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.


Mario Della Casa - Chief Operating Officer at Medartis

Mario Della Casa is the Chief Operating Officer at Medartis in Basel, Switzerland. He started his career in Italy, before moving to Switzerland in 2007. Mario has since worked for Johnson & Johnson, Stryker, and Invacare Europe.

How would you define the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Medartis?

As COO at Medartis, I am responsible for the end-to-end supply chain activities, from strategic sourcing to manufacturing, supply chain management, and global quality.

Medartis is a growth-focused company, so the main objective of my role is to ensure that our supply chain can cope with double-digit growth, while achieving effective management of costs and capital.

What is a memorable moment from your career and why? 

I have many, and I had the privilege to have many experiences in several companies. I still remember many achievements, but also big mistakes. However, looking back now, both achievements and mistakes allowed me to grow and learn.

If I need to pick one single event, I will never forget the call that I got from one of my former CEOs years ago when I decided to leave the company for another opportunity. It was the greatest possible recognition of my work, but also a big lesson in leadership.

What excites you about working for Medartis? 

Working in the medical devices industry is a privilege, as your work is connected with the purpose of improving the lives of other people. In addition, Medartis is a very innovative and dynamic company.

I like the speed in decision making and the focus on making sure that the supply chain supports the double-digit growth of the company. The combination of high dynamic, speed, and growth creates a highly engaged environment and committed teams.

What sustainability challenges does your organisation face?

Similar to many manufacturers, we are asked to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the waste of the packaging of our products. Medartis is well set up in this regard, as we already have a very low carbon footprint in our manufacturing, thanks especially to the utilisation of fully renewable energy.

How can leaders create diverse teams? 

There are many ways to create diversity, and education, gender, and age are important differentiators. When setting up a team, I rely on the Gallup StrengthsFinder to assess the diversity of my team in terms of strengths and create the so-called team blend.

This allows us to quickly assess the 34 traits and classify them into four main dimensions: strategy, execution, influence, and relation.

I then make sure that my team knows the characteristics of the group and, most importantly, I select new hires based on the traits that are missing to create more diversity in the team. Currently, for example, I am focusing on increasing the execution and relation skills through new hires.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

Be clear about your personal objectives, including your professional ones. This will help you to set the course of your journey. A lot of the people I ask this question cannot answer it properly.

But, if you can’t, how can you decide the next steps in terms of career and development?

I had the privilege of having clarity on my target since the beginning of my career. I have wanted to become a Plant Manager since I started working. This helped me a lot to make the right choices and make the journey I needed through different experiences in lean, materials management, and production management.

At the age of 38, I took over a 600-employee plant. At 45, I had multi-plant responsibility, which I never thought I could achieve.

Also, choose your boss - I learnt leadership from my best managers, not from books. Especially in the early stages of your career, this is an important key to your success. Nevertheless, keep your authenticity - do not try to be someone else other than yourself.

Furthermore, manage yourself with high discipline, especially for time management. You need to master this skill; you will profit from high efficiency and effective execution. You cannot manage others if you cannot manage yourself first.

Finally, know yourself - the strengths that you should further improve and will make you successful, but also the blind spots that you need to mitigate.

What advice would you offer to someone moving to Switzerland?

Switzerland offers a high quality of life and has a lot to offer. Many people who come to Switzerland never want to leave again. If you come from abroad, I suggest you live close to one of the bigger towns, as life in the country doesn’t offer a lot of entertainment.

What is your favourite motto/quote and why? 

“Make it happen” – I like me and my team to be focused on changes and improvement. I value focus, speed, and perseverance as important skills to execute successfully and to make a difference.

Thank you to Mario for speaking to Rebecca Spicer, Associate Director in our Operations recruitment division in Switzerland. 

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

Read more >

Nashaat Salman - Director of Global Manufacturing Strategy & Quality at Hitachi

Nashaat Salman is the Director of Global Manufacturing Strategy & Quality at Hitachi in Switzerland. He started his career with ABB in 2000, where he worked for almost 20 years. He joined Hitachi in 2020.

How does your global role at Hitachi Group contribute to the overseas transformation and what sustainability challenges does your organisation face? 

Hitachi Group has been undergoing an unprecedented transformation in recent years, moving from a Japan-centric manufacturing portfolio into a global player in green and digital transition, with the aim of becoming a global leader in the social innovation business.

Portfolio transformation drastically globalised Hitachi’s business and required the group to set up global teams to create a sustainable management structure, and to enable the global rollout of diverse businesses and initiatives by working as “One Hitachi” in the various fields related to three global trends: green, digital, and connectivity.

The key to achieving Hitachi’s goal is the growth of our social innovation business, which provides solutions for social and customer challenges through co-creation with various partners by leveraging information technology and operational technology with superior and high-quality products and Lumada (Hitachi’s advanced digital solutions, services, and technologies for turning data into insights to drive digital innovation). 

Within the Manufacturing Strategy division, we work on applying these solutions - starting with our core business and production sites - so that we support testing and showcasing those innovative solutions within our core manufacturing footprint. We also put high emphasis on exploiting any possible synergies, as well as cross-sharing of expertise and technologies across our sectors and business units.

As for sustainability, Hitachi puts great emphasis on environmental challenges and the wellbeing of people. The transition to green is perhaps the greatest global shift and Hitachi is embracing this unparalleled challenge as an opportunity. Aiming to become a climate change innovator, Hitachi has developed a green strategy that comprises the two transformation pillars of “GX for CORE” and “GX for GROWTH”.

While Hitachi’s portfolio is well positioned to contribute to the realisation of a carbon-neutral society, we still have homework to do, as we have pledged to move to a 100% carbon-neutral footprint of all our manufacturing sites and facilities by 2030.

The key contribution of our manufacturing and production design is within the GX for CORE pillar. In addition to decarbonisation, energy saving, and applying eco-design for newly developed products, we are promoting sustainable recycling across our own operations. Contributing to a circular economy is a key area that we address.

What strategies do you use for developing innovative, diverse teams? 

