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.


Roberto Bollinetti - CFO at AMC International AG

What do you like about working in Switzerland?

I enjoy working and living in Switzerland. I like the work/life balance situation in Switzerland, you work hard but everybody is respectful of when working ends and private life begins, from CEO to the everyday workers. The Swiss hold great value to work/life balance.  

Professionally – in Switzerland you still have the opportunity to consider and work with mid and long term outlook. Focus, of course, is always on short term results but for the whole time I have lived in Switzerland you have the flexibility to plan long-term investment and mid-term initiative even without going under high pressure for immediate returns. The capacity to look forward is something I appreciate so much!

Organisation, clarity and stability of your position. You know what your duties are, you know your rights and they are defined and respected. I haven’t found such a similar situation in other countries. For instance, it is surprising approaching the tax cantonal authorities, to find not only a tax office, but a consistent reference partner too. From a Tax, Legal or Compliance point of view, these individuals will always give speedy response and support regardless of the query. I see this like a ‘paradise’ from a business point of view!

I sometimes miss flexibility and the opportunity to stray away from defined guidelines. Sometimes I feel a cultural resistance to think ‘out of the box’. The trial and error approach is not necessarily accepted in the Swiss community.

Can you identify how AMC stands out from the market and your competitors?

We have 2 main USP’s:

1.      The Quality of our product. We always aim to have super high quality in products. When I say products, I mean more than just manufacturing, but also the related services. We strive to make the customer happy with our product, our cooking methods and with their AMC experiences.

2.      We are a serious and trusted company, we have been in the business for over 50 years and this is because we do what we say – especially with the customer. We are a people business, we do not try and sell a product, we encourage people to join us and sell our product for us. We will keep a high integrity, even if it may not be the most profitable way for the company in the pure short term.

What challenges await AMC and how do you hope to overcome them?

Thanks for using plural but there is only one real challenge – people. We need to constantly recruit new, talented people in sales. Being good at this has directly led to our success. We do not just select at the beginning: everybody can work for AMC. We consider all kinds of people:  our motto can be summarised as ‘anytime, anywhere, anybody’ when it comes to recruiting our sales people. We  face diverse backgrounds, educationally and personally, and this requires flexibility and a strong attention to the human being. We are beginning to implement blended training in order to support individuals. Our main challenge is to find the person, train the person and make the person successful.

Are AMC planning to implement artificial intelligence/robotics to streamline processes?

Our robotics are mainly seen on our production line and not in finance. Robotics in our production were implemented more than 10 years ago and already a big part of our manufacturing is done by robots. 2 years ago we implemented a fully automised warehouse. Artificial intelligence is being brought into our training platform for our ‘blended learning’. We are in a pilot phase of digitising our sales process, with a direct link to our CRM.

We are making use of social media, particularly with our multi-lingual recipe platform where we have 600 recipes all available to the general public. This has now become a community where we act solely as a moderator. Every user can comment, download, interact, copy and upload a recipe. The goal of this is to create knowledge and commitment – we don’t sell or recruit through this platform we are just raising brand awareness. After one year with have over 30,000 active users.

How did you get to the level you are at? What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and have you had to take risks?

My experience is very varied. I started my career by studying business administration by chance. I hated the beginning - accounting and all the repetitive procedures involved. I was more interested in controlling and the opportunity to run projects and this was the main reason my career developed the way it did. I developed an internal career within AMC. My development was founded on my flexibility and curiosity with a basis of professionality, education and preparation, but mainly on an urge to discover new things. My bosses always praised me on being able to see 360 degrees of any situation. I was able to speak about finance without being a pure accounting person. A key point is to be able to predict in which direction the business is going more than a typical finance individual. And of course you have to enjoy your work!

In summary, to somebody aspiring to climb the finance ladder, I would suggest: be curious, be flexible and consistently move out of your comfort zone. To quote Steve Jobs, ‘Stay Hungry’, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and make the most of your peers and wider network.

How important was it for you to develop relationships outside of your department for career development?

Very important - your wider network keeps you updated with shared experiences. Networking will also allow you to have fun; you will get the chance to meet interesting people who you can constantly learn a lot from. You can also compare your work with what other people are doing and take fruitful learnings.

For 15 years I was an active member of the ‘Direct Selling Association’ in Italy and worked as the President of the Legal Committee. The world is moving and changing faster than ever before and networking keeps you in touch critically with the world. This works both ways – you must be as willing to give information as you are to take. I communicate with my peers and competitors regularly.

What was the worst / best interview experience you have had?

When I interview I don’t prioritise an individual’s professional capacity - though of course you must be educated, have language skills and computer skills. I look mainly for mental flexibility and personality. Technical skills and processes can be learned, but what you have inside cannot be so easily changed. I look for people who are curious, flexible and open to new experiences. I don’t like people who are just ‘looking for a job’; the worst thing a candidate can do is ask about how many vacation days and working hours there are. In my department you can quite freely organise your job (of course in line and respecting the basic guidelines). As long as your work is done, that is fine with me. I feel this promotes a free and motivating environment, as well as an assumption of clear responsibilities and accountability.

What advice would you give to future aspiring leaders, and why?

Be curious, be ambitious and think out of the box. At the end of the day, finance people need to deliver part of the profit of the company. Every day I ask myself what my contribution has been. If statutory reporting is perfect and presentations are great, then that is fine, but it is only valuable if it has contributed to the overall profit of the company. I aim to more than repay my salary. This comes from seeking new challenges and projects to get involved with. You can be seen as a ‘number’ or an ‘actor’, I would rather be an ‘actor’ and add to the storyline.

