Marc Bejas is the Vice President Finance of Secfi, an American-Dutch fintech scale-up that helps start-up employees understand and enable them to make the most of their equity. It is the leading provider of equity planning and financing for start-up employees and is trusted by over 20,000 start-up employees for equity planning, has more than $25 billion worth of equity registered on the platform, and has provided over $500 million to start-up employees to own their options.
How did you decide on your career path?
I have been in various Finance roles for 22 years. I always count myself very lucky for having worked in a broad variety of roles, ranging from Accounting & Reporting, Financial Analysis, Business Finance to M&A, releasing the breadth of it in various roles, mostly in energy and FMCG corporates - FrieslandCampina and Shell, to be specific. Two-and-a-half years ago, I moved to the fascinating fintech space, where, as end Responsible Finance, I could combine all my skills gained, making direct bottom line impact.
On one hand, I am very lucky that I have done various content-focused roles, but also that I’ve always been able to successfully transition between various companies and industries. What they all have in common though is they attract a lot of smart people with a purpose in life wanting to deliver real value. It has always inspired me to work with people sharing the same drive and growing the company together. In moving to another company, it’s important to take your time for due diligence. That also includes really understanding the team and clicking with the management team, the board and investors before joining, to ensure a good understanding of the passion of the people and culture.
What changes have you seen to the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what do you think the drivers are for those changes?
The market overall has become much more international - I’ve always worked in international companies. If you look in the Netherlands, half of our own staff is based here, but only a minority is actually Dutch. Overall, individuals feel very able to move countries, but also to thrive within an international environment.
If you look at the short-term labour market changes, it’s very much the post-COVID world with some fundamental impacts. Not everything will be long-lasting, but definitely remote working is a possibility and is something we got used to, especially in our US branches. But we also need face-to-face interactions. Every individual needs that - I definitely do.
It will be a bit of a balance, but definitely tech has accelerated. Things that we initially thought were not possible have proven to be possible, and the labour market has very quickly adapted. In the overheated labour market, companies quickly had to adapt to the changing demands of its workforce. But the market will cool down again and will ask other adaptions. COVID has proven companies and people can adapt quickly if needed.
What are your tips on achieving work/life balance?
I think it is a challenge and it is even more a challenge for a company like ours, which is simply crossing the San Francisco to Amsterdam timespan with a nine-hour time difference, with everyone working from home during COVID. That means trying to finish your work in an eight-hour working day won’t work, because then you don’t ever have the overlap in timezone.
On one hand, it’s about flexibility and find the things that give you energy. As you can imagine, I have a lot of meetings in the evenings, released out at the end of the day when I talk to my team, my peers and the business in the US. I try to do the things that re-energise me, like going to the gym or going for a run – on, for me, a more quiet moment around lunchtime, so I can focus on other things in the evenings.
Another one is also being very clear. Everyone in our business understands that we have to be flexible, but it’s also good to be transparent about the times you cannot make it, so I can really switch off and spend time with my family. So make that hard cut really clear: ‘I’ll be there and available in a few hours, but now this is what I’m doing.’
In a scale-up environment, people work very hard. You can get emails and requests at odd hours, and things need to happen fast, but I also challenge if I don’t think it’s needed and look out a healthy work/life balance for the people I work with. It is important to lead by example, but you also have to respect individual preferences; some people simply rather get things out of the way and work on a Friday evening or Saturday to enjoy the rest of the weekend with a clear head. It is all about flexibility and being clear on your own boundaries.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for a) your business and b) your own role over the next 12 months?
The volatility in the world leads to uncertainty and changes and new balances. This means you have to assess the impact of the uncertainties, the impact on growth and think in scenarios, including for hiring, funding and products you bring to market. For the Finance role, that means you have to be able to prepare and quantify the scenarios, make it transparent to the business, come with solutions and deliver. It is very important to have an open conversation, adapt quickly to changes, and learning from both successes and failures.
We have the Finance organization ready for this. After initially setting up the Finance infrastructure needed to scale, the Finance team are value-adding business partners and provide a lot of insights to the business that help jointly build new revenue and cost efficiency initiatives that make bottom line impact.
How is Secfi reducing bias in the hiring process?
We have been hiring a lot, as you can imagine, in a fast growing scale-up. This also means, next to doing your day job, you also hire and onboard new staff, which effectively has to be part of everybody’s day job.
We really try to get a 360 view and I believe in selecting at the gate, so I would rather spend more time on hiring someone rather than rushing and finding out they are not the right fit. Once you have someone on board - it takes a lot of time and money to onboard someone - if it’s not a success, you have to say goodbye and spend time and money again to find someone new. So, for me, front onloading is very much a key term.
For interviews, we work from a competency framework based on values, and then interview people from different disciplines, getting a variety of views
We also do business case, which gives candidates an opportunity of what they will find in the company and give us an opportunity to find out how they are tackling the issues we’re facing. It really works well - we try to have a different angle at candidates and see who can be the best fit.
Then, for every candidate, we have an insights profile. We look at the insights wheel, how diverse the company is, and where can we look for more diversity. What kind of skills would we be needing for certain roles and, obviously, we also do reference checks and get more insight on individuals.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?
It starts with trying to understand others, and a lot is about observing and looking to others. Be pragmatic, sensitive, and really listen and invite diverse views. It will help simply in forming your own view, things you have not thought about. This will really help you to create bonding the drivers for other people. If you want to lead a team and an organisation, you have to understand the environment you’re working in, you have to understand the individuals, the drivers. Listen, reflect and deliberately seek that all important view.
Also, speak up, take risks, share your successes and your learnings. It is sometimes difficult to be vulnerable, but I think it is very important for setting the example, but also learning from others, because if you open up, others open up.
Overall, I would say don’t be afraid to speak up, be to the point on what you want to make clear, and don’t let yourself be rushed in making that case, making sure that value does come across. Work from your strength, your analytical capabilities, the financial insights you’ve gained, because of your access to the financial data, data analytics, etc.
Really, the bottom-line is to work from your strengths and be observant. Look at a lot of people, what they’ve done, what they are doing to be successful, what they are doing that has not made them successful. Don’t try to imitate them, do it your own way, but do try to learn from it.
Thank you to Marc for speaking to Hannah Mallia, Head of Executive Finance in the Netherlands.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.