Sébastien Scharl is the Human Resources Director at Conextivity Group (Fischer Connectors and Wearin’) in Switzerland. He started his career in Law, while being a First Lieutenant in the Swiss Armed Forces. Sébastien’s first HR role was as an interim CHRO in the company back in 2021.
What has been your career highlight to date?
I would say the fact of coming from a totally different activity; I was in Law, representing clients in courts of justice. Having the privilege to be asked to replace an HR Director position was a highlight, because it meant that, even if you do not yet have the right skills, the Group trusted me to keep running the business.
After 18 months in that position, the Group proposed the function to me, along with training. This recognition of my involvement for the Group was a highlight, to feel the trust of the Fischer family, and a real honour, when you know that trust is one of the founding values of family-run companies like ours.
I know that you were a company commander in the military at quite an early age. Do you think that experience plays a part in how you approach HR and life in general today, particularly focusing on the CHRO level?
Yes. Switzerland offers you the possibility to have that responsibility, because the country’s system is designed to empower young and motivated people.
I would raise three different elements to answer your question.
Firstly, the military structure, as a corporate company, is an organisation composed of people. Therefore, you need to understand how people behave, what their tasks and their worries are - that’s essential. Even if you are a commander, before making a decision, you really need to understand the reality of your people.
HR also plays a strategic role in understanding people, their roles and responsibilities, and what concerns them. This step back is needed to decide with a pragmatic approach – for me, that’s the first step.
The second element is to be consistent – meaning, doing what you said you’d do. This is very important, so that people can rely on your word. As a young commander or a young lead, your people need to rely on what you state, and you should commit to what you set as a goal, purpose, or action.
The third one would be exemplarity. Of course, when you do what you said you’d do, you need to follow that for others and be an example. This is of course at the heart of any management practice.
You studied Law at university and passed the bar in 2018. How have you found moving from legal counsel to HR to becoming the leader you are today?
It was an interesting transition, because one popular belief is that HR is Legal and that it's easy to switch from one to the other.
That isn’t totally wrong, because there is a legal aspect to HR. But the legal aspects are only a small part of it. Limiting HR activity to the law would be inaccurate.
Legal studies are not the usual route taken by HR professionals. Certainly, studying Law makes you understand the globality of HR compliance quicker, but definitely not the rest: recruitment, people development, compensation and benefits, succession planning, HR strategy, partnership to the business, etc.
For me, moving from Legal to HR in an industrial group was a great experience, because my Legal activity was quite local. Entering into a global business was for me a tremendous change.
Also, by going into HR in Conextivity Group, I’ve been given managerial responsibilities and the opportunity to work with a wide range of people, which I am grateful for. I also experienced that during my military career, and I wanted to repeat this happy experience in a professional environment.
Tell me about Conextivity. The technology group comprises two business activities, Fischer Connectors and Wearin’: What do they do? Who are they? And what growth have you seen over the years?
Conextivity has its roots in Fischer Connectors, a family-owned business founded in 1954. Our nearly 70-year success story began with our founder, an expert in vacuum technology, who invented the world’s first high-quality sealed and hermetic connectors.
Conextivity is the name of the holding company created in 2021 to comprise Fischer Connectors and Wearin’, a start-up created in 2019 to provide IoT (internet of things) solutions that enhance the safety and efficiency of field intervention personnel, such as firefighters, first responders, and lone workers.
So, with the third generation of the family at the helm of the group – Jonathan Brossard as CEO since 2016 and Sabrina Brossard, the granddaughter of the founder, as President of the Board of Directors since 2023 – we envision the future of connectivity with high-performance solutions at the crossroads of micromechanics, electronics, embedded software, cloud and AI.
This new dynamic is proving a success, and growth is the order of the day. Over the last seven years, we have doubled both our revenue and our workforce – today, nearly 700 professionals globally. This speaks volumes about the Human Resources challenges we face, both in terms of attracting and retaining talent with various business expertise.
We’ll come to this specific HR challenge later. You mentioned family in there – what's it like to work for a family-run organisation?
I would say trust, sustainability, and longevity would be the three words that describe working for a family business.
It also means we can personify the family to the organisation. You have access to the family, to the CEO and the Board of Directors, and you can talk very easily to the big decision-makers. That’s not common in big multi-nationals. In our organisation, everyone can reach the CEO and the President at the canteen or during coffee breaks to propose something. Entrepreneurship lies at the centre of our culture.
Can you describe the culture and the values?
Being a community of talented, motivated, and entrepreneurial-orientated people is part of our DNA. We are entrepreneurs in an entrepreneurial company that is family owned. That is key, because our people have the possibility to grow and take responsibility.
For example, this means that if you want to take on more responsibility and you have the skills, the Group develops you, bets on you, and supports you to reach success or to grow. It is essential for us to first promote our people in the company, especially those who have proven their worth over time. The average length of service, which is good in our company, is by the way a revealing indicator of this.
The culture and values here are related to what we’ve been doing for such a long time, with the quality that has made us well-known among the worldwide engineering community. As a full-service provider of connectivity solutions for demanding environments, we cover the entire value chain of connectivity, and that’s where our real values, innovation, and entrepreneurship lie – and our profound sense of responsibility, too. Everybody in our company knows what and who we work for – and is very proud about it.
Our products are both innovative and ultra reliable. That is why they are used in such a variety of rugged applications, in high-reliability organisations and ecosystems, such as hospitals and nuclear power plants, and in high-risk environments, such as military battlefields and crisis zones.
How do you attract people to work for Conextivity and what challenges do you face?
This is an interesting question, because – in the B2B (business to business) market – attracting talented people is harder than in the B2C (business to consumer) market. Firstly, we need to be very clear in making our activity perimeter known. At first sight, it’s not very appealing when you say you’re working in the connectors industry, but when you think about it, connectors are everywhere – and they are critical to make our hyperconnected world and our everyday life work.
So, if you manage to show to your targeted audience of talent how wide the variety of our customer applications and operating environments is, how fascinating the technologies we harness to design and manufacture our products are, and how essential the type of connectivity we deliver is, then you have their attention to explain what kind of purpose they will find in joining us.
We also attract and retain talent by setting an example of promoting people, developing responsibility, and showing the professional evolution of those who contribute to our business. For example, we recently nominated two motivated and talented colleagues for the positions of Finance Director and Marketing & Sales Operations Director. This promotion motivates all of our colleagues and the world outside our company, who can see how we enable our talent to move up the ladder of management responsibility.
Another way to attract talent is simply to demonstrate the dynamic growth that our Group has been experiencing for several years. One of our recruiters' key selling points is that working for us means being part of a successful entrepreneurial adventure, and that we're a family-owned business whose aim is precisely to perpetuate this success.
Who is the most inspiring person in the business world for you?
The most inspiring people doing business would be Michelin star kitchen chefs, because they are first and foremost taste entrepreneurs. They reach excellence and become the best in an activity that humanity shares. Having this capacity to achieve the same level of excellence and inspire their brigade every day is an example for me.
Even more inspiring, the vast majority of chefs have started out by washing the dishes and worked hard for many years before becoming Michelin star chefs – what an exemplary success story!
Are you a good cook in the kitchen?
I love to cook, and I hope my guests enjoy my food. To date, I haven't yet received a negative review on TripAdvisor, but I suspect my guests are being far too polite.
Thank you to Sébastien for speaking to Keely Straw, who manages our Human Resources recruitment team in Switzerland.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.