Who is your most inspirational person in business and why?

Steve Jobs. He wasn’t necessarily a great personality or someone you’d meet up with for ‘fun’. But I respected him because he always placed the customer in the centre and considered their point of view; and of course his mantra, ‘Stay Hungry’.

My second is Mario Draghi, he survived as a Italian in a German world - not always easy, facing one of the worst financial crises. He supported Europe’s survival by going against the powers. I still have his famous ‘Whatever it takes’ speech in my mind. He took unpopular decisions against the powers and was successful.

If you could choose to be a sporting idol, who would it be and why?

As a sportsman, I would love to be Roger Federer. He is a great winner and is still coming back at 36 years old, but with the spirit of someone just starting their career. He balances his professional career with his family life. Nobody expected this performance and, when you look at how he achieved this, it was through hard-work, belief and choosing to focus on what he can do best.

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Philippe Verclytte - Indirect Tax Partner at EY

Given your experience across a variety of sectors including Consultancy, Legal and IT, what was the appeal to you of becoming a partner at EY?

To be honest, I wasn’t heavily looking for a partnership when EY contacted me. I was in a good position working at Lexmark, having joined in mid-2016 as Global VAT Leader, overseeing a large group with 80+ international entities for VAT (advisory and compliance). After 6 months, in December of the same year, I was promoted to Global VAT and Foreign Income Tax Leader – increasing the scope of activity dramatically. It was really speedy learning, as VAT and customs are very different to the direct tax environment which I was now confronted with. Issues included transfer pricing, local & global compliance and working with consultants from Big 4. This opened a lot of doors. EY were looking for a VAT partner in Geneva and previous colleagues from my time in Big 4, who were now at EY, talked to me about this opportunity.

A Partner opportunity like this is too good to refuse! I know a lot of people already within EY and knew it was a good place to work. The headquarters are in Zurich, but on the French side of Switzerland we are very autonomous and today I have a pretty open market to approach. Suisse Romande has around 40+ multinationals in global operations & trades and also the swiss market – including swiss entities and family owned businesses. We are covering all aspects and including more customs practice; we have issues to come in customs, with things like Brexit on the horizon. A hard Brexit would mean building everything from scratch with the companies, providing a lot of challenges.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career and why?

That’s easy. I started working in 1996 in international logistics, then joined Deloitte and onto PwC. In 2007 I left Big 4 and moved into my own business as a Tax Lawyer, establishing my own practice which ran for almost 8 years. I left the comfort of a salaried job to establish myself; it was a target of mine to do this at the age of 40. It was challenging and very much building from scratch, an experience in life which is very worthwhile, as you are doing everything yourself. The administrative part of running a business in France is quite difficult sometimes. I established a new network - not all big companies, but more middle market environment - learning how to react to CEOs, founders and owners of businesses. Itâ €™s a close relationship so if the fit doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work. Selling wasn’t the most difficult part but delivering – it can be a difficult time when being asked to do something you don’t want to do and sometimes even having to refuse.

What challenges will your new role provide?

When you’re a partner it’s a less technical, but more business development-focused, role. You go to the market and really work on identifying clients, meeting and serving them. We will be offering high level products, services around VAT, customs and indirect taxes.

Companies are moving more and more towards technology and the dematerialisation of documentation. The EU is looking towards safety – e.g. real time invoicing, order processing. We can expect that paper will have disappeared from these processes 3-4 years from now. We need to focus on this and to present this to clients.

The present teams doing returns will probably not have the technology skills needed for the future, so things will almost certainly change. The tax mission is really to go to the market and to meet people (which I really like to do) and, although we work to targets, at EY it is quite flexible compared to the other Big 4 as you have time to build relationships.

In the multinational businesses we deal with, we are working with people from many different countries and cultures, so I will continue to learn more and more - it’s a real ‘human’ adventure. It’s a challenge of the new role to go to business development, also to build the team and ensure they want to come to work and enjoy it, give them autonomy and ability to deliver. Retaining staff is also a challenge – young consultants know the industry is calling them. Nowadays people have a lot of opportunity and there is an ongoing ‘game’ between Big 4 and industry to attract and retain the employees. My approach is to talk to them about career development and aspirations and plan ahead. I try to be as close as possible to the team.

How, and in what ways, has your experience at Lexmark expanded your skills and knowledge?

The quick progression at Lexmark created an extremely speedy learning opportunity and expanded my knowledge regarding a range of issues – transfer pricing, M&A and accounting for multinationals, including reporting standards such as US GAAP. I also had opportunity to work closely with people and departments I hadn’t worked with before, such as IT. We implemented a brand-new reporting process worldwide and found that trying to explain invoicing requirements in the EU to pure SAP engineers was a challenge – especially in a massive organisation, with hundreds of thousands of lines. This experience was great and I’m very thankful to the person who hired me (VP Finance) – I had exposure to working with various cultural roots/backgrounds, learning how to work well together and different ways of working. I found the human side very interesting and the aspect with the biggest learning curve. I am extremely happy joining EY, but the time at Lexmark was excellent experience.

How do you feel that Indirect Tax has evolved globally in recent years?

This is the best part of the game! It’s moving all the time. 10 years ago, customs was on the front line; EU customs decided to rebuild environments for the customs code and also the technology – this was very interesting. VAT was at that time pretty old fashioned, with paper VAT returns, but now it’s moving to technology. A lot of companies in the EU have moved to e-submission – countries such as Norway, Poland, Spain, Italy, France are ahead on this and are also implementing tools to fight against fraud. Fraud on VAT is the biggest tax fraud in Europe, so they are very creative in inventing tools and proposals to fight it.

