Executive Interviews

Our Executive Interviews feature top leaders from across the disciplines that we specialise in, sharing their career advice and experience with candidates seeking success in those sectors.

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Olivier Boujol - Vice President & Global Head Structured Trade Finance at ADM

Olivier Boujol is the Vice President & Global Head Structured Trade Finance at ADM in Switzerland. He started his career in the banking sector, before becoming International CFO at Viterra and CFO at Libero. He set up the Structured Trade Finance function for ADM, a Fortune 50 company, where he is Managing Director & Vice President - Structured Trade Finance.

How important is the trait of entrepreneurialism and a senior executive in a corporate environment?

I think it is really fundamental. Ownership and accountability does matter, at the end of the day - you have a strategy, you have a plan of action, you need to lead towards the direction that is being given by the corporation and then just scale it down to the organisation. So, I think the expectation here is that senior people lead their own individual area with an entrepreneur mindset.

An entrepreneurial mindset is at the epicentre of everything we do; from designing new solutions, designing new structures, interacting with third parties, negotiating contracts and doing transactions. I think that's an expectation, not only something that is a nice to have, but an expectation of senior executives that they act independently while in coordination with their organisation. Taking initiative, accountability, ownership is very important.

For somebody that is setting up a divisional group or function in an organisation, I would say it depends on whether you've been in the organisation for a long time or if you're new. I think it's about ensuring you know who the key stakeholders are - that is who you are serving beyond the organisation. Is that the C level? Is that the executive committee? Is that the board? Quite frequently, it's a combination of everything. Understanding all the stakeholders is always very important and getting help - you never succeed alone.

The identification of individuals that are willing to help you is important beyond the team you’re leading or have constituted, but always remember that with help comes time, energy and lost opportunities, that means your concerns are not necessarily the concerns of others, and aligning individuals and coordinating requires the ability to speak about your objectives, defining ultimate goals and purpose. The narrative is important and it has to be seductive somehow.

When you start with a blank page and a pen, you need to know how to set up the house, as I like to call it. That is processes, procedures, SOPs, your “go-to market strategy”. Also, nothing happens without a good group of people. Whether you need to go externally to hire or you inherit a team, it's about bringing people together with different strengths, backgrounds, and ensuring you have sufficient diversity. The more diverse your team is, the better. Starting with language skills - when you want to go international, having people that speak different languages is a plus. Having people with a different mindset and different expertise clearly is something that you need to have to coordinate action. This “business diversity” goes further than gender or ethnic origins.

It's a lot of effort when you set up something to make sure that people are working towards a common goal and understand the strategy and, eventually, you get together nicely. Have regular calls, regular meetings, regular catch-ups etc., and have these with a purpose. This is alignment and coordination, nothing comes automatically and remember that every individual has his own understanding and goes at his own pace, this is something you need to be aware of and respect, also to develop people, as a Chinese philosopher said, the journey is as important as the ultimate objective.

What was the best or worst interview experience you've had?

I think I have had some good ones and bad ones. In general, when you come to an interview, you need to come prepared. With social networks and all the electronic tools we have at our disposal, you should be able to obtain a fairly good overview of the company. What's the strategy? What are the key features of an organisation? Know the person you're talking to and their background, and be curious.

Sometimes in interviews I see this lack of preparation; they don't really know the company, they didn't really know you, they don't really know the business. They may not ask a lot of questions. They tend to talk about a few successes that they’ve have, but I think what is important is to show interest and establish a dialogue. It shouldn't be robotic; it should be really more of a conversation and - at least - what you're going to bring to the company. Your hard skills, your soft skills, your expertise, your ability to accomplish, and I think that's what needs to be demonstrated, in coordination with the company requirements or the company strategy.

I think that the best ones are when they come well prepared and somewhat a little bit relaxed about the interview. Where it becomes a conversation, not, “What are your hard skills?” or “What do you want to become in five years?” Those are not the questions I ask. I'm more interviewing people about typically what we just discussed, more the entrepreneurial mindset and the sense of ownership and accountability. Also, the way people work together and trying to identify whether they are a loner or whether they like to work in groups or teams. I think, these days, you need people that can interact, especially on the commercial front in the world. The questions I like to ask are around context, action and results (“CAR”), that is for the candidate to explain various situations they’ve been in and what they’ve undertaken to achieve the objectives.

The recommendation here is that we’re in a world which we need to design. If you want to compete, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can build on ideas and in coordination with people. In an interview, that’s what the best candidate should try to demonstrate. The worst interviews are the ones where they don’t relate to the role to fulfil  and they have a poor understanding of the company and the stakeholders – essentially, they come unprepared.

Without shooting for perfection, whether you like the person or the style of the individual, make sure that the skills are there. It is the same logic when you manage a team, it is nice to like people but they also have to be competent. One tip I have is to make sure the individual in an interview can give you a few examples of situations they were in, the action that had been taken and the outcome they obtained. If people can articulate a few examples, it shows they have been accomplishing a few things. I think it is important to rehearse and prepare, take a deep breath, be natural and don’t be robotic.