Hitachi now has more than 300,000 talented employees around the world, with diverse languages and backgrounds, and even with different approaches to doing business, but sharing a common determination to contribute to society and to people’s happiness.

We believe that such diversity fosters an environment of innovation. We would like our teams to be enabled to appreciate such a diverse global network. I personally believe in the power of network leadership.

Our teams are encouraged to go far beyond traditional inward-looking and autocratic hierarchal management. This would also require the workforce groups that have no access to resources to manage the hierarchal barrier. They are encouraged to utilise the global network within the group to initiate collaborative action, share skills and knowledge, and bring connectedness to diverse mass under a “One Hitachi” spirit.

How will digital transformation change the roles within Manufacturing?

The digitisation of manufacturing and the adoption of automation technologies are reshaping the industry and changing the workforce, making it more competitive, efficient, and sustainable, and - most importantly - even safer. It will, of course, impact the future of job employment in terms of creating new jobs or losing others. But it is largely being anticipated - or at least hoped - that it will lead to job displacement, rather than loss.

Obviously, the biggest impact on the workforce will come from artificial intelligence and robot/humanoid areas. All in all, for an organisation to succeed in digital transformation, it requires stronger workforce engagement and adaptation to the change.

Angela Merkel once said: “Be ready in 2025 or history in 2035.” However, it is interesting to observe that - as per most recent industry surveys - while for 94% of surveyed manufacturers, Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) was sighted as being critical to keeping operations running, most organisations (74%) are still struggling to get value from their Industry 4.0 investments. All in all, 64% of companies are still at an early stage of digital transformation.

So, we need to appreciate that this will be quite a journey for all players in the market and we have a massive opportunity ahead. Within the Hitachi Group, one of our key priorities is to enable our footprint to be in the front seats of this journey and even be ready for Industry 5.0.

We are all very excited about generative AI and the opportunities that it is bringing, but we need to be prepared to address the change responsibly. Hitachi’s approach is to promote the safe, effective use of generative AI fuelled by human will to “power good”, quoting our CEO’s vision.

Think back to the best manager you’ve ever worked for. What did you like about the person’s management style? 

It’s hard to pick a star leader that alone stands out. In fact, all the previous business leads and line managers have had some kind of positive impact, but the teams I have worked with have had the most influence.

I have been inspired by leaders and peers who empower and develop their teams, encourage them to explore, and to go and play beyond their comfort zone, while remaining resilient. That brings me back to the very early stages of my career, when an inspiring well-known quote was shared by a senior colleague of mine: “20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

How do you relax outside of work? 

Spending quality time with my two daughters has always been a cherished escape from the demands of everyday life. The joy of watching them grow, explore, and learn fills my heart with happiness.

However, one of the most fulfilling aspects of our time together is our shared love for music. In fact, not many of my colleagues are aware, but in my spare time, I find joy and escapism in the art of music composition and orchestration.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in Operations and Supply Chain?

Be agile and ensure you have the soft skills to adapt to change – to quote Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The ability to adapt and evolve is not just a skill; it's a cornerstone of success. Supply chains are continuously reshaped by technological advancements, global shifts, and unforeseen challenges.

Stay curious and committed to lifelong learning. Life is a journey of continuous exploration and progressive development. Keep playing until you get it right.

What is the one book or podcast you would recommend to all? 

It’s difficult to pick just one, but let me recommend the latest book I read, which I received as a present from a colleague of mine: Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter. A complex topic like change management is told in a simple story.

Finally, what are the three challenges ahead for you as Director of Global Manufacturing Strategy & Quality?

  1. To promote and practice the “One Hitachi” culture and enable safe and high-quality operations across our global footprint that maintain customer trust in the Hitachi products and systems.
  2. To work with the wider Hitachi family, divisions, and functions on enabling the group to undergo the green transformation journey successfully.
  3. To enable our global operations to exploit all potential synergies across the diverse spectrum of Hitachi’s industry sectors, leveraging our social innovation solutions and enable our manufacturing portfolio to stay in the front seat of the digital transformation Industry 4.0 and even be prepared for 5.0.

Thank you to Nashaat for speaking to Rebecca Spicer, Associate Director in our Operations recruitment division in Switzerland. 

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

Read more >

David Peters - Chief Financial Officer at Cerba Research

David Peters is the Chief Financial Officer at Cerba Research in Rotterdam. He started his Finance career in Audit at EY, before being CFO at several businesses in the Netherlands, including Greetz, Land Life, and Coyote Logistics.

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

Generally, Finance and risk do not go hand-in-hand, but I have taken some risks in my career. I started in auditing at EY, but I quickly concluded that auditing wasn’t for me. So, when the opportunity arose, I decided to join a start-up.

I remember people around me were surprised I was leaving a well-established company with a planned-out career path to instead join a company that can go up, but also potentially go down. It was a leap of faith.

In general, and in a strong sense, I like to stay in the driver’s seat and be in control of the steps I take where possible. It also may be a bit counterintuitive to be in Finance and be very rational, but I do listen to my gut feeling when something feels right and, in that case, it did. That has happened on a couple of occasions.

Moving from EY to a scale-up is the ultimate learning curve; if you’re in a large multi-national company, it’s established, and the structure is in place. You’re almost moving onto the opposite challenge.

There were a couple of things. Firstly, the fixed career path at EY didn’t appeal to me at the time and I wanted more speed and a faster dynamic. I found that in the company I joined.

We were closing venture capital rounds within the year after I joined, expanded internationally, and built the team. I also was given a lot of opportunities and a steep learning curve I don’t think I would have received anywhere else.

The basic Finance premise is high risk, high return - and that definitely happened there.

How did you plan the development of your career and what was your thought process?

If I’m being completely transparent, I didn’t have a career path laid out, but it was clear that it was going to be in Finance, starting in secondary school.

However, I have made some specific choices, like leaving auditing. But also, the decision I made a couple of years ago to continue my career at larger, international, and more corporate environments, like Coyote Logistics and now Cerba Research.