We are going to have a new environment. Since 1977 and the 6th Directive, VAT was supposed to be in a transitory period. The European Commission is working on the final VAT position. This is very challenging as we will have a definitive VAT regime, will be facing technology issues, sometimes local languages too, customs & Brexit issues inside the EU and outside the EU (GCC) are still implementing VAT. This is hard to follow; you cannot standardise as it’s country specific. Even in the EU, you have to follow closely with local teams. Global projects are very interesting – you have to give countries rules to implement differently, including Swiss environment.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that VAT/indirect tax is talking real business, real life, cash, people moving from one country to another and a very economical way of behaving; if you don’t deal with it well, you’re losing money. I’m a big fan of VAT! You really have to be hands-on and meet people to do the mapping – go to warehouses, docks and to the companies.

What approach can future clients of yours expect at EY and why does it stand out from your competitors?

The thing I have noticed in my time at EY so far, is that it is so easy to talk to all counterparts at EY – across TP, Tax, all service lines, etc. - to share information and knowledge about clients. It’s very easy to get to know people and a trusting environment at EY, which creates a nice atmosphere. When it’s good internally then it’s good externally – I am having introductions to clients who are happy with the service they’re receiving from EY. I know I still will have to demonstrate our ability and deliver, but I have always done this. EY can provide the environment to implement what I want to, on a global basis.

I see this EY position as very much a long-term plan, to build relationships and build the team for the future.

What is your management style and how do you empower your team to grow the business?

I’m easy going and not into micro-management - it’s a waste of time - so I really trust in people. A manager is in that position because they deserve it, so let people do what they think they can do autonomously. My job is go-to market and to be in the office as little as possible, so it’s a question of trust and personal link – let people do what they want and like to do. If you constrain someone it will never work - I like to empower the team to run effectively whilst I’m away from the office.

I don’t class myself as a ‘boss’ as you’re only an effective partner if you have a good team. I encourage talking openly in meetings where everyone can bring their own knowledge and ideas to help find the right solution. When I had my own practice I really missed the opportunity to share the ‘wins’ with a team.

What are the core competencies that you look for in people who work for you?

Across Big 4 we generally hire the top level of students, but this being said, it’s then really a question of fitting. If you have two people with the same profile, you can feel the difference in how focused they are in interview. The company is looking for dedication and hard work but it’s the curiosity to look outside the box, an entrepreneurial way of thinking, to look beyond VAT rules at the global business, the global flows and complex environments – and this you have to learn. Be proactive, think about new solutions, new steps and make suggestions.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in tax?

No-one really! When I was studying I wasn’t really a good student. I went to business school first of all and then went back to study CPA, after which I did a placement with a CPA firm. I lasted 2 days before thinking I needed to find a job instead! I went to a logistics entity and they had a position in fiscal presentation, customs & VAT – so I’ve really been dealing with VAT since day one. I finished as legal director at this company, then went to Deloitte and decided to become a lawyer. My mentor in VAT was a partner at Deloitte and she was really inspiring – an alien of the time as she trusted people so much and wasn’t micro-managing, covered my back for some mistakes and taught me a lot. She kept also telling me that you need 10 years to be a good VAT advisor because the experience gives you something you can’t find in the books. She will recognise herself!



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Ian Brenton - Head of Procurement at Asahi Europe Limited

What does the Asahi business look like today & can you tell us details about your growth plans ?

Asahi Group Holdings is a global beverage and food company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Japan.  Our domestic Japanese business is more diverse than our international businesses. We span multiple alcohol groups from our flagship Asahi Super Dry beer through wine & Shochu to our Nikka whisky, Foods & Soft drinks such as Calpis & Wilkinson, Wonda & Mitsuya Cider.

Internationally our businesses are heavily focussed upon beer with brands such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Grolsch, Meantime, Pilsner Urquell, Cricketers Arms and Mountain Goat. Today, our largest business unit is our domestic Japanese division, but through a series of acquisitions over the last decade, Asahi Group Holdings has expanded its footprint into Oceania, Europe, South East Asia & North America.

In terms of our aspirations, we at Asahi aim to surpass customer expectations in the products and services that we provide through the ‘Kando’ (deliciousness, happiness & innovation) of food.

Like many Japanese businesses today, growth in our domestic business is challenged by the ageing population. As a result we are committed to positioning our international business as a growth engine. Although it would not be appropriate to discuss specific acquisitions I can share with you the details that our CEO Akiyoshi Koji shared in a Reuters interview late last year: Asahi investment across Europe.

Where does Asahi Europe operate today and can you tell us about your growth plans ?

Asahi Europe Ltd is part of Asahi Group Holdings and our portfolio includes iconic beers such as Asahi Super Dry, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Grolsch, Meantime, and St Stefanus. We have key operations in The Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Canada and Switzerland and our global partner network serves Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. In terms of our aspirations, we aim to be a Global Premium Beer Powerhouse, using our Global Footprint to bring Premium beers to consumers.

With sales revenues close to two billion Euros, five world-class production facilities, customers in almost 80 markets and 1900 employees, we deliver value into the category and aim to change the way people think about beer. Thanks to our aspirational brands, engaging marketing activities, agile distribution and premium execution we are well positioned to continue our growth and become a global premium beer powerhouse.