What changes have you seen in the employment market in Switzerland over the years and what in your opinion have been the drivers for those changes?

Honestly, it's going to be more about an interpretation, on my part. I think that the Swiss market in the last ten to 15 years has become much more diverse than it used to be, especially large centres like Geneva, Zurich and all the cities.

I think that the market is more competitive and a lot of people want to come to Switzerland, not only because it's beautiful, but because I think that Switzerland has a lot of a different and vibrant ecosystems, such as commodity trading and trade finance. It also has high-end industries (pharma, micro mechanic, biotech), and obviously very good universities that are teaming up with industries preparing the students optimally to enter the work force (EPFL, HECs and also professional schools).

I think that the market has become, in general, much more sophisticated. We're asking for many more things from the people we hire and that's what I keep saying to the youngsters. You have to think design, you can't think about execution or production. The old labour is gone and it is not about “working hard” but “working smart”, that is bringing a constant steady stream of offers that are valuable and turn ideas into opportunities.

The value added of any individual that is being brought in, especially in large companies, is about their ability to design, to think creatively, to “read” the world that is experiencing constant geopolitical change and macro changes. The ability to coordinate actions, get organized, manage timelines, etc is also critical.

With all that though, I think people should not be afraid - it is much more interesting for the new generations, more multidimensional and probably more rewarding.

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

I started my career as a traditional banker at UBS after an apprenticeship. I probably could have stayed there forever, but I was much more inclined to develop within a truly international industrial and supply chain related group. I moved at an early stage to Cargill and have been in the commodity trade environment for the past 25 years in various large companies, but also SMEs. I think that I will always remember one head-hunter telling me: “Who takes no risk, takes all risk”, and I kept that in mind when I had different roles, changed location or changed function and departments.

Eventually, I left Cargill on a promotion when I was 39. I accepted a new offer in a smaller Canadian company which was much more entrepreneurial. I think that has paid off.

Suddenly, you leave the golden cage, if you like, and you try something new and it's not easy, because you're totally outside of your comfort zone, but that's actually a good thing.

People shouldn't be afraid; if they want a career and want to be more impactful, they need to change. People need to take risks and the worst thing you can do these days is being institutionalised. Don't be institutionalised. Don't stay there because you're afraid of moving. Be up to the challenge.

I think the recommendation I would give is accumulate experiences and expertise and take risks. If you want to be valuable in a market that is a lot more demanding than it was many years ago, it is about developing a large panel skills and interpretations- and you mostly enlarge your skills set when you leave your comfort zone and enter in a “building mode” versus “stand still".

Career advice: What's the secret to building a strong network?

I feel that it's really about being out there and meet people whether in direct meetings or various conferences/seminar. It is also reaching out randomly to maintain your relationships. Don't be a loner and be interested in people, they help you read the world and shape your thinking.

There was a good book that I read a few years ago that says never eat alone - I think that’s an expression, more so – but it means, don't be on the side. Bring your colleague, reach out to a third party, be involved and participate. I think that’s how you build your network all the time and present the good things that you've accomplished.

Don't be afraid of putting yourself out there. Whether internally or when you have the chances of presenting something externally, just do it. People will get to know you.

I would say, with social networks or on LinkedIn, be active without being overly active. It's also a matter of credibility. Just make sure that you publish things that makes sense. Don't be afraid of responding to certain publications - I think that's how you get known and eventually your network will go up with time.

In the past ten to 15 years, we have seen networking brought up, also in business schools, and the thought that you never succeed alone. The bigger your network, the more chances you have to come together, bring an offer, bring a design and grow the business you’ve been assigned to and also your reputation - especially when you have a commercial function.

Who did you most admire when you were a child and why?

A few people I've admired, I'm not sure if it was since I was a child, but early on. I admire people that have very strong values, ethics and morale, demonstrate outstanding leadership skills, are truly competent, they don’t pretend or practice “games of power”, so I do admire people that are straightforward, are loyal, honest, and that don’t practice nepotism. Generally, that is usually the type of values that I admire.

I have somebody in mind that you know - one of your fellow citizens - which is Winston Churchill. I'm a huge fan of Churchill; I've been to his museum four or five times in London. That's a true hero. People that have been navigating against the current and accomplished a lot and somewhat improved the world. If I had to mention one individual, that would be him, but there are others I admire too, Bill Gates would be another one.

Thank you to Olivier 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

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Sabine Van Hooijdonk-Verboom - Executive Group People Director at Royal BAM Group

Sabine Van Hooijdonk-Verboom is the Executive Group People Director at Royal BAM Group in Bunnik, the Netherlands. She was previously the Global DE&I Lead and Executive HR Business Partner at JDE Peet’s Coffee, and has held various senior HR positions in Royal Philips and Signify.

What excites you about working for the Royal BAM Group?

The reason I joined Royal BAM Group is because it's a purpose-led organization. It's intentional and a front runner in sustainability within the industry.

For me, it is important to work for a company that brings positivity to the world and to its communities from a Planet and People perspective, that is why I work for Royal BAM Group.