I have also been involved with companies with a focus on sustainability, which sparked my interest in the field. I try to apply this in the companies I work at, but I have also continued to advise start-ups and scale-ups in the field of sustainability on how they can establish themselves and create a viable business.  

Ultimately, the type of companies I click with are fast growing, highly dynamic, and a lot needs to happen in a short period of time. That appeals to me.

How do you feel digitalisation and transformation has changed your role/the role of Finance?

On a meta level, it has changed and is changing the Finance profession from a transactional role to a much more value-adding role in the business, which can be on different levels.

I think the Finance profession is evolving from recurring routine work to much more specialised. It can be as simple as adding robotics to ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems and removing some of the routine work to free up the team for other things.

On the other hand, it can be more sophisticated in terms of predictive analytics, taking financial and non-financial indicators to come up with an accurate forecast for the business.

My CEO says forecasting is both a science and an art. You need to be creative to identify which information is in fact relevant. I think Finance professionals starting out now need to be very tech-savvy. In my role, I need to continually learn and develop to be at the forefront of what is possible.

Do you attend events to keep your learning up to date? EMEA Recruitment runs a number of events to engage with our network and share ideas.

I do try to attend events to broaden my horizon and to get outside in views on other industries. Finance can be a bit of a solitary position, so it’s good to have sparring partners and be surrounded by like-minded individuals doing similar things, in a similar company, or at a similar growth stage.

Also, things like roundtables, knowledge sharing events, webinars. During COVID, they became very prevalent and accessible, because you didn’t need to travel. It’s important for Finance to focus outward, gain knowledge, and then bring that into a company.

In your opinion, what do you believe are the drivers of changes experienced in the employment market in the Netherlands?

So much has changed. One of my personal observations is that the generation before me used to work for a company for ten-plus years – and, in some cases, their whole life. But, nowadays, it’s much more common and acceptable to have shorter stints at a company.

Before, that was a bit more frowned upon. Today, you still need a solid story, but it’s generally more accepted.

However, on the flip side, if a person has been at one company for so long, it’s hard to know how well that person will deal with change, their adaptability to new environments, and their agility. It’s now a case of how committed that person is versus someone who doesn’t switch – how agile are they?  

I also remember recruiting ten to 12 years ago. There was a clear distinction between a contractor and people you would hire as an employee. Nowadays, it’s much more acceptable to say, “I did freelance work and want to be employed again,” or the other way around.

Also, the gap between being a contractor and being an employee has closed a bit. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are much more mindful of making sure the benefits of being an employee outweigh the benefits of being self-employed.

The last topic I have seen – further developed by COVID – is the blurred line between work-life balance. I say to the people in my team, “I am flexible as an employer, and I expect a certain level of flexibility from my employees.” I have confidence in my team and flexibility is important.

The downside is you can work 24/7, because you’re always on. On a personal level, I try to be mindful of that. When I am with my family and children, I am present. When I am at work, I am fully engaged in my work.

There was a company I worked for during the pandemic that was very traditional about being in the office five days a week. They completely changed overnight, and I was blown away by the flexibility to change so quickly. That, to me, is a big benefit and has shown it is actually possible.

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

The best interview experience I had was at Sonos. I was interviewed there for a Finance job, and the entire process was completely streamlined and perfectly executed. They gave me a full demo of their products, and everyone was very engaged and prepared. In a way, they really expressed their company culture and their way of working during the interview.

It was good to take someone who would be working in Finance and not necessarily with the product, and really make the interviewee part of the DNA of the company and what they are driven by.

A not-so-good example is when the interviewer isn’t on time, not prepared, or doesn’t really engage the interviewee; as a candidate, I don’t feel appreciated.

Another good example - and I really took this away with me - was at Coyote Logistics. They took the process very seriously. They gave me a business case as a last round to prepare and discuss with my direct manager and the people I would work closely with. It takes time to prepare from my end, and it takes time from them to sit through the case and ask questions. Overall, it was a positive experience.

I have done that with candidates myself and it can completely change the perspective you have on a candidate – someone can be a good talker, but then doing, conveying, and presenting your message is a separate skill.

What are the challenges that await your business?

Cerba Research is experiencing immense growth, both organically and non-organically. We have a growing number of companies worldwide, some wholly owned, some as joint ventures, forming a significant and complex group.

There is still some work to do here - driving efficiency and harmony across multiple entities and continents, transforming a science-based, and very conservative business, making sure it’s ready for a digital way of working. All this while growing rapidly.  

The key challenge is to combine running the businesses on one hand, transforming it on the same hand, and - parallel to that - not losing track of the fundamentals.

Other challenges surround keeping the team engaged and informing them of changes, gaining feedback from them, and making them feel heard and part of the transformation process – that’s generally what we are going through.

Being business-specific, the clinical trial landscape is evolving more rapidly than ever and COVID was a big driver. Everything that is going on in the world creates pressure on the global pharmaceutical supply chain; there is globalisation, decentralisation, personalisation, and it’s extremely data driven. Taking that data and making trials much more efficient is really playing a role, making it incredibly interesting.

Clinical trials, as we know them today, have been running for over 60 years, but now we are in the middle of a digital revolution.

What is your favourite business motto and why?

It’s not a business motto, per se, and I have used it on other occasions, but it is: “He who wants to fly one day must first learn how to stand, and walk, and run, climb and dance, as you cannot fly into flying.”

My interpretation of that it is key to ensure you have a solid foundation in place before you start building, and - as I am experiencing now - it is a continuous cycle. That’s what I find interesting in a fast-growing business. When you lay a foundation, you build on it, then you need to reassess it, because you’re becoming too big.

For example, in very practical system selection, a simple bookkeeping system may get you up to 100 employees, but - at a certain stage - you need to migrate to something bigger and repeat the process as you grow. That continuous cycle is very energising to me.

Thank you to David for speaking to Hannah Mallia, Head of Finance Leadership recruitment in Netherlands team.