What opportunities can Asahi offer new employees ?

In the past 2 years, Asahi has made 2 significant investments in Europe by acquiring businesses from the former SABMiller plc. These acquisitions have brought in some iconic Premium beers, world-class assets and with the smaller business, the opportunity for a more agile, entrepreneurial way of working. This means that we have many opportunities for talented, mobile individuals who can adopt our ‘Challenger Mindset’. Such people can carve out a role for themselves as opposed to ‘slotting-in’ to a large, complex, pre-defined operating model. And, with an ambition to grow our footprint, there will be even more career opportunities.

How attractive do you feel that Switzerland remains as a location for international businesses?

Switzerland remains very attractive to international businesses for a number of reasons. The long history of stability, a central, geographical location & the infrastructure investments that have been, and continue to be, made have led to many international businesses establishing themselves here. This provides a great foundation and access to a large talent pool for businesses considering locating themselves in Switzerland. Seeing the business landscape evolve from a Pharma focus, through Supply Chain, NGOs and more recently Tech Companies alongside the moniker ‘Crypto Valley’ shows that Switzerland is ensuring that it remains relevant & appeals to both traditional and modern businesses.

When looking beyond the business reasons, reports such as the Credit Suisse Location Quality Indicator, the excellent healthcare system and low crime levels make Switzerland a fantastic, safe, enjoyable country to live and work in.

When interviewing candidates at an earlier stage in their career, what common mistakes do you see and what advice would you give?

I often see a competitive streak in interviews and a desire to narrow down one‘s career. My advice would be to let curiosity guide you, rather than seeing the interview as a competition that you have to win – it’s not great when you end up in an inappropriate role that doesn’t work out for either party, a sort of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ situation.

Similarly, few people know after university how and where they wish to spend their working life. For instance, how many of us know that we want to spend our lives peering into other people’s mouths as a fully qualified dentist? I’ve always respected people who can make this call, but for the majority, keeping an open mind and building experiences tends to give greater career flexibility and ultimately leads to a more satisfying career.

In what circumstances do you think an external recruiter can add value?

When seeking external candidates a recruitment partner, who closely liases with the business, can offer strong benefits. Firstly, when particularly unique skills or market knowledge is needed, e.g. the recruiter can pre-screen and select the good, from the average, applicant. Secondly, when there’s a need to act swiftly, e.g. a recruiter knows from its candidate base who’s immediately available and/or at short notice.

How important was it for you to develop relationships outside of your department for career development?

This is one of those areas that I regularly find myself revisiting.
As with many aspiring professionals, there’s a basic need to master a topic or skill that develops one’s self-confidence. From this foundation, moving onto a broader set of responsibilities means a significant shift in thinking and approach. There’s a temptation to stay close to the comfort zone, but to really become a change agent it’s the interactions & relationships beyond that are so important. Building a strong team that consistently delivers creates the space in order to develop relationships beyond Procurement. Sometimes there is something obvious that you can offer, but equally you can be pleasantly surprised by the demands and feedback from outside – such insights are invaluable in building one’s credibility within an organisation and securing one’s career ambitions.

What books / blogs are you currently reading?

I recently finished reading Sapiens & Homo Deus – two very thought-provoking books, but I wouldn’t recommend them for reading on the beach!

So, if dynamic, challenging roles within a supportive, fun network, working with employees who have an infectious passion for our beers appeals to you, then please feel free to drop me a line and enjoy a ‘karakuchi’ moment!

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Andreas Wobmann - Senior Director European Finance, Clinical Trial Division at Thermo Fisher Scientific

After a progressive, international career with Syngenta, you have recently moved into a new position with Thermo Fisher Scientific. What excites you about working for the business?

Two factors played in role in my joining Thermo Fisher Scientific. The first was our mission, which is to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. As the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $20 billion and approximately 70,000 employees globally, we are fulfilling that mission everyday which really excites me. Second, the role as CFO Europe for the Clinical Trial business was the right step for me in my career as I have full financial accountability. We have three major sites in Switzerland, Germany and England with over 50 finance and purchasing professionals in those sites, and with that comes all the general financial responsibilities including the monthly closing, the budget process, statutory and tax filing and much more. Furthermore, in this role I am heavily engaged in the strategic development of the European business and it’s exciting and challenging to play a part in growing and facilitating that growth.

Can you identify how your organisation stands out from the market and your competitors, particularly in Switzerland where there are many life sciences businesses?

In Switzerland the Clinical Trial business of Thermo Fisher Scientific has the biggest footprint and is a service provider to the Pharma and Biotech industry. We are a global leader in the areas of clinical supply chain management and clinical supplies for patients worldwide. With approximately 500 employees in Allschwil, Basel, we manufacture, package, label, store and ship different medicines to locations globally. We are well placed in Basel with the proximity many Pharmaceutical companies.

With the recent acquisition of Patheon we now are one of the only companies that can offer the full end to end service for clinical trials. By adding Patheon's highly complementary contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) capabilities to our leading clinical trials services and bioproduction technologies, we are an even stronger partner for our pharmaceutical and biotech customers.

What other challenges are awaiting Thermo Fisher, and how do you hope to overcome them?

Like any other company or industry there are many challenges to tackle. The research and development of new medicine is becoming much more expensive than it was just 15 years ago. In addition, there is a shift in medicine where you won’t need many tablets any more than one, but it will be a much higher price. Hence Innovation is key in the industry and we need to transform and think differently for the future. Digitalisation will change how clinical studies will be executed and we want to be at the forefront of that development. For example, one of the more difficult aspects of a clinical trial is to find the people to test the medicine with. They need to get to a specific location that is licensed to hand out the medicine, and for some of the patients it will require them to travel for several hours every week to get there. A concept like delivering directly to patients, as opposed to them having to travel, would make this much easier for a clinical trial patient who may already be going through other health challenges. 