What do you perceive the biggest challenge to be at Royal BAM Group and your role over the next 12 months?

We have just launched our sustainability strategy; this is a big milestone for our company and for the industry at large. We have also introduced five new values into BAM: Sustainable, Inclusive, Reliable, Ownership and Collaborative.  

We also see that the world around us is volatile, which means we need an adaptive organisation that can easily transform to the needs of the market. Stepping up in strategic workforce management will also support us, giving a longer-term view on the workforce requirements for our future.

We have over 13,000 employees working for BAM; we need to have an attractive Employee Value Proposition and get better insights into our workforce. We have untapped potential in our employees, which we want to fully leverage, so they can be the best version of themselves.

A lot of opportunities for HR to contribute and make impact, which is also captured in our new People strategy.

Would you say that, from an HR perspective, is it a very data-driven organization or is that a journey that you're on at the moment?

BAM has made good progress in becoming a more data-driven organization in HR. In 2021, we implemented SuccessFactors and Crunchr, which gives us very interesting insights into our workforce.

Data also brings more objectivity to the discussion, which is important when you have People discussions, because it's a space where bias can easily come into play.

Our next phase in our digital journey is to move more towards predictive analytics.

If we look back over the last 12 months, what are the key learnings?

The biggest lesson for me has been to keep an eye on the end game and bring focus. That is how you drive impact, focus and connect the dots (thinking end-to-end).

Another thing I’ve noticed is that, even though I might be very eager to drive a change, the organization also needs to be ready for that change. So, timing is everything!

What is one of the myths about the HR profession you'd like to debunk?

At times, the People function is still underestimated, but - in the end, in every business - it all comes down to your own employees. Are they engaged, do they feel recognized, are they able to develop themselves, do they feel they can be their true selves?

How do you see the HR function evolving and changing in the coming years?

The further digitalization of HR is inevitable, as the operational tasks are not where HR can make the biggest impact as a function. The need for predictive analytics is also growing by the day.

The war for talent will require organizations to have a strong Employee Value Proposition that they live up to. It is all about the experience that you can offer as a company.

The focus on DE&I will put pressure on organizations to remove bias from their People processes, to secure an inclusive culture that is able to leverage the potential of diversity. 

We have exciting years ahead of us...

Looking back on your career, are there any things that have happened that have been particularly surprising or maybe highlights for you?

What I didn't expect when I started working was that it’s been very important at certain points in my career to have moments to reflect, to also allow myself space to feel comfortable and not always be in the stretch zone. I have, for example, declined promotions because the timing was not right.

You need to get in touch with yourself, to know your purpose, what drives you, what your strengths and weaknesses are in order to develop as a leader. The more responsibility you have in an organization, the more it's about leadership and the example that you set for the rest of the organization. It comes with a big responsibility!

Are there any books/blogs/podcasts you’d recommend?

I have three children that keep me busy, but I do listen quite a lot to podcasts, particularly when I'm doing sports. I have a few inspiring people I often listen to:

One is Brené Brown. She always has really interesting insights, for example, around vulnerability, that I can then use as inspiration in my work, but also for my own development.

I read a book recently, titled Born to Change the Game, by Carla Clarissa van Stralen. It's all about gender balance and how women can change the game, how women, within their communities - but also at work - can challenge the status quo and can bring their feminine leadership to the table.

We can change leadership, we can change the culture of companies and bring positive contribution to the people at the workplace, but also for our families and the communities we’re engaged in - how powerful is that?

Thank you to Sabine for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our HR 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

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Christian Magnet - Vice President Finance at BD

Christian Magnet is the Vice President Finance at BD in Vaud, Switzerland. He has been with the business for almost 17 years, having previously spent more than 12 years at Chevron. Christian started his Finance career as an Auditor at PwC. 

Which is the most important quality for your role today: Personal performance or delivering through a team?

When I look at my current role, the most important quality is the team. This is because I realise that you can only be as good as your team. So, when I look at the time I’m spending on coaching and mentoring, it’s a very big part of my agenda. Every month, I have a one-on-one with my different direct reports, and we go through a structured discussion around their performance, their challenges and their development.

I have seen a lot of value in developing successors, and we have a list of talent pools within my organisation. Whenever we have someone promoted or someone moving to a different position outside of Finance, or outside of the company, we typically have good successors lined up already. That helps a lot in the overall performance delivery of the Finance function of my team, because we don’t have vacancies for a very long time.

To answer your question, it’s important to be a very strong business partner. To be a very strong business partner, I need a very strong team behind me. I noticed, over the years, as I have progressed in the organisation, that spending time on developing the team was really the key to success in a role like mine.

How important is it to select the best possible team?

In terms of selection, we have developed a pretty strong assessment tool. At BD, we focus a lot on diversity. That’s something that I have noticed, in the last few years, brings a lot of value to the team, and trying to have a good gender balance. In my team today, I have about 40-45% of female talent, and I see the benefit of having that gender balance.