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

Read more >

Nicolas Passaquin - Senior Director, Head of Sourcing & Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at Telia

Nicolas Passaquin is the Senior Director, Head of Sourcing & Supply Chain Centre of Excellence at Telia in Stockholm. He started his career at Air France in 1998, before working around the world for Numico, Thomson Reuters, and Refinitiv.

EMEA Recruitment is proud to work closely with the international medical charity Operation Smile. What was the last thing that made you smile?

I’m relatively easy; I think just a sunny day in Stockholm would be enough and we haven’t had that for a long time!

Jokes aside, I like to mentor and help develop others. I had a lady I’ve been helping in Asia for several years who came back to me recently and said that she got promoted.

That made me happy, because she definitely deserved it, and she was obviously quite happy about the mentoring and coaching. But what made me smile was that she acquired confidence, she’s got expertise, and just needed that boost of mentoring to get to the next stage. When she confirmed she got the role she was expecting, that made me smile and really happy. I’ve always enjoyed trying to help others.

What does it feel like to be the Deputy Chief Procurement & Supply Chain Officer at Telia?

It is an incredibly rewarding role. Being part of the leadership team in Procurement & Supply Chain in Telia brings a lot of challenges, but - at the same time - a real sense of responsibility and excitement.

I’m really proud of leading a team of talented professionals. They play a crucial role in Telia’s success. We have great collaborations with our stakeholders, and we can definitely feel how much we contribute to the efficiency and sustainability of the organisation. That’s something I enjoy very much.

Plus, every day, we have the opportunity to drive innovation, foster supplier partnerships, and contribute to Telia’s success by making sure we have the right delivery model in place. That has been a journey, but I am very proud of where we are today and happy about how much we have done.

I know sustainability is a passion and driver for you, and you are part of a sustainability group. Can you tell us more about that?

That group is really about exchanging, sharing knowledge, and helping each other and building our role towards sustainability; that can take different forms depending on the industry you work in and your maturity level.

It goes back to that mentoring and coaching I mentioned before. It’s about helping each other to reach the next level of expertise so we can bring it into our company’s plans.

In Telia, obviously, there are a lot of discussions about energy, child labour, forced labour, etc., because of what we buy.

We hear from different companies in different sectors and pick up from them, as well. We are moving with science-based target initiatives, and we share that with others. So, that community helps with disseminating that knowledge and making us all more professional in how we approach it.

How will the impact of artificial intelligence and data affect the roles and responsibilities of people in Procurement & Supply Chain in the future?

I think we will be heavily impacted, but in the right way. What’s in front of us is incredibly exciting; the technology will help us automate, enhance decision making, and streamline some of the operations.

We will need people even more than we do today - people to use those data-driven insights, to be able to think strategically, build relationships, and actually use their brain instead of just typing on an Excel sheet. I think that’s going to be a fundamental change that will enhance our Sourcing and Supply Chain Managers’ knowledge, not replace them.

We have only seen the tip of the iceberg right now, but in front of us are massive changes that will make our roles more interesting going forward.

What is one key bit of advice you would give to someone looking to get into Supply Chain or Procurement as a career, knowing these changes are around the corner?

There are several things. First, you have to have a deep understanding of your business. All industries are different, so you need to be interested in the area you are in, along with your stakeholders and what they are expecting.

For me, it’s crucial to have that understanding and view Sourcing, Procurement or Supply Chain as an integral part of a company’s success.

Then, you need to be curious, and that goes back to the conversation about technology, automation, etc. You need to search for information, embrace change, and stay updated on industry trends and technologies.

Also, connect yourself to peers. I’m part of that sustainability group we talked about and I’m a member of other groups, too where we build common knowledge together. You need to do all of that to first enter the career, and then prosper.

Why did you decide to follow a career in Procurement & Supply Chain?

Sourcing and Supply Chain are one of those few areas where you can be in touch with any part of the organisation. So, you get exposure to all of the groups, from Marketing to Product, to R&D, Logistics, etc. It’s one of the few functions that can give you that broader understanding, and that’s what I find fascinating.

Plus, I like the idea of optimising complex systems and processes, and I think you are in the right place to do that if you go into Sourcing and Supply Chain. For me, it’s a unique blend of strategic thinking, operational responsibility, and a chance to make a tangible impact on the organisation. It was that mix that I found extremely interesting.

Over time, I grew passionate about creating value through efficient procurement and supply chains. That’s why it has been an extremely rewarding career, because you have all those touchpoints, and you know how you make a difference in your job every day.

Can you tell us more about the regular newsletter you release on LinkedIn?  Why did you start it and what outcome do you have in mind with it?

I started it for myself to dig into different areas, then converted that into blogs and newsletters afterwards.

Initially, I was picking a subject trying to understand what I knew about it, then researching it and talking to people to see if I was staying up to date. When I was doing all of that, I thought I could start sharing it, because, if it’s useful for me to stay up to date, then it can be useful for the community, as well.

That’s when I started to write some of those articles in my French-English, to share those trends and reach a wider audience. The benefit for me (beyond the work I was already doing) was that it created interactions. I’ve had conversations with a number of people at all levels in P&SC or outside in different industries where we exchanged on different subjects. It has enriched me and at the same time helped others.

So, I think it’s a win-win situation – I get a lot out of it, and others hopefully get something out of it, as well. Also, in that community, they interact with each other, and sometimes I bring people into conversations and say, “Reach out to X, because they have the same challenges.”

Ultimately, it’s about contributing to professionalising our function and knowledge sharing in Supply Chain & Procurement.

How do you manage your time to do all this?

I am actually extremely disciplined and organised, and I publish every two weeks. Generally, I spend the first week while on public transport doing research, reading articles, and consolidating ideas here and there. Then, during the weekend, I will structure that, and then, the following week, I will spend time rereading it and polishing it before publishing.

So, I use transport time when I can’t do anything else to be able to build those articles. But I’m trying to be efficient, and not going on social media, for example, because I want to have time for things that bring something to me.