How did you get to the level you are at? What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and have you had to take risks?

I had the opportunity to have different roles in many areas of finance at Syngenta which helped to round out my finance experience and positioned me well for my current role as CFO Europe, clinical trials business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. I have gathered practical experience as well as technical finance knowledge that is necessary to be a successful CFO. From an education standpoint, I added CIMA and other courses, including business strategy from Insead, to my master diploma which I was able to successfully complete in England (London School of Economics) and Switzerland (University of Zurich). This required a lot of discipline, endurance and interest. It showed me that life-long learning is a key ingredient for advancement.

There are, however, many other elements that played into this. First, you need to have dedication, hard work and show that you want to grow – but most importantly, you also need to deliver. This is key throughout any career. You must know your aspiration and where you want to get to and think about how you can get there. It is important to change roles every two to three years early in your career (also within a corporation) to gain a wide breadth of experience in different areas of finance. This provides the opportunity to see what areas of finance you like and want to focus on. If opportunities arise, take them. Be proactive, take on extra work and responsibility and a new role if there is an opportunity to do so.

Second, working abroad is still one of the best decisions I made in my career. It opened my perspective and I learned to adapt and manage in a different environment and culture. Those are crititcal skills to possess to succeed later in your career. Of course there is risk associated with moving and working abroad. In my first four years with Syngenta, I gained a lot of information on processes, systems and people, which allowed me to be ready to go out and use my knowledge. Luck also plays a part in the sense that sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time. However, you can influence your luck by doing a supereb job and being first in line when an opportunity arises. Don’t be shy, let people know what you want to achieve and work step by step towards it. You need to be realistic and not think you will be a CFO with just a few years of experience. 

Last, leading people is another milestone in a progressive career. I am a person that likes to manage, challenge, motivate and develop finance careers and ensure people learn and are set up for success. There is a risk involved if, for example, there is a need to manage people with more experience, but without people management skills they won’t progress far regardless of your technical skills. Hence, try to earn the opportunity to lead one or two colleagues early on.

What made you decide to pursue a career in finance?

I always had an interest in numbers and hence deliberately chose to study economics at the university. I have a business mindset and set up a small trading company while studying and realized early on that it is crucial to understand the finance. Only with solid profit and loss (P&L) and balance sheet comprehension can you steer a business in a professional and sophisticated way. Hence finance is a good base to build your career on, and it also opens many doors for career changes. Finance also provides a lot of career options and plenty of room for growth.

I grew up internationally and a background in finance makes it easier to be able to secure work opportunities globally. This can be more difficult with other careers like law, for example, which is more customized to specific regions. As I was glad to experience international mobility early on (I was born in Hong Kong and lived my first few years there, as well in Japan for two years. I saw the benefits of experiencing a different culture and saw how this broadened my horizon. 

What recruitment challenges do you face?

Talent is scarce and one needs to rely on their own network. It is also a motivating sign if somebody from the existing team can be promoted. However, if you have to go outside your organization, there are several recruiting challenges. First, time to hire. You are always late while you are recruiting as you normally start the process when somebody has resigned. To minimize the gap, and the extra efforts of current team members, establishing a bridge is key. Second, avoid making a bad hire. It is important to find the right fit long term that fits into the company values and culture but is also a fit with the current team. Thermo Fisher is a fast paced company with many projects happening simultaneously, which require management. Last, reduce costs. Recruiting can be costly as it requires the time of the HR department, business people for interviews, agencies and many others.

What books / blogs are you currently reading? What book could you recommend to accountants that are wanting to progress?

I like to read business books and magazines and I do that as much as I can, especially while traveling on a plane. It is vital to keep yourself up to date on what is going on, both in the industry and broader environment, to ensure you can ask the right questions for your company and department. A good book I read some time ago is called ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. Another is ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. The first is about how companies need to transform to be successful and the second is more about yourself and what are the hurdles to overcome at different career levels to further progress.

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Lucas Faase, CFO at CH Robinson Europe

You have been working as CFO at C.H. Robinson in Europe since Sep 2017. What are the main differences between the responsibilities of this role and your previous role as Director Corporate Controlling at FrieslandCampina?

The largest differences are that, in my previous role at FrieslandCampina, my team and I worked often with a longer-term vision - we were dealing with strategic planning and projects that were driving the longer-term finance and the reporting functions to higher standards. We could only be successful if we managed well the broad range of stakeholders, which you naturally have in corporate environments, to come to solutions that could work for all. This means that bringing new ways of working to implementation took longer. Furthermore, we were responsible for complex planning processes and monitoring the overall company performances versus the targets that were set and were challenging senior management to continuously improve their results. Most of the time we were not dealing directly with the responsible managers in the commercial or supply chain businesses.  It is a big multinational company with a lot of operating companies and divisions with different dynamics; you have to find common ground and have good stakeholder management but because of the number of stakeholders, decision making can be delayed. It was a great place to learn about strategy, direction and dealing with senior leadership on a daily basis.

However, I get the most energy from working with teams close to the business – this is what I was looking for after 4 years working in headquarters.

