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Executive Interviews

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

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Wouter de Veen - Director Global Audit Europe at Heineken

Wouter de Veen is the Director Global Audit Europe at Heineken in Amsterdam. He has been with the business in various roles for 13 years, having worked in Nigeria and Singapore. Wouter’s Finance career started at KPMG, and he is also an Insights Discovery Client Practitioner.

With sustainability being such a big agenda topic, I wanted to know what challenges you, your team and your organisation face with such initiatives?

The first thing is, you must build entirely new reporting structures that are not really in place yet; you're building a structure to capture certain KPIs, where the KPIs are not really known yet, because the regulations are still quite fluid. So, that's an uncertain period.

I think the challenge for most companies is that the people building the reporting structure have a lot of experience in it, like Finance. But, the people that need to deliver the KPIs and the inputs are people that probably have never done reporting in their entire life, and reporting goes through all the veins and every department. I think that is the main challenge - and the timelines are extremely short.

From Global Audit, we've been part of the sustainability review. We've been supporting it, building the bridge between the external auditor that has certain expectations and the internal stakeholders that don't really know how to deliver it. We've been the vehicle for the last three or four years and now we're part of helping them build the reporting structure, as well. We have three or four people almost fully dedicated on this from Global Audit and we are at 50 people, so that shows how key it is for us.

I think the other interesting element is, you have to build it into everyday business. So, when you do an investment, the investment also must capture the future impact on an environment. How do you value this? I'm in a project where we are looking at business cases and what to put in a business case to make sure that it's environmentally sustainable and that everything is captured. But that means you have to give certain KPIs a value and I think carbon is doable, and you can give carbon a price. However, there are many other things that you don't know how to price. That will be the interesting debate.

We have a very clear ambition for 2030 to have all the breweries carbon neutral – and I think we're well on track - and then the rest of the supply chain is to follow later, which also involves our suppliers. If you don't put an ambition out that is really stretched, you simply won't get there anyway, so it's better to be ambitious. Maybe you're not going to make it, but at least you aim very high and then you always go further than what you aim for. That's what you see from the executive team.

Is the next big challenge to roll sustainability through the supply chain, to bring your suppliers up to the standards you're setting?

I think so. Our supply chains are in the breweries themselves. They're quite keen, because energy is a high cost for them, so the less energy they use, the better it is for efficiency. It's more than the supply to the breweries with barley and malts, because it's like a culture, and then everything that leaves the brewery to the consumers goes through transportation and that's also massive on carbon impact.

The thing that Heineken is doing extremely well in some countries is to have a returnable system. So, you get a returnable glass - almost 90-95%, sometimes even close to 100% comes back. In Singapore, almost every bottle that we sent came back and we used them numerous times. That really lowers the carbon footprint of your production.

We have certain KPIs, because water first is extremely important, and we're trying to get the water usage lower and lower. The other item for breweries is how much of your waste goes to landfill in the end. We’re trying to get that as close to zero as possible. Stacey Tank – Chief Transformation and Corporate affairs Officer is putting it on the agenda in a proper way; she is really stretching the company.

I think it might be why they chose EverGreen - it is key. It is one of the five pillars to the strategy, sustainability. Our CEO went to a few of the forums - I think the one in Glasgow – and, when he comes back, he always puts a Workplace - like an internal Facebook - message out and he explains what interested him or what really frustrated him. When he came back from Glasgow, he said, as a company, we need to just do it, because if we wait for politicians, it will never happen and that shows how passionate we are about being ahead of everybody.

What is your favourite quote and why?

I have two, they basically describe how I see life.

The one I use the most is, “I ask for forgiveness, not permission.” That's typically how I live. That is important for me, because I feel empowered. If I take a decision, I can be held accountable. I don't need to test it or share it with everybody. If I think it's the right way to do it, then I'll just go and do it.

It also shows that you need to have a good moral compass to do the right things, because otherwise you can't. I know roughly what I can and cannot ask forgiveness for, because you can't do this everywhere. This really helped me, especially when I was in Nigeria and Singapore; sometimes you have to make a decision, and everybody's looking at you. Sometimes, speed is important, and this quote really helps.