The key point is that I’m doing it because I love doing it. Initially, I tried to do a YouTube channel, where I was producing videos, but I wasn’t very good at that. It still exists and I spent a lot of time on it, but I lost the pleasure of doing it, so I parked that.

It took me some time to find the right model. Now, I enjoy putting it together and learning something from it. It took me a couple of years to get to that place.

What is one mistake you have made and what did you learn from it?

I’ve got a tendency to be a bit impatient. Once, I have rushed too quickly into a decision. Early in my career – I was a Sourcing Manager at the time – we went through a request for proposal and there was a debate about one supplier versus the other. I just pushed for a decision. We could have done additional due diligence, but I was pressed for time.

The mistake I made was rushing into it, which cost a lot more energy to make the solutions work. It was just the wrong choice. A little bit more time into due diligence would have led to a much better decision. There was no harm done, but it was still an imperfect solution that we struggled with for a little bit of time.

The learning was about just sitting down, thinking about it, and ensuring you have the strategy, the risk assessment, and you collaborate across the teams to get to a point where the decision seems to be the right one – sometimes, a week more isn’t going to change anything. So, I’ve learned to be a little bit more patient now.

That came with maturity; I don’t think you can fully change your personality and that’s how I am, but I was 25 then and now I’m 40-something, so I’m definitely more mature.  

Sometimes now, I try to step away and say, “Let’s pause the meeting for two minutes to breathe, have a coffee, and think about it.” It’s better than rushing through. That’s the best technique - step away to get a wider holistic view of the decision you are about to make.

Conversely, what is the best decision you have made?

Investing in building high-performing teams, from attracting, hiring, mentoring, and coaching people. It’s extremely rewarding.

I have a passion for sharing and for people, as well. The best decision I made was to make sure I had the time to share expertise and build the right team. When you build and nurture those teams, you are successful in the end, you leave a legacy, and - at the same time - when you need help and support, you can reach back to people.

That entire people and development aspect is something I’m happy to have invested in and keep learning from, as well.

What process do you have that is efficient and effective to find good people for your business or team?

Try not to recruit a clone of myself. I think we all tend to like people who are like us, but that’s something we should fight against.

You can learn core expertise and skills; I’m never that worried about that piece. I’m more worried about the person and the soft skills: how you interact, build relationships, and learn, and if you are happy to fail, as I think failure is learning, as well.

I don’t like people who say, “I have never made a mistake and I am quite proud of that.” I say, “Well, if you haven’t made any mistakes, maybe you didn’t take any risks.”

Generally, I try to split interviews, where there will be a conversation dedicated to content expertise and what you are going to bring from your past experience, then another that is actually a chat about who you are, and how you will fit within the team.

Usually, you spend much more time on senior hires than junior ones, but - with senior hires - it’s definitely a good investment to spend time to build that profile, not just recruiting clones of yourself, but people who are going to be able to work together and bring something to each other.

If you get into Sourcing, Procurement, or Supply Chain, I think you should have that change management, transformative mind, and eagerness to learn. If you have that in you, you will be able to build the expertise and the experience. It is really more a mindset and a profile than core expertise.

We are not mathematicians; you don’t need core skills that are extremely difficult to acquire. You need common sense and the right attitude.

Thank you to Nicolas for speaking to Paul Toms, our Founder. 

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

Read more >

Göran Mayner - Chief Financial Officer

Göran Mayner is a Finance professional with 25 years’ experience. Most recently, he was the Chief Financial Officer (SE, DK, IS) at DB Schenker in Sweden, where he worked for eight years. He started his career in the banking sector, before moving into Controlling.

Göran first became a CFO in January 2005 when he worked for Willys Hemma & Willys, and has since been CFO at Student Travel Schools, Blomsterlandet, and Gothia Towers.

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

I have always been curious - curious about people, business, and how we can improve. Curiosity can sometimes be offensive, but, if you are humble, kind, and honest in the way you are asking questions, and trying to honestly improve, it will be noticed by people and management. That is a way to climb the ladder, but also a way of challenging yourself while enjoying the climb.

I have never been shy about speaking up and have almost been naïve in my thoughts and belief that every employee is doing their best for the business and not for self-gaining purposes. 

I always take the risk of saying how things really are and how I want to contribute to the next level. Saying how things are is also sometimes offensive to people, but the honest approach of seeking to improve usually helps.

You need to have a backbone and integrity and have faith in what you believe in.

How do you combat those situations where someone has taken offence?

I immediately confront the person and I share my purpose, my views, and how I see things, and honestly try to get their view. Usually, it’s a misunderstanding and we can work together to find solutions.

Of course, you will encounter people who will see you as a threat, and - no matter what you say over the following days or weeks - they will still see you as a threat.

But don’t focus on them – focus on the 99% of people who you can collaborate with, who want to help and want to see you improve.

How do you surround yourself with the right people?

It’s a matter of getting people to trust you, and that’s not done in 30 seconds. It’s done by being present and walking the talk, listening to understand, and by taking an interest in people and the time to understand them. Usually, they ask questions during conversations and the communication gets better while creating the environment to be vulnerable.

There are a lot of opportunities to do this. For example, having a conversation at the coffee machine, sitting down for lunch in the lunchroom, and having a chat - over time, this dialogue will develop. Take the time to talk to each other. Eventually, you will discuss areas of improvement, and no one will be afraid to share their opinion or be open about mistakes.

We are all trying to improve, but you need to set the context, and that’s not a 30-second job. It is a long-term job, and you must be vulnerable, too - admitting you don’t know everything and owning up to your mistakes.

Is that a mindset you’ve always had?

I always try and be vulnerable, honest, and show interest. But, earlier in my career, I was more stubborn when I met people who didn’t agree with me or saw me as a threat and were trying to push my ideas in a different way. However, with age, I learned that you can’t force it – it’s a concrete wall; find another way around it and move it. The wall won’t be there forever.