Additionally, what is important for me, leading Finance for the EMEA region, is to have good representation from different nationalities. I have about 16 direct reports from about 12 different nationalities. When we have decision-making sessions or problem-solving sessions, I see a lot of value in having diversity in gender, culture, age and nationality.

One of the first things I’m looking at when I have a vacancy is: What is my diversity agenda at the moment?”, “Do I need to look for different talent or similar talent?” That’s one of the first things I consider. What I’m asking my executive search team is to come with a diverse slate; I want to see female and male talents, I want to see different nationalities, and then - from that - we select the best.

To select the best, we are using a couple of things. We have what we call “the BD way”, which is basically all about what our values and leadership commitments are, what our mindset is, and there are a few things there that help to understand if the people or the talent will fit well with the BD culture. The second element that I found even more important is, I’m basing my selection more on potential for the future, rather than for making sure the person has all the skillset to fit the role.

Already, at that stage, we are looking at the potential for the future. My boss is always saying that, if you have high potential and agility to learn new things, they can learn everything. I am looking more for the change management, the ability to adapt to new things, and the ability to work with different models. If they show that they have already managed to work in a complex operating model, had to manage change, that is a good sign for me, which suggests they could adapt to the BD Finance operating model.

What current recruitment challenges do you face?

As I said at the very beginning, we’ve managed - over the last five or ten years - to be a very robust succession pipeline, so I’m currently not faced with having vacancies for former direct reports that I cannot fill internally.

But, we have a few roles where you need a very specific skillset, for example, once you go to a Country Controller role, you need not only the language, but also the local gap skillset, which typically - as we move to this centre of excellence model - in some countries, we might face challenges with a pretty dry pipeline there.  

However, you can find good talent on the market, so it didn’t take us too long to find the right talent for the position I had in France. I’m looking at their career, what type of challenges those people had to face, etc., so I’m more looking at the potential again. And I can be industry agnostic, which makes the talent pool bigger.

Where we face challenges is more at the lower level, and this is something that we want to build for the future of Finance. The new skillset I see that would be required is around data and digitalisation. Finance is not the only one looking for those talents, so, when you think about Data Scientists, they are very rarely on the market, and it’s hard to build up from internal talent.

The next transformation of Finance is really digital, and we want to be ready for that. We are basically looking to recruit more people around data mining, Data Scientists, things like that, which Marketing is looking for, as well. That is where we face some challenges, as there are fewer people attracted to the lower level roles.

What really excites you about working for BD?

I mentioned “the BD way”, so the BD values. I really joined BD for those values in the healthcare industry. I feel energised every morning to come to the office or to work from home - because we are working a lot more from home these day - and really energised by the purpose of BD advancing the world of health.

When you think about whatever you do, even in Finance, at the end, there is a patient that you can help; it gives you a lot more energy. That’s what excites me about BD and, when I joined, that was what I was looking for.

And then I stay with BD because of the people, because of this culture that you infuse in the organisation, where you respect each other and really accept responsibilities – they’re the type of things that we are really driving. It’s really rewarding to hear the new joiners coming from outside saying through the interviews, “I felt those values”, and it’s amazing to see how true it is because, after six months, I really feel it.

That’s a very important part of BD, those values and the purpose. This is really a purpose-driven company. It’s not only on posters that you see it, it’s really something that you can feel every day when you’re working for BD.

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

When you look at the level of inflation around the world and compare it the amount of inflation in Switzerland, the Swiss inflation level is much lower. From that, you can see that this is a pretty resilient economy, so I see a lot of positive outcomes for the Swiss economy.

I think the big asset of Switzerland is the talent that you can find here. On many different aspects, from Finance to Marketing to R&D, there’re a lot of very talented people on the market, which is similar to what I said about being successful. I think, as a country, you are only successful as long as you have educated and very talented people, along with a variety of start-ups to show that you’re dynamic.

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

When I joined BD, I think I took a risk. I was working for Chevron, so oil and gas, and I was about to move to the US to take additional responsibilities, but I realised that I wanted to move into a different industry - especially healthcare.

The opportunity I had at BD was based in a different location, so I had to move my family to a different country. That was a personal risk, because when you have young kids, you have to think about whether they are going to manage the change. My wife was working and had to find a new job. I felt very good about BD, as I mentioned, about the values, about the people, but you never know if it’s going to be successful - so that’s one risk.

Once you start moving outside of your comfort zone - moving into a different industry, into a different job, different company, etc. - you develop yourself the most.

Within BD, I was humble enough, but ambitious, and I was open to accept different positions within Finance at the same level, and the same salary most of the time. That was the right thing to do, as I learned a lot. People saw me in different positions, and I felt I could go and take more responsibility in the job, which helped me a lot.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

Next week, we are organising what we call the career day within my organisation. Every year, we are trying to focus one day for talent. We do a face-to-face meeting with all my direct reports, and we talk about careers in Finance in BD, and we show them examples of leaders and how they have advanced their career. We also ask business leaders to come to say what their expectation from Finance is.