The other quote I occasionally use - I try to at least have a laugh every day – so, “A day not laughed, is a day not lived.” It's the small things, to have a small joke or to put a smile on someone's face. I always try to put a smile on someone's face during the day.

Your career is so varied. It's spread across Europe, the US, Africa, Asia… What are the risks you’ve taken throughout your career and how did they help you get to the level you're at now?

First, when an opportunity comes along, you need to ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? You have to be willing and able to take the risk, and you can only do this when you have proper support at home, because you don't take the risk alone.

When we went to the US, we were not a married couple yet, but we were at least living together for a while, because it takes effort from both sides. Nigeria was probably the largest leap of faith that we took. And, again, it's family that is the most important.

In terms of taking risks for your career, you go from a role to another role, and you know you have a job - at least to start with. Of course, you have to perform, but you have a job. The worst that can happen is that you fail the job, and then you try and find another one, and you'll be sent back. That's the worst that can happen.

But you can only do your best effort in the role when your home is stable. So, you need to have a family that supports you and is also comfortable. That was the largest risk we took going to Nigeria, because you simply don't know. You don't know how the children or your wife will react to the environment, the heat - What if your children get sick? Is there proper support? These are the risks that went through our heads.

It's not going to Africa, per se, but what if we are there and worse things or terrible things happen? What do we do? That was the item that we spoke about the most.

For me, maybe I'm just a risk taker, but they're calculated. I think that Nigeria taught me that the most; you need to have a plan B. Plan A is, you're going to go abroad and it's going to be a success, but what if? And that's your plan B. You might not share that plan B with people, but that's your fallback scenario and that's the worst that can happen. If that's acceptable, then you just take the risk. You just go for it and make the most of it.

If I look back, especially at Nigeria, it’s called the Harvard of Heineken, and I see that. It really changed me. I spoke about this last night with my wife, and it also changed her, because she was quite structured and she thought she was flexible, but - only when we were in Nigeria for a year-and-a-half - we really became flexible.

That’s because, whatever you prepare, whatever you think about and whatever plan you have, it's not going to work, because there's always something that comes up. You need to have alternatives and scenarios, and that's what Nigeria taught me to do. I don't plan too much ahead, because it's going to change anyway, so why spend an awful lot of time detailing out a complete plan if tomorrow it's going to be in the shredder anyway?  

However, this also has a downside, because some of my team members require that structure, which I don't really like, so then I have to be mindful that I still give them small steps.

Would you say taking the risk to go to Africa was the greatest shaping of your life?

Yes, and it also made me more, humble because you suddenly realise that your bed or the place you were born plays a vital role in your opportunities. You see people in Nigeria that don't have much, but they still enjoy themselves, they still have fun - they are so enthusiastic. That helps me still every day to just realise how good we have it here.

I still have contact with people in Nigeria from my former team - some of them have left Heineken, but I still occasionally catch up over email or we have a small phone talk. Every couple of months, my wife receives a WhatsApp message from her driver and the helper we had in the house that starts with “Happy April” or “Happy Monday”, and that’s really warm.

What it taught me is to plan less and live in the moment. Also, for the family, we actually bonded more, because you see each other way more often than you would do in another setting. It definitely brought us closer.

So, before you take this leap of faith, you need to be sure that your relationship is strong enough, because - if it's a little shaky - the chances of it breaking are very high because you're always under pressure. Without a doubt, I would do it again. Not at the moment with the two girls being in secondary school, because I promised them secondary school would be in the Netherlands, but after that, yes.

What is the biggest challenge for the business and your role over the next 12 months?

If you look at Heineken, I think the largest challenge we have is to attract, retain and build talent, because Heineken is an old family company that's been around since the 1800s. I've been here about 13 years now and I've seen some changes over the last ten years.