We had a situation where someone close to the very global top was saying no and it was totally illogical. We were trying to prove it any way we could, but the door was closed. We prepared the case and did whatever we could to improve without that permission to change – it took a couple of years, but that concrete wall was totally gone. Don’t waste energy on a concrete wall.

How do you take risks when you have those discouraging voices around you?

I still believe everyone wants to improve the business, get better value for the owners, better customer experience, sell more, earn more, and have fun while they’re doing it. Usually, the global management or the board has the same opinion, but - somewhere in the middle - the communication is lost. I still believe that we all have that purpose when we start the work.

Someone once told me I was brave for taking such fights. To me, it might be brave, but it is also a duty and has led to a lot of progress in each company.

My ability to make those decisions and take those risks has contributed to the position I am in. 99.5% of the time there has been a conflict, it has been solved. That will lead to increased progress and development.

Taking those risks is part of developing yourself and the business. If I hadn’t taken those risks, I would have limited myself and developed the business at a slower rate. As a manager, people will come to you with suggestions, and you are supposed to support them, challenge them, and communicate improvements to those higher up. That means you are also standing up and taking risks for others, which leads to trust, because you have their back.

What are your personal motivators?

To see people in my old team taking on new positions and seeing them develop and that fire in their eyes. Highly motivated people, who can be vulnerable and feel confident, proud and have a sense of trust, develop business and help the business become more profitable, all while developing themselves.

During my earlier career, I was more motivated by myself. Now, I am motivated by seeing that drive in people’s eyes. When I meet with my fellow management colleagues and they say, “What a great person you sent yesterday,” and to see the improvement of every KPI team, together with Sales, Procurement and Legal, prompting communication and the building of a network.

That’s important, as – usually - that’s what I’m trying to rebuild in Finance. Traditionally, Finance has been reactive, and I try to make it proactive. The cashflow work has been part of that proactive and communication work, and it’s part of the transformation.

Also, for each company and department, you need to look at the process on a deeper level. If you don’t have the right people, put the right team in place and use the OKR (objectives and key results) method to develop and fulfil the strategies you set, instead of rebuilding the strategy each year.

This is not only related to Finance, but acting as a business partner and being proactive helps the business. That is important to me.

Another highlight would be when I became a CFO. I was able to reduce the team by 40% and improve the outcome, while having fun every day at work. For me, that just shows how transparency and engagement can lead to efficiency and fun, doing a complete - sometimes painful - transformation of a Finance department together as one team.

What is the worst/best interview experience you have ever had?

I have had a few bad interviews and conducted a few myself.

However, I will focus on the good ones, which are experienced through real and honest communication. Sometimes, that means we can agree that a position is not suited to them. For example, one candidate, on the third interview, we agreed the position was not right, but told him he had made an extraordinary impression and we would remember him for future positions.

So, I called him after half-a-year, and I reminded him who I was. We then employed him, and he made a tremendous turnaround on one of our entities. He moved on after four years, but made a turnaround I had never seen.

During the years, I have developed people through different positions. When interviewing, it might be for one position, but that changes. Another example would be when I employed a lady and I said, “I have changed your role, as you would be perfect here instead.” We had a dialogue and she really liked it; she did tremendous work in that position and then went on maternity leave.  

But I called her late on in her maternity leave and said I was going to make another change. Initially, she wasn’t too comfortable with that idea, but then I explained that I needed her skills and expertise to tackle certain challenges. Now, after three years, she has totally reconstructed that area and is moving to a global level.

The pieces in the puzzle must fit in the position, but it could also be like a Swiss army knife that can be reconstructed and fit elsewhere.

Photograph of Goran Mayner with his dogWould you say those relationships have contributed to the development of your career?

Yes, a lot. Finding the talent and identifying the skills these talents don’t know they have or are not using their full potential has helped build relationships. I also try to identify and find talent everywhere in the organisation. When they are in different positions, I try to talk to everyone, maintain relationships and learn about people, their names, families, the names of their dogs, etc.

People come to me asking for other challenges and asking if I’ve seen certain issues, and I listen because it develops me, and it develops the business – this is what I like about being a leader.

If you are building a context of trust, it’s not about being in a higher position - I may just be further along than you and doing different tasks.

I extremely seldom use the CFO title when I’m out in stores, branches, and different departments. I am just the guy in Finance and present myself as Göran. They don’t need to know who I am, as it’s not important. How we can develop is important.

What is your advice to aspiring leaders?

Building on from my last point, don’t use the title, as it will close more doors than open doors. My advice would be to stay authentic, interesting, and curious. Try to develop the business, ask questions, and challenge, while being authentic and honest. When challenged, you get new challenges and attention from leaders. Also, when challenging, try to pinpoint and suggest solutions, otherwise, it’s not challenging - it’s complaining.

Start with how you would like to live your life and have close relations. I am not calling people colleagues; I am calling them friends. Making friends is not a bad thing, but divide friendship and business, because focus is about developing the business.

When you develop a business, you need to face challenges, as it has a lot of old truths, habits and processes - that’s also why it’s good to come from different companies and areas with fresh eyes.

I usually let the numbers speak, and I have a track record of creating better efficiency. If you look at the employee survey index, for five years in a row - despite COVID-19 - we improved. It’s about trust and communication, and you cannot communicate too much.

In the organisation, I have been trying to lift women, as some are not pushing themselves when compared to men, who would push themselves up faster. But, when they are lifted, they have extreme confidence.

Overall, be authentic, kind, curious, present, and be yourself. There is no reason to be anything but kind, and people will remember if your bad day affected them. You need to be curious about people, processes, and the world to further your understanding – and you will have much more fun. Being present in meetings, with people and your family allows you to become more effective; people will tell if your mind is elsewhere.

Do you have any role models?

I have a few. On the religious side, it would be Mahatma Gandhi.

Ingemar Stenmark would be another. A journalist once said to him, “You’re lucky, you are always winning,” and Ingemar replied, “I don’t know anything about luck, but the harder I train, the luckier I get.”