We also give them tips and tricks on how to build your career, personal branding... One of the things I’m always telling them is to be curious, as curiosity for me is a great asset when you want to progress your career. Don’t be afraid to move into an area where the business or the country is struggling, or where you have a bad situation, because if you are offered those opportunities, that means that the company feels you can fix it. If you fix it, it’s a great asset, a great impact you have, and it’s going to be great for your future.

The other thing is what I said about moves. Everybody is very ambitious and wants to go up all the time; sometimes you need to be a bit patient and take the time to move in different positions that really build up your skillset for the future. Once there is another position vacant, you will certainly be in the best position to take it if you have shown you already manage to do a lot of different things. It shows your ability to adapt to new jobs and it gives you a chance to show how much of an impact you can have.

At a certain level, I’m always telling people that - before you move - there are two things you need to work on. One is making sure you can show the impact you had, and the second one is to build a succession pipeline.

For me, it’s always a challenge when I have a leader who is a good leader and shows that they could have an impact moving to a different position and there is no successor ready yet. So, I am asking all my direct reports to build a succession pipeline, so they have a solution for their leader when they want to move.

What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened during your career?

I am not sure it’s surprising, but I was a bit sceptical around all the change management techniques and so on. We went through a major transformation at BD for Finance back in 2015-2016, where we moved from a very general kind of team decentralised. We had people in countries doing FP&A, doing Accounting altogether.

We moved to a very specialised organisation, where you have expertise in FP&A, Accounting, etc., and we also centralised most of this in the centre of excellence and in shared services. 

It was a major change that was necessary, because of the size of BD; it’s much more of an efficient model. We all agreed that it was the right thing to do, but we went through a methodology to manage change, which worked very well.

We managed those changes without major disruption for the business. So, I feel sometimes we need to trust the process and the methodologies and really build on that, but you need to be very disciplined around it.

What is the future of Finance?

The future of Finance is around digitalisation. I’m talking about the next transformation of Finance, because I felt that - in large organisations - everybody is now more or less organised around centralisation. You have shared services, and centres of excellence, and staff supporting the business. For me, it’s what do we do now around digitalisation? We are working on that and we identified that it is three main elements.

One is around advanced analytics. Beyond advanced analytics, you have reporting using an advanced tool, like Power BI, and it gives a very different experience for your business partner. Instead of having static reports, you have a dynamic dashboard, meaning you have one page where you can drill down on the details, instead of having another ten different slides to understand what is going on.

Another part of advanced analytics is what we call predictive analytics - you can use that in artificial intelligence to help you in the financial forecast, for instance, with a learning machine. We are piloting that at the moment in one of our businesses and it’s pretty promising.

The third element is more around compliance and fraud prevention. We are using some of those tools. For instance, for expense notes, with the number of employees, it’s impossible to check all of them. But, if you have machines that are doing that, filtering things, they support the areas that you need to manually check. That’s also something that we want to leverage, to do checking on accounts when you close the books, etc., making sure there are no mistakes in what you report. 

Our auditors are using that to audit most of the transactions. In the past, they were doing samples and then basing their opinion on the sample. Now, basically 100% of entries are audited.

Another part is automation. We are already using robotics for some of our transactions. I think we can go much further, like using technology to help on accounts reconciliation, for instance, which is a very manual process at the moment.

That’s what I see for Finance, really trying to automate or enhance some of the manual works that we are doing today, but also providing more qualitative data to the business, so we can make better business decisions - and faster.

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

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

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Alexandra Charles - Head of Finance at Nexthink

Alexandra Charles is the Head of Finance at Nexthink in Lausanne, Switzerland. She started her Finance career in an Audit role in France, before moving to Switzerland in 2006. She spent a significant period in the beauty industry, before moving to Nexthink in 2017.

How do you find a job that makes you happy?

It may be reflective, but - with almost 20 years of experience and knowing how to get from here to there - I can think of a few things. All the jobs that I have taken in the past have brought me here, and they brought me to a place where I feel like it’s important to be in line with your values, with what makes you who you are as a person and what you really like doing, what you enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis. I’ve taken almost all my jobs because I was excited by the challenge of creating new things, developing new teams.

For me, it’s always about what makes me happy. I’ve been given the opportunity to start a new job with a blank page where I can create, I can implement in almost all my jobs. I am a very curious person, as well, so that was a big driver for me; taking a job because I’m curious to see what’s going to happen in this role, what I am going to be able to do there, what I will be able to achieve.

That is how I got here. Now, I feel more in line with my own values and who I am as a person in my role today, and in the choices I made and how I’m developing my teams. It is very much linked to my core values as a person.

What challenges do you see for women in senior Finance roles?

That’s a very tricky question, because there is no right or wrong answer, and it can be interpreted differently. I believe that self-doubt is probably our worst enemy as women. I believe that we are in a society that dictates a lot of things; today, we are in a world where women are asked to do it all, we’re asked to achieve it all in all aspects of our lives. I believe that sometimes we block ourselves, because we believe that if we try to achieve something or get to the next step in our career, we’re going to sacrifice something else in our lives.