In my role here at C.H. Robinson, I oversee accounting and reporting, tax, treasury, shared services (AP/AR) in Poland (80 people) and business controlling – I am also involved in strategic planning and M&A. Being part of the European leadership team I can directly influence management, so I am also close to the business again. And actually that is what gives me energy in my role to work with management and to drive business performances towards our strategic targets. I saw this as a nice opportunity to bring together the experience I gained at both Sara Lee and FrieslandCampina, to then deploy it here.

The organisation is very hands-on, success driven, young, and diverse. At C.H. Robinson, as a non- asset based company, we provide supply chain services and solutions to thousands of customers across Europe. We organise these services through thousands of carriers and service providers. We have a clear strategy for organic growth, acquisitions and to further digitalise our business model. I believe that with the entrepreneurial mind-set, and the internally developed, single global technology platform that we have, we are well positioned to increase added value to our customers, meaning competitive prices, with good service levels. Through our model we increase the utilisation of logistical capacity in Europe. As a consequence, we grow faster than the markets we operate within in Europe. The logistics services industry is big and globally growing, highly competitive and therefor very dynamic. Here we are challenged to think strategically and translate this to the right targets and live up to them, use the data and insights, leverage and make use of it; to set the right KPIs, data sets, and predictive analytics – this is an area we are currently developing. The environment is fast-paced with many decisions to make on a daily basis - regarding deals, volume and prices/margins. It is interesting for me as a finance person to influence the team to make the right decisions every minute of the day.

What differences have you noticed between working for a Dutch company and a US company?

The first 15 years of my career I worked for Sara Lee. The international divisions I worked for were managed out of Utrecht in the Netherlands, with the overall head office in the US. It was a good mix of Dutch, Europeans and Americans - similar to here, at C.H. Robinson Europe. What I like about these US companies, and as both are stock-listed, there is a cycle of quarters and delivering results. The environments are fast-paced, results driven and fast in decision making. If you make mistakes you learn from them, but you have to deliver.

In US companies they have a leader who ultimately makes the decision. In Dutch culture every individual is challenged and opinions count. The power of teams is that you can share and build on each other’s ideas, capabilities and knowledge – it can be very powerful.

A combination of Dutch environment and a focus on delivery of results and action suits me well. That’s what I liked at Sara Lee, where I grew up, in a way.

What do you see as the current challenges for finance departments in multinational businesses?

We’ve recently set up our finance strategy for our finance organisation in Europe. What is crucial is having robust and standardised financial processes (transactional activity) and to run them as efficiently as possible at the lowest cost - this is a prerequisite. It’s our challenge to standardise, simplify the financial processes and as an organisation stick to that. The second thing is compliancy – with statutory accounts, tax regulations, how to deal with optimised funding (banks, loans, etc) and internal control. All of these areas are changing so we need to be up to date to ensure we do the right things for the company.

Efficient and effective reporting needs to be in place – to review business results on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and take actions accordingly to drive continuously business performances.

Also, more data analytics and data science. Here we work closely with the Business Analytics team. C.H. Robinson invest substantial amounts per year in IT, as technology is at the heart of our business model. We are aiming to get the right insights daily, weekly and monthly to the relevant people in the organisation. A forward-looking attitude is needed, with good forecasting in place which is used in management meetings to look at trends and how they translate to weeks and months to come. All insights, forecasting, reports, etc should lead to better decisions. This is where finance can, and does, add value and contributes to the overall strategy.

What changes have you seen in the employment market in the Netherlands over the years?

I think that education, particularly post graduate qualifications, have improved. We have quite a talented workforce in Europe within finance. In the area of business partnering/business controlling I believe we can further improve and we are investing in this. It requires good communication skills, understanding of how businesses make money and how they set strategic directions and targets and to be an active player in realising these; review what works well and what doesn’t, hold a mirror to the management and challenge them. You need to be self-confident, to know the numbers and translate in the right way, forcing managers to take the rights action. I see that younger generations in finance are seeing this as well, they want to use technology and data, create insights and have interaction with management. This is a good development.

The fight for talent is huge and the economy is booming, so a lot of companies are looking for the best people. Leadership and general capabilities that finance can develop within a business are really important and people who are effective in this way are sparse.

Something else I noticed is that years ago most people wanted to work for large multi-nationals, but now talented people also like to work for a start- up/tech-driven/entrepreneurial growing business, to make an impact. They sometimes need to be convinced that working for a multinational can be great for them as well; multinationals where standards are high, a lot of effort and investment on leadership development is provided and where talents are given nice opportunities. It’s interesting because I actually wonder if they have influenced me, as I’m now in a tech-driven, young, more entrepreneurial company with a flatter structure, where people can make a difference, and everyone can have an impact every day.

International experience is also really important so that you learn to adapt, have a broader outlook and be open minded. It’s important to approach things from a different angle – this is really a prerequisite in business today, as we operate in very international environment in which versatile approaches are required.

C.H. Robinson has consistently been recognized for it’s workplace and employee benefits – why is this?

For us to be successful it’s all about people, process and technology. We’re a non-asset-based business in logistical services, so all these three things are crucial. It’s a great place to work as we have a relatively young workforce of highly energetic, well-educated people. To be successful and to deliver, makes it a great place to work. Also, we are very diverse in backgrounds and have good investment in people, learning, development and ongoing opportunities for people. If good employees leave after 5 good years, that’s also fine. We hire new people every year, train them and bring them up to speed as soon as possible and put them in the workplace where they take full ownership and contribute to the overall company goals. People are really the core of our business.

What challenges does your business face and how do you hope to overcome them?

