Willem Krul has been Global Accounting & Reporting Director at JDE Peet’s since 2012. JDE Peet’s is the world's leading owner of coffee and tea brands, serving around 4,200 cups per second.
Here, Willem reflects on the streamlining of recruitment processes over the course of his career, how taking a risk can pay off in the long run, and that awkward feeling of being the “new guy” in the office after leaving a company you know inside out.
What changes have you seen in the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what are the key drivers for these changes?
From the point of view of candidates, I don’t see a lot of changes. Generally speaking, people go into an organisation, stay for three to five years, and then move on.
The biggest changes have been to companies’ internal processes. In the past, it would be managers alone who’d interview five or so candidates and make their selections based on those interviews (and probably a degree of gut feel, too).
These days, HR - especially the recruitment departments within HR (if you’re a big enough company to have that luxury!) - has professionalised the whole process and made it a lot more thorough.
For every opening at JDE Peet’s, there’ll be a properly graded, group-approved and externally benchmarked job description, with pre-screening selection criteria that enable our recruitment department to identify the best candidates out of the many applicants before sending their CVs onto managers.
Then, we’ll usually do an assessment to check the person’s competencies, and sometimes the applicant will get an unscheduled call from us with a few questions just to get a feel for how prepared they are without any preparation! It’s a useful way to gauge how motivated a candidate is, how much research they’ve done on the role and the company, and ultimately how much they want to work for us.
Investing this kind of time and diligence into the recruitment process makes it far less likely that you’ll employ someone, only to have to let them go after a month or two because they’re not quite the right fit. And that’s not just better for companies; it’s better for and more respectful to candidates, as well.
What measures has JDE Peet’s put in place to retain high potential employees?
As part of our annual appraisals, we score members of our team and calibrate those scores by asking colleagues in other departments to do the same. This gives us a broader perspective on the individual and helps avoid the bias that you naturally have with your own team.
We also rank talent using the nine-box model, a tool that helps us categorise and compare employees’ performance and potential. This means that, when a new (senior) role becomes available, we’re able to identify and promote the top talent we already have.
You’ve had an enviable career within a prestigious firm. What risks have you taken to reach the level you’re at today?
I’d have to go back to my KPMG days back in the ‘90s. I wasn’t an auditor; my job was to compile financial statements for small business owners. We had an engagement with an oil company who had some interest rate swaps. They wanted monthly reports on receiving fixed interest rates and paying floating, etc. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about any of it! I just followed the process my predecessor set up and did everything I could to learn on the job.
Suddenly, a large international client, Montell, which was a newly created joint-venture of Shell and an Italian company in the chemical industry, came along and they wanted us to do their accounts.
They invited a KPMG partner to come in and discuss the set-up of the accounting. When the subject of interest rate swaps came up, he said: “Willem knows all about that!” The next thing I knew, I was in front of the customer having been used to work on accounts for small numbers, but now dealing with big numbers - billions and billions. It was mind-boggling. I had to buy a new calculator (remember, we are still in the ‘90s) to fit in all the zeros!
At the end of the day, though, numbers are numbers. And, although I was less experienced in this area, I knew just about enough, I had the backing of a colleague who believed in me, and I loved working in an international environment.
Eventually, an opening came up for a consolidation and reporting role. That was my move out of the Big 4 into Montell (now LyondellBasell Industries), where I went on to grow my career for the next 14 years. So, the risk paid off!
How did you plan your career development path?
It’s simple - I didn’t! Yes, you need to take ownership of your career path, but no one can be sure of what’s around the corner. You must weigh up new opportunities based on what’s happening in the here and now, on what you love doing, and you have to be brave.
When I made the move from LyondellBasell to Provimi after almost a decade-and-a-half, it wasn’t easy. Suddenly, even though I was 40 years old, I was the new guy. I didn’t even know how the coffee machine worked, let alone the financials! But that feeling is only temporary.
When I moved on again to JDE Peet's, the transition was much easier, because I’d already gone through that big change just three years earlier. It was a huge learning curve.
My career path has also been influenced by changes that have happened around me - changes I could never have predicted when I started in each role. For example, Montell merged into Basell, and a few years later Basell merged with Lyondell into LyondellBasell Industries, which at that time was a very centralised, American-style company. I didn’t feel at home and took the decision to leave. History repeated when Provimi was taken over by Cargill.
When I joined JDE Peet’s, revenue was 2.5 billion. Now, it’s over eight billion. So, change is constant, and how I’ve responded to that change has dictated the direction of my career.
I also love what I do, I know my skillset and I know where my dreams lie. For some people, it’s all about diversifying and then aiming for those top CFO roles. My dream is doing the very best job I can in a position that plays to my strengths in a setting I like. And I feel lucky that my role right now with JDE Peet’s allows me to do just that.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
I’d probably repeat the advice my father gave to me and my brother: It doesn’t matter what you study, as long as you study. University-level education gives you a certain mindset, and an approach to problem solving that serves you throughout your life and work, no matter what you end up doing as a career.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges facing you in your role at JDE Peet's over the coming year?
One is retention, keeping hold of the talent in our team, so we don’t have the challenges of recruiting in a very tight market.
The other big challenge from an accounting perspective is the shift we’ve had to make from the financial to the non-financial space, in the form of sustainability reporting - something that’s quite new for us. It’s a good challenge to have, though, the right thing to do for us and for society as a whole. As with any change, we’ll learn, and we’ll adapt, and we’ll become all the stronger for doing so.
Thank you to Willem for speaking to Ali Cawley, Senior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.