We’re asked to be the best at everything we do, and I feel that there is some sort of pressure. This is a very personal opinion, but I believe that sometimes - especially in a men’s world like Finance – it’s harder to believe that we are able to do it and we can do it, we can get to these roles, we can access them. I think that sometimes it’s because we doubt that we can do it.

Sometimes, when I am talking to friends, I realise that they are really the ones that are creating blockages on their paths to become a more senior leader, because they have other priorities, which they believe will come next if they give priority to their work.

Sometimes, we have to care more about ourselves and think about what we want to achieve as a person and not what society dictates for us.

How can leaders create diverse teams?

The first thing is, we need to be aware of our own unconscious bias - and I believe we all have some. We need to be conscious of them and put them aside. When it comes to recruitment, I’m really looking at recruiting talents; I am never going to look at where they come from, or if it’s a man or a woman. It is about finding the right person for my team, for this role - are they going to fit into the company environment and are they going to fit within my team?  

When I joined Nexthink, we were only a team of three people. Now, Finance has a team of almost 25. I’ve recruited all these people in the last few years and, what’s funny, is that I have more women than men in my team. That’s interesting to see as a female Head of Finance - the ratio of women in my team is 70%.

I don’t know what led to that, but I guess that - because I am a woman - I was conscious about some of the biases we might have. We all think different things when we see a CV; it is important to put them aside and recruit the best person.

How do you work to retain high potential employees?

I think it always starts with the performance reviews. Like in any company, there are annual performance reviews. Then there’s a mapping that I do during this performance review to see where people fit depending on their role. Are they comfortable in their role? Does it have potential for growth? Do we believe that they can make the next career move in the next one year/two years/three years?

I always do this thinking with the other managers in my team and, based on that, we will identify a few high potential people. After we have identified these people specifically, we will think about what will make them happy and then see how we can make it happen for them.

What’s interesting is retaining talent is not only about salary, it’s not only about compensation; it’s also about what you are going to give them that will make them happy as a person, and I think that can take many forms.

For people that we want to retain, that have potential for growth, it’s important to listen to what they want and find a way to retain them. That might not necessarily be through compensation; it might be through other things like training, because that’s something that they really want to do and we allow them to take the time to do it, to pass their certifications, and grow and learn.

We do surveys internally. Once the survey has taken place, I try to catch up on the answers that are not sometimes satisfactory so I can find out more about what we can put in place as a team to make sure we value individuals’ contributions.

Do you see any difference between pre and post-pandemic in team bonding exercises and requirements, and the attitude to that?

I think it’s harder, because there are people that are still afraid to come back to the office. We currently don’t have a very strict policy, so it’s not necessarily easy to get people together. It’s no longer, “there’s a team building activity, everyone is coming,” it’s, “there’s a team activity building, do you want to join?”

I think that is what changed in the post-pandemic world – now, we need to ask the question, “are you okay to join this event, because we are going to be gathered in a room of 20, are you okay with attending?”

This is because there is still COVID, unfortunately. For people who are okay to come to those events, there is definitely a bigger appetite for these events; they really want to meet more often and I think they miss the connection that we had in the office when we were all together.

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

I’m not sure if it’s a recent change, but - when recruiting people - I see more and more senior profiles applying to the jobs, people that are maybe 50-plus -assisted protocols to be able to project some scenarios when looking at revenues. That’s interesting that we are kind of expanding and developing our competences.

Also, there is this whole thinking in the FP&A world that it is not purely about managing a P&L; there is definitely much more to it, and I think that is what the post-COVID world has brought, with more uncertainties.

Now, we are trying to think about how we project better numbers, how we make sure we still have cash to be able to cope for scenario A, B and C that might materialise. There have been lots of discussions around it, which I think are really interesting.

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

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

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Menno Van Zanden - Director of FP&A - Software Business Operations at Diebold Nixdorf

Menno Van Zanden is the Director of FP&A – Software Business Operations at Diebold Nixdorf in the Netherlands. He started his career as an Accountant at Oracle, where he spent more than 14 years of his career. He became FP&A Manager Benelux at General Electric, before moving to NetApp, and Diebold Nixdorf.

How do you see digital Finance, business intelligence (BI) and data transformation in the next ten years?

I think automation, artificial intelligence is going to make a huge change to how Finance operates and what our role within the company is, because a lot of the standard processes which we’re now outsourcing are going to be automated and using AI and robotics to get them done.

Which sounds like a threat, but I think it’s an opportunity, because it will allow us to focus on adding value to the business and doing the things we should be doing, and that is helping drive the business forward and helping drive the right business decisions.

I think as we move towards automation of all the standard activities - especially transactions - Finance is going to have to move towards a real time model. I think the traditional monthly cycle is going to be too slow at certain points. Not necessarily always, but we have seen it in the beginning of the pandemic; things changed so rapidly that a monthly cycle is too slow to react and make decisions.

As we move towards automation having a real time financial overview, companies will become a lot more flexible in reacting in changing environments. I think that’s where we need to step in to help drive those discussions and not be the number crunchers, so we move from: What has happened? Why did it happen? What is going to happen? To: How do we make it happen? That is where we add value.

