. Don’t wait. Again, you cannot steer your life; life is going to overtake any of your plans, but at least you can try to do your best to change when you believe it is the right moment. 

And finally, what books, blogs or podcasts are you currently reading and listening to? What have you been enjoying and any recommendations?

I bought two books that I was reading this summer. The first one is Excellence in People Analytics. This is about a new field that I am working on, so I want to read cases that different companies are investing. And the other is about the Second World War, it’s Operation Anthropoid, it’s a very nice book, it has also been turned into a movie, it’s very nice reading and watching

When I’m on the move and I can listen to some podcasts, I listen to something that is quite relaxing, so about Italian news or something. I really try to protect my personal time without pushing some working podcast into it. So, I’m listening to something about Italy and my country.

Thank you to Luigi for speaking to Hannah Mallia, Director - Finance in the Netherlands.

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