Also, I really admire the humbleness of Nelson Mandela when he was set free from Robben Island. Still no hate in him. The few words he said are still there, “We are one people, and we need to heal.” His body language was calm, and he was trying to heal.

My mum and dad are other people I admire. We had a really close relationship. What they taught me - and what I am passing onto my kids - is being a good, honest person, not lying and trying to help; a kind and authentic person is a good and honest person.

It’s important to be kind to everyone. Another quote from Britian is: Common sense is not that common. My advice to others would be to share what you know and share what you think might be common sense, because it might be unique. Please tell someone, please speak up and challenge, be brave.

What book would you recommend to someone who is looking to follow in your footsteps?

Earlier, I was talking about trying to make Finance proactive. Proactivity is also about having a plan, but everything else is communication. So, I would recommend a book called Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It’s about selling and communication.

Ideas, thoughts, plans, processes, investments… everything needs to be sold, so communication is essential. Sometimes, you can have the best idea in the world, but you can’t sell it. Finding the common base, expressing it that way and coming to a conclusion, that’s a sell.

Regarding other recommendations, I would say read anything that will keep you humble, authentic and curious.

One book that still influences me is Humanism as an approach to Life by Georg Henrik von Wright that I read when I studied Philosophy at university.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say go abroad and see the world. There is so much opportunity around the world. Believing in improvement fits more in the international world and I made many more friends who could relate to a humble, constructive way of challenging.

You get totally different perspectives when you travel alone, as you interact so much more with others instead of your friends and colleagues.

Some more advice for others would be to learn about culture change and culture shock. That is not worse or better, it is just different.

Most countries are beautiful when you stop and just be present. The interesting part is, when you come home, you see your home in a different way – maybe that lasts a day or a few hours, but use that different perspective to look at your own company and hometown.

What business value have you seen from sustainability improvements?

Firstly, sustainability is close to my heart, and seeing my kids growing up in the current environment with the fires, rain, and pollution is something you need to think about. Everyone can contribute. It’s about making sustainable investments. For example, building sunroofs, and looking at improving energy consumption and trucks, what is the next step in achieving a better ROI [return on investment] using electricity?

If you look at the purpose of taxonomy, you should be comparing companies as much as you compare them with key figures and actually invest money in the future – that will build up and money will go to the good ones, instead of the bad ones. That is the future.

For countries and companies, it’s not a race about winning - it’s about dignity.

It’s totally essential. In the next five, ten, 15 years, it will be either you’re still in business making successful progress or you’re out. I’m looking at the future we can give our kids - we need to improve really fast.

As a consumer, you have power. As a company, you need to adapt to the consumer. But, as a leader, you need to ensure you are doing the best you can businesswise and for the future. 

Looking at the taxonomy, businesses will be judged on different KPIs regarding sustainability. That will benefit or not benefit them.

For me, it’s hot and it’s for the future. We, and a couple of previous generations, have made a mess and we are responsible for cleaning it up as much as possible.

If you are going against sustainability in the short term, you might be profitable, but - in the long term - it would be devastating, and you will be out of business. In every instance, start now. It’s just a matter of how much you can invest and having a plan surrounding every choice and making those sustainable.

I’m shocked that the world doesn’t move faster and it’s disappointing, because all the reports will go through Finance. So, Finance needs to be prepared for this and we need to steer with it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Please develop people, because they deserve it. Have fun during the journey, as it improves the business. You can look at any science report, it will say people develop businesses; if you develop people, they will take care of the job for you.

Thank you to Göran for speaking to Hanna Gibson, Senior Consultant in our Nordics division. 

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

Read more >

Ronald Peereboom - Group Head of People & Culture at The Kingfish Company

Ronald Peereboom is the Group Head of People & Culture at The Kingfish Company in the Netherlands. He started his Human Resources career in 1994, before becoming Global HR Director and Corporate HR Manager at Provimi. He has since worked at Cargill, Nutreco, and Hilton Food Group. 

What excites you about working for your current organisation?

The sustainability part of the scale-up is really exciting and, to be honest, what we are doing is also really awesome. I won’t go into the details, but our product is the beautiful Dutch Yellowtail kingfish (seriola lalandi) and our integrated process runs from (fish) egg to plate in a sustainable manner. We breed our fish on land through RAS (Recirculating Aqua System) techniques, using fresh water from the Ooserschelde. After use, the water is discharged back into the Oosterschelde, filtered and cleaned. Take into mind that the Oosterschelde is a national park, and we really have to undertake a lot of action to ensure a clean water discharge. As such, we have certificates from various aqua organisations that monitor our way of working, of which we are very proud.

I knew from an HR point of view that there was a lot to do or that needed to be done, amongst others: recruitment, retention, leadership and communication, but also day-to-day HR operations. Much needs to happen, and today’s solutions do not fit tomorrow's requirements (start-up to scale-up to maturity level and our further growth/expansion plans abroad), so we have to be flexible and every now and then refigure everything - that's where the challenges are.

On the other hand, there is a lot of freedom to act within Kingfish and we don't want to smother the entrepreneurship. So, upkeeping the entrepreneurship whilst introducing (more) processes and procedures seems to clash from time to time. How fun is it to find the balance!

Another exciting challenge is that the culture is pretty diverse, because the company is continuously changing. A culture change comes in play with about every 30 new employees (within smaller companies, of course). When I joined, we were around 90 people, now almost 150, meaning we’ve organically switched culture a couple of times. Then there are the groups of employees from different countries that do not speak either Dutch or English (Polish, Romanian and Spanish), which in turn creates different pockets of culture, as well.

During the job interview, the CEO indicated that internal communication was lacking and needed a solution. Getting notices and publications to everyone in the company is not a stroll in the park. How to tackle this? After joining, I asked our HR tech-savvy intern to create a Kingfish app that will be downloadable through Google Play and from the Apple Store. The push notifications will come through on the app, and employees will be able to see all internal communications, the invitation for the (alcohol-free) Friday afternoon drinks, the upcoming Town Hall or register for the Kingfish Family Day. These kind of topics also keep my engine running.