Looking at that flexibility and the real time numbers, a lot of the financial planning and modelling is going to be automated. As we have all these automated numbers in the systems, the planning can become automatic to an extent, and will make it much quicker to run different scenarios and modelling. It will fundamentally change the world of Finance.

When we look at BI, the amount of data that we have now, we are probably not able to do anything manually, so we need the automation to be able to analyse it and use that data to drive the decisions.

One of the things we are working on now in my current role is how we expose the data to the leadership, because we traditionally send around reports in various forms. We need to move to a self-service model, where we have BI dashboards where people can go to anytime that they want in the real time Finance model and they can look at the data. In Finance, we would need to make sure that the way the data is presented is understandable to non-Finance people to drive decisions.

How do you feel that the workplace will have changed now we’re emerging from a global pandemic?

Obviously, it’s changed significantly. In March 2020, we were suddenly forced to work from home and, despite that being a big change, it hasn’t impacted the businesses and how we work together as much as maybe we would have thought; it turned out we have the digital technology to continue to work.

We had some hiccups, but the IT department worked very hard, and it turned out that we could work that way quite easily. We changed meetings and we used Teams and Zoom. Without anyone necessarily introducing it or saying we need to do that, people started turning on their video. That meant that, because of the pandemic, I saw people for the first time that I worked with for a couple of years already. Before that, we would have just a phone call, so I think it brought people closer together who were remote previously.

Now, as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic, we need to learn from the things that we’ve learnt, and think about how we organise our offices and our workspaces in a way that we use it for what they should be used for.

For a long time, the office was a place where you go and work because it’s quiet, and you can be efficient there. We’ve now learnt that you can be very efficient at home, because there’s less distraction. I do think that offices and workplaces are a place where you go to collaborate and be creative together.

So, how do we organise things to make it more appealing for people to come to the workplace, as that is one of the challenges we are seeing now. People are so used to working from home, we are not able to get them to come into the offices, so offices are quite empty. We need to figure out how to create the atmosphere to make people want to come back to the office. The new office environment will be more the campus style environment, where people come to collaborate and get inspiration.

What advice would you give to someone that wants to start a career in Finance?

My answer is probably not the traditional one, because I think a lot of people plan their career - I’ve never done that. The way I’ve gone through my career is by doing the things that I enjoy. The advice I would give is: look for what it is you enjoy, because - for a lot of Finance people - Finance is all the same.

I think, once you are in Finance, you realise it is actually a very broad spectrum of things. With different skillsets, there are different things that you do. I don’t have an Accounting degree, so it wasn’t the logical step to go in the Accounting direction, but I think the reason I managed to be reasonably successful in my career is because I did the things that I enjoy. If you enjoy something, it shows to people you have this energy and you can get across. You tend to be better at the things that you enjoy, and people see that, and I think it interacts.

One of the other things is, I’ve had quite a stable career from a company perspective; I didn’t change companies every two years. I understand why people do that, because it can kickstart your career, especially in the beginning, both from an experience and a financial perspective.

I think the benefit I see is, if you stay longer within a company because you know the company, you can focus your development more. If you change companies, you need to get to know other people, the environment, the processes, the systems. But, if you stay within the same company, you can say, “Okay, what is the development goal that I’ve set for myself?”, and you can focus much more on it, because you don’t have the distraction of learning all the other things.

I understand it can be maybe a bit frustrating at times if you’re stuck in the same role, but I do believe that loyalty does get rewarded within companies, and, as opportunities arise, you can make those steps up within the same company. I worked for 12 years in one company, and I did five or six different roles. They were all within different departments, and kind of a natural progression and extending my responsibilities.

The last thing that is probably a more traditional one as you come into Finance, you need to understand the basics, because, at the beginning, as you do analysis, it may feel a bit boring, but it will help you understand to do an analysis as you get there. One of the most important things at the beginning of my career are the skills to understand the business, processes and hierarchies, and how they can help you analyse things, and this allows you to use the system to better enhance your job.

How did you fall into the industry and get your current role?

Both the fact that I ended up in Finance and in the industry were a bit by chance. My father used to be in Finance, so, when I was young, I was like, whatever I do, it will not be that. I started studying Physics, because what I enjoyed in Physics in high school was understanding how things interact, how things work, and how processes work.

First year Physics at university was pretty much the same as Mathematics and that just threw me off a little bit, so I switched to Business Economics, as that was a bit more practical. I ended up in an internship at my first employer, Oracle, where I was asked to stay, and I decided to do that.

I think the reason why I stayed in the industry is because I’m quite technical; I call myself a bit of a nerd, I like gadgets, I like figuring things out from a technical side. When I interact with people from a more technical side of the company, I understand quite well what they’re talking about.

What I like about the industry is the pace is extremely fast, the developments are extremely fast, because what I don’t like is, if I go into the office tomorrow, that it’s the same day as it is today. In IT, the pace of change is so high that you know that tomorrow is going to be different.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding thing for me is I like solving puzzles, and that’s what originally drove me to the Physics side of things, as well; you have these puzzles and understanding how things fit together. I don’t think non-Finance people understand those puzzles, and how they fit together and how it helps them; that is what I enjoy the most. What I enjoy the most is those things that make a real impact. That’s on the technical business side of things.