Hope is not enough! We’re in a highly competitive market with high volume and relatively low margin – service level is crucial and will become more and more important in a market that grows rapidly, not only because of the economic cycle, but because of increasing internet sales, customers and consumers expect to get their products delivered in time and fast; the need for logistical services is getting bigger.

The technology is crucial, so that our system can communicate with the systems of both our customers and carriers, lots of data needs to be processed in an automated way. It enables us to manage data, take fast and better decisions and to coordinate the value chain better. Our strategic plan is looking at all these areas. We’re doing a good job and growing faster than the market in Europe, experiencing sound growth and, through acquisition, we will accelerate our growth and become a very relevant player in Europe in the coming years.

What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and can you tell us about any risks you had to take?

I always enjoyed my roles working with Sara Lee and with FrieslandCampina. Being in the FMCG business that long has brought me broad experience but I have always wanted to make a decision for myself to make a move into a new industry and/or a new role when the time was right – I enjoy working every day now with new energy and enthusiasm. Obviously, there is risk in these moves, but I have never been afraid to take some risks, I strongly believe by taking the opportunity you will learn. And experiencing new environments and people is great anyway.

How do you relax from such a senior role?

Quite often when I’m driving home from work (where I have a wife, three children and two dogs!) it’s a good time to put things in perspective and reflect, to see the bigger picture. It’s also good to have fun with colleagues at work, even in meetings. In my own time, I like sailing, running, being outdoors and enjoying time with friends and family. I started sailing when I was 6 and now sail every week in a Catamaran - it’s a great way to forget about everything, and relax.

Looking back through your career, what would you identify as a personal highlight?

For me, the highlight is being in the right team where something special is going to happen; a good mix of people with energy and ambition and you know something good will be achieved – to be part of that and be able to contribute - that’s a highlight.

In terms of achievements I’m proud of, in my second role at Douwe Egberts I was managing a bigger finance team and we were in the process of closing factories – I was relatively young and in-experienced, so this was a big challenge and to come through it a big achievement. I also ran a SAP implementation, which is a real team effort - through blood, sweat and tears you achieve your goals. Great experience as well.

You will have interviewed a lot of Accountants in your career! What interview advice would you give?

What I like about people is if they have clear view of their strengths and their areas of development and how they deal with that – be honest & open; it shows good self-knowledge and confidence and shows you have ability to learn and to be relevant in an organisation. Be open, but have clear view on where you stand, what you want; your energy, drive and ambition.

Who was your most admired person when you were in your childhood and why?

In hindsight I don’t think as a kid I realised I was admiring people but looking back it has been people very close to me – showing me values and the importance of having ambition and joy in life. Family such as my father, grandfather and close family friends, who had great energy and ambition.

Others like President Macron, Margaret Thatcher – people who have a clear view of what is needed for their country. I think they are right to have a clear view on what needs to change, they have strong belief in possibilities – it’s almost a mission impossible, but they still get it done as they keep going and don’t give up, they stick to their goals and can bring it back to what is relevant to their country; having a clear vision and keeping it simple; be true to your convictions.


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Mark Steele, Director Corporate Planning at IATA (International Air Transport Association)

What was it that tempted you to work and live in Switzerland?

The decision was career driven, as have been all of my moves.  Nissan had just moved its’ European Headquarters from Paris to just outside Geneva in Rolle. At the time I was the CFO for the Nordic Regional Hub based in Helsinki and had been there for 3 years. I had achieved what I wanted to, everything was running smoothly and I felt that career-wise I needed to get back into headquarters, where the career opportunities were. I was offered a role that was attractive and so took it……also Geneva is a very nice place to live and bring up a family. We had enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle living in Helsinki and so moved to a similar lifestyle in Geneva, but with better weather!

What similarities & differences have you seen between living in Netherlands & Switzerland? And in working?

In the Netherlands I lived in Amsterdam, so it was very much a city lifestyle. In Geneva, you travel not too far out of the centre and you are in the countryside, with mountains, woods and the lake close by. Netherlands is densely populated and Switzerland less so; you can really feel a difference there, it’s just not as crowded. In Amsterdam, you have everything on your doorstep, the city is open 24 hours a day, full of energy, vibrancy and an easygoing spirt. In Geneva the pace of the city is much slower and much more conservative. The Swiss have lots of rules about everything from washing your car on a Sunday, how high your hedge has to be (minimum and maximum height!) and what time in the evening you are allowed to flush a toilet! In Amsterdam people are very open and they don’t like rules and regulations; try and tell a Dutch person when they can flush their toilet at night…….it just wouldn’t work.

Workwise the countries have a lot of similarities – both with very outward looking and international environments, a mix of nationalities in the cities, large organisations headquartered there and a large expat community in both. Also, both the Netherlands and Switzerland appreciate a healthy work / life balance. Thus workwise I would say they are very similar.

After a strong performance in 2017, we notice that IATA have forecast 4.5% FTK (a measure of worldwide aviation freight business) growth in 2018 – what do you think are the contributory factors to this growth?

2017 saw growth of 9% in demand (which was exceptional in the industry) and only 3% in capacity – so demand growth was outstripping capacity growth. The outlook for air freight in 2018 is optimistic, but cautious. The two main positive drivers are the strength in international e-commerce, with companies such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba continuing to go from strength to strength, and the increase in transport of time-and-temperature-sensitive goods (e.g. flowers and pharmaceuticals). 