You mentioned that retention may be one of your biggest challenges over the next 12 months. Have you started to build strategies to tackle some of those challenges?

As a scale-up, we are constantly on the move. We are learning by doing. The hiring process is being adapted in such a way that we are now focused on the personality of the individual and how he/she/they will fit in the team, rather than the skills. It sounds obvious, I know, however, that was not the case in the beginning, which has led to a high outflux. Over the last months, we are seeing the number of employees that are leaving decreasing. So, a good selection at the gate contributes to a better level of retention.

In November, we ran an employee engagement survey. The engagement survey provided a lot of suggestions for direction, which will contribute to retention. These actions are related to communication, decision making, leadership, culture and values, but also more tangible topics in the area of benefits.

From a retention view, we are introducing job levelling and looking at all the positions across the departments. We will then put salary bands against them, introducing career paths. Originally, we had one level of Operator, but now we have a Junior Operator, an Operator and a Senior Operator. This provides a career path and advancement for those who stand out in the crowd. We also have various departments that require Senior Operators, and we are now moving them around so they are not stuck in one department. A lot of good is coming from that.

Being located in Zeeland has its challenges, as well. Of course, there is talent here, but we see that most of our talent comes from abroad or lives over two hours away. To accommodate these talents, we are renting a number of houses and apartments in the vicinity and making sure there is a soft landing and a good onboarding. And then there can be significant cultural differences. So, some communication, coaching and leadership skills need to be addressed. We are not yet at our final destination for the full 100%, but getting there.

How have you seen HR evolve and do you think developments in technology will change the function in the future?

I’ve been around quite a while and have seen many changes. I do think that AI is going help us tackle certain topics, but is not the golden egg. ChatGPT will be the creator of job profiles and postings, can do some research on HR hot topics, create software and apps for HR needs, and so on. Of course, we will need to look at digitalisation as a connected universe and related privacy laws, and there is no turning back. AI will mostly free up time, as some of the operational and admin stuff will be AI-ed. Due to the use of AI, roles will disappear and new (digital and data-driven) roles will surface. But that has also been the case since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

So, the future of HR will for sure integrate with AI. Initial interviews will be taken through AI, directly linked to simplified online assessments that will generate questions and match the hiring team. This approach will be used for almost all roles, due to cost effectiveness, including those roles that we normally do not provide assessments for.

I recall working with an assessment organisation in Paris - they do a lot for a large beer manufacturer - and, once a year, this beer manufacturer initiates a large, global management trainee program. They get over 5,000 applicants for five trainee slots! Can you imagine the time that will be saved when AI performs all these interviews, in combination with assessments?

Looking back over your career, is there anything that stands out as one of the proudest achievements so far?

The most energy I got was when working at Provimi. I joined the company in 1998 and, at that moment in time, there were 4,000 employees within 11 standalone operating companies in nine countries. However, until then, there had not been any HR structures, processes or procedures in place. No HR at all! Some of the OpCos [operating companies] had a local HR administrator or payroll person, others had secretaries taking care of HR. Starting from scratch, and with no experience in an international setting, I started putting HR topics in place: comp & ben [compensation & benefits], performance management, succession management, fleet management, expat management, L&D [learning & development] and much more, and loved every minute of it!

Throughout the Provimi years, we were de-listed from the French Stock Exchange, we prepared for an IPO [initial public offering], but - before going public - there was a hostile takeover by Fiat, then sold off to CVC/PAI (private equity), then sold to another private equity company (Permira), and ultimately to Cargill. Quite a fantastic ride with continuous change of ownership and the HR agenda.

It was a quantum leap in my own personal and professional development. And I believe that one should take bigger steps than what you think you should be taking – of course, being realistically bold. I would say that these were my proudest years.

If you had not taken the HR route, is there a different career path that you might have explored?

If it wasn’t HR, then it would be something totally different. I really like being creative and I tend to think that I would have gone into Architecture or something else with a creative aspect.

At Provimi, I approached the COO [Chief Operational Officer], requesting if I could join his team or be his assistant, because I really liked what he was doing from a day-to-day and from a strategic perspective. HR is very broad insights of many aspects of the company, but as COO he knew even more, and I'm probably too curious for my own good.

Are there any people in your life that you particularly admire?

Yes! I was running HR on my own for the Provimi Group and, in my opinion, doing a pretty good job. When Permira acquired Provimi in 2007, a new leadership structure was put in place, including the introduction of the position of CHRO. Stijn Steendijk, coming from Unilever, became the CHRO within Provimi.

I had done five years of pioneering in HR and I felt I knew what HR was. And I wasn’t happy that someone from outside was coming in. But the way that he worked, how he communicated, and how driven and hungry to achieve things he was, and probably still is; it was like he was running a marathon while I was still at training camp. So yes, I learned really a lot from him.

Are there any books, blogs, or podcasts that you enjoy that you could recommend to people?

I’m not ashamed to say that I hardly read anymore. I watch vlogs [video blogs] or listen to podcasts. For example, to Ben Tigchelaar, who does a lot on leadership, behaviour and management. I do this on Friday afternoons, taking an hour, sometimes two, to cruise the internet for interesting TED talks or LinkedIn learnings about what’s new and happening in the HR world or on leadership.

My team is not to have any meetings before nine, after four or between 12 and one. They need time to get to the office, to start up and have coffee corner and hallway talks. If you have a meeting from four to five and someone needs to leave at five sharp, he/she is looking at the clock and is not participating anymore. Also, enjoy the lunch break, go for a walk, or do something not work related and relaxing.

I recommend to all my HR team members to do the same. Take a Friday afternoon - if you don’t work on Fridays, take Thursday afternoon - and make sure that you hear what’s happening in the outside world within the HR arena. You don’t have to apply what you hear; it is to educate yourself as a professional and expand your knowledge. And, who knows, you might hear something that could be a value add for your company!

Thank you to Ronald for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our Human Resources 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

Read more >
Page 3 of 26
Circle Image
Page 3 of 26