On the people side of things, how we’ve progressed as a Finance organisation within the company I work with right now, I actually don’t have a team; we’ve outsourced a lot of our activities where we have a virtual team. What I find that I really enjoy is helping them grow, develop and learn.

I can say now, having worked for more than 25 years, I realise I have a lot of experience, and I like to share that with them, and explain to them and show them how I do certain things, and helping them understand why I do the things that I do, and that way try to get them to the next level.

I think there are going to be huge changes in the next couple of years or in the future in the financial world. I believe it will be very interesting and challenging, and I think every Finance organisation needs to embrace those changes.

Thank you to Menno for speaking to our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands, led by Hannah Mallia and David Harper.

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

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Konstantina Barousi - Senior Global Category Manager, Natural Chemicals at Givaudan

Konstantina Barousi is the Senior Global Category Manager, Natural Chemicals at Givaudan in Zurich, Switzerland. She started her Procurement & Supply Chain career at Amcor in 2014 and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).

What excites you about working for Givaudan?

The industry of flavours and fragrances overall and my portfolio, in particular, are dynamic, impactful and interesting - every day is an opportunity for a new challenge.

The part that I am enjoying the most though, working for Givaudan, is the international and diverse environment of the company. I am leading a team of three women. We are all based in different continents, we speak different native languages, and we come from different academic and work backgrounds. We collaborate closely with our dotted-line colleagues around the world. Just in our extended team of Natural Chemicals, we have more than ten different nationalities, with the majority of us being women.

Your portfolio within naturals is one that contributes to a significant amount of the company’s product revenue and seems to be quite a high innovation area. What would you say are the biggest drivers?

Innovation is a key pillar for my category's strategy, not just a buzzword. In my category, we have exposure to the business of sugar reduction, vegan and organic formulas, sweets and confectionary, beverages, as well as fragrances and cosmetics.

Our team is working cross-functionally to ensure that the scientific and health advantages, following extensive research, come with competitive pricing through partnerships under different schemes of collaboration. Our suppliers are major stakeholders in this work. The natural and pioneering production processes of some of our raw materials are drivers and triggers for innovation. They are key enablers for our sustainability achievements, and they support targets on Scope 3 initiatives, as well.

You have worked in a number of large global matrix organisations. What are the biggest challenges for a leader overseeing a remote team?

The timezone difference, particularly for global meetings, is a challenge. However, this can be overcome and can also deliver value by having quicker turnaround time in external and internal discussions around the clock.

But this requires good time management, a solid communication structure, and adaptability in ways of working. For example, organising a global cross-functional call is not as easy as inviting a colleague for a quick coffee in the office spontaneously to solve an urgent matter.

As an expat yourself, what advice would you offer to someone moving to Switzerland?

Switzerland is an impressive and very well organised country. I would advise any expat on their way here to not be afraid of logistics, as bureaucracy is minimal, and it is quick to find their way through. They should use their network of colleagues and friends, ask questions, and enjoy the ride!

How can a job seeker stand out in the current market?

I always considered flexibility a key strength – now, more than ever. Taking change as a constant, being willing to learn and staying resilient to distractive situations are all expressions of flexibility in real life.

In other words, my advice for a job seeker would be: do not wait for the perfect match, be ready to learn, find the opportunity and make it happen.

Who is the most inspiring person in business for you and why?

I admire pioneers who start a business with a clear purpose, such as Henry Ford. He introduced the assembly line, standardized processes for mass production, and, more importantly, implemented wage increases and the 40-hour week in the early 20th century.

However, the ones that I am more inspired by are the stories of people who were born non-privileged and wanted to change the world, by giving back value to the society through their enterprises. Mary Ellen Pleasant and Madam CJ Walker were the first self-made millionaires of African-American heritage in the USA, dealing with real estate and the cosmetics business, respectively. They opened the way for many visionaries after them.

What is the future of Procurement & Supply Chain?

The future will be technology-enabled and human-led. It comes with digitalisation and technological advancements: artificial intelligence, big data, internet of things (IoT); all the tools that we can use to improve efficiency and agility for Procurement’s ways of working.

We need to embrace the speed of change and ride the wave. These tools can offer opportunities for development to our brains, as well; coding, for instance, not only supports business programs to run through our laptops, but learning how to code can boost our problem-solving skills and our creativity, too.

Naturally, human skills are still important; empathy, emotional intelligence and people management skills, as in all business functions, are key for a team's success, particularly in turbulent times, such as the past few years.

In order to overcome an obstacle, when a dead-end is seen by a tool, the strategic thinking and - even more - the passion of a professional, will open the path. Ethical decision-making and leadership skills will always be at the top of the list for a Procurement professional, and cannot be replaced by a robot. After all, we are all human beings - both us and our suppliers - and we need trust for a partnership to work.

Thank you to Konstantina for speaking to Charlotte Cruise, Senior Consultant in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in Switzerland.

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

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