However, overall the pace of growth is expected to slow, from the exceptional 9.0% of 2017, due to tariff introductions and uncertainty in the geopolitical and global economic environment. Despite this, we still expect a very healthy 4.5% expansion of demand in 2018.

What is the culture of the business?

That’s a good question, which is quite difficult to answer. There is not one overruling culture in IATA, so I would say it’s mixed. Coming from automotive industry, which is very commercial with lots of competition and rooted in a strong engineering and production capability; it was all about delivering, delivering to budget, delivering a new product, delivering a new marketing plan - very much action-orientated with clear targets so consequently they attracted employees who could thrive in that environment. Consequently, the culture was driven by action and meeting targets.

IATA, on the other-hand, is a non-profit organisation which has three distinct activities. The first is advocacy; negotiating with governments, legislators and the United Nations. Ensuring they see the positive sides of aviation that they should be encouraging and trying to prevent them seeing the aviation industry as a cash cow which can be taxed heavily. The second is the commercial team, who sell products and services e.g. the system the airlines use when checking you in to verify that you have the correct visas etc. for your destination (which is an IATA product).

The final one is Remittance and Settlement. - the collection of funds from airline ticket sales made by travel agents all over the world, which are then settled back to the relevant airline. This is a massive activity for us and we see approximately $400 billion annually being processed through our systems. That is the size of the GDP of Switzerland being collected and passed back to the airlines!

As a result of these diverse activities, each area of the business has its own culture, because the people in there are quite different and have different objectives. What I can say is that IATA is filled with experts on a wide range of topics all serving the aviation industry in different ways. It’s really quite unique globally; there’s no-one else doing what we do at this level.

What do you like about working for IATA?

When I started to find out about IATA, I realized that they’re extremely well respected in the industry. The rules and regulations we put in place really do impact the industry directly. I enjoy working for an organization that can make real, impactful changes globally and industry wide.

For example, one of the projects we are currently looking into is to do with Meteorological Data – collecting data from aircraft and relaying it back to a central hub, so that if they experience turbulence, for example, aircraft following them can be re-routed to avoid it. We are in a unique position to do this and thus increase the safety of aviation.

In addition, the organisation is very international and the business and the industry are constantly evolving, which I like a lot.

After having worked in the automotive industry for 22 years, what differences have you noticed in dealing with the finances of an Airline/Aviation company? Have there been any learning curves?

Fundamentally, they’re not so different. In both we look to maximize revenue, control costs and make wise investments with cash – so no difference there. Also, there is a cyclical nature to automotive and aviation; when economies are good people buy cars and go on holidays, when times are bad they stop doing that. The learning curve has really been about the technical aspects of the industry; how a ticket purchase works, how an airport functions, the safety and security aspects for aircraft on and off the ground…….IATA touches all of these and lots more. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m still learning.

If you could go back and give your younger (graduate) self some career advice, what would it be?

Know what you want! Take time to think about that so that when you are in a meeting, a negotiation or having to make a decision about career options, you know what your preferred outcome is…then work towards that. I was given that advice a long time ago, it’s stood me in good stead.

I was fortunate in that I worked for a large multinational with a graduate program and fast track career opportunities. I took every opportunity that was put in front of me, because I’d said to myself early on that I wanted an international career…and it worked out well. Nowadays these programs are few and far between, thus you need to know what you want, be bold and go out and get it!

What is the best and worst experience of interviewing you have had?

I was in Helsinki setting up the Nordic hub from scratch, looking for a Purchasing Manager. I interviewed a guy who was too interested in telling me who he went to University with and who his golf club friends were, trying to impress me with politicians and lawmakers in Helsinki that I’d never heard of. He would have lasted two minutes in Nissan and the interview didn’t last much longer…..

A better experience was when I was in the UK looking to hire a Controlling Manager and received the CV of an Engineer who had become an Accountant. His CV was perfect and I hoped that he would be as good in interview. I asked him to name some Nissan products. Most people can name 3 or 4……this guy named about 20! Old ones, new ones…. he was a car enthusiast, with excellent product knowledge. The interview had started well and continued the same way. Needless to say, he got the job!

What have you found to be the biggest challenges in recruiting?

Finding good caliber candidates is not a problem – working for big, international organisations attracts good people. The trick is sifting through the huge number of applications you get (especially nowadays with LinkedIn), and picking the best of the bunch based on the CV. You hope that you’ve made a good match between their expertise with the job requirements. Finally, the key for me is the interview. Making a check on their experience and, more importantly, whether their personality will fit into the team and organisation, as well as whether they have potential to flourish.

What advice would you give to a young finance professional approaching the job market in Geneva?

There are lots of good young professionals out there with similar educations and similar experience. So, you need to differentiate yourself either professionally or privately (on your CV or in your interview). A good example is a French candidate I interviewed who had previously wanted to work in India, as he wanted to experience a completely different culture. He achieved this on his own, by getting on a plane and going to India, knocking on doors. Consequently, he found a job when he got there. This showed real strength of character, determination, drive and goal orientation. I’m not suggesting to go to India, but to do or explain something you have done that is out of the ordinary that also demonstrates something about your character.

Describe yourself in 3 words

Honest, Open and Determined.

If you could choose to have the career of a famous Artistic/Musical/Sporting celebrity, whose would it be and why?

Without a doubt, Will Carling, who captained the England rugby team in the nineties. I was still playing rugby then and he did a fantastic job with the team at that time - 3 Grand Slams, a World Cup final and wins against all major Rugby Nations. He was a good captain and deserved all the success he got through hard work and preparation. He was also very charismatic off the pitch.


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