We used to have people in Heineken where there was employment for life. In the breweries, you still meet people that have 30, 35, sometimes even 40 years, in Heineken. I have someone in my team that recently celebrated 35 years with the company, which is amazing, but people we get in now have a different horizon. I think we need to adapt our people agenda to cater for that, as well. It used to be employment for life, and now it's employment for the experience.

I think we’re still doing reasonably well in getting people in, but to retain them for a longer period is something that we still have to improve on. They have a shorter horizon than the old people that come in. They're very ambitious, they want to grow extremely fast, and they sometimes don’t take the answer you give them well, such as, “You need to see everything before you are able to move to the next role.” They just say, “I think I’ve seen enough, I’m ready for the next role,” and we need to either cater for that and take a risk on the talent, or we have to make them pause a little.

I had one gentleman in Nigeria who got promoted a little too fast and, when I came in the role, the first thing they said in the introduction is, “This gentleman is not performing, so you need to start working on a replacement, because he's probably not good enough.” When I had a chat with him and looked at his curriculum, he only spent one year in his prior role, which was already quite larger than the role before, and this was even larger.

When I talked to him, I felt like he was uncomfortable with all the challenges that came to him and, instead of making a short-term decision, I said, “Let's work on this together” - and he's still with us today and doing well. Those are the things I'm extremely proud of because I protected him for a while, but - after six to nine months - the protection wasn't necessary anymore. I was just helping him to grow and he’s doing great.

So, for Heineken, it's retaining the talent, because it's a fantastic company to work for and we can really convince people to come work for us, but to stay and continue working for us is something we have to do better.

What do you think are the biggest incentives you can look to implement to control the retention of staff and what do you think could be improved?

I would call it critical experiences. Internally, they call them short-term assignments. We have to be more open to it. In Global Audit, we're actually doing quite well. So, every six weeks, we have a new engagement - we do about 80 to 90 projects a year and we always try to have guest auditors in these projects.

Guest auditors are people from the business. We take them on their journey and I think those are the things that we have to market better, because that can keep people motivated, and it gives them a learning experience - not necessarily in their role - and it will probably retain them longer. I think the critical experience is the thing that we somehow need to build in better.

Bringing it back to you, what do you see for yourself over your role?

I've been in the role just over two-and-a-half years now. But, honestly, the first year was with COVID; you couldn't see anybody, and the Global Audit Director is supposed to build relations, influence stakeholders, meet people... So, I’m not really counting the first year. I would say we've changed the approach quite a bit.

The largest challenge for me is to build in thinking time; have the time to reflect and be innovative, because it's very easy to be in the daily routine, help your team, review reports, help to make decisions, interact… and then you don't have this time to reflect and think of the next theme or the next risk that we need to address as a company that is coming in a year or a year-and-a-half’s time.

That’s the most difficult thing to do, because I like to be in the now, and to really sit down and reflect is not easy. I tend to do this when I’m on my evening runs, but - sometimes - those evening runs are also times to prepare for difficult conversations. So, thinking time is just challenging.

The one thing I would like to deliver as a department is an audit on culture, because culture undermines everything or supports everything. Sometimes, when processes or procedures are not fantastic, things may still not go wrong. Why does nothing go wrong? It's probably because of the people and the way they behave. But there are other companies, other departments or operating companies in Heineken where the procedures and policies are quite strict, and there's still stuff going wrong. I would really like to deliver something like that.

Another example would be, what kind of data points do you need that could potentially give you the insights on where you should focus? We don't know yet how to do this, but I definitely want to be part of that.

What is the most memorable moment from your career?

I have many small things.

The one thing that really put a smile on my face was when I was working in Singapore. There are many people in Singapore that speak Mandarin - I don't speak Mandarin at all - and they do love karaoke.

So, I took the challenge upon myself to learn one Mandarin song. Every morning driving to the office, I played one on repeat until I could completely memorise it. Then, at an office party, I asked someone to put the song on. It was in the regional head office - I don't know how many people there were, but it was quite packed - and they put the song on, and I just sang that Mandarin song, but you have to memorise it completely, because you can't even understand the words that are on the screen, because they're in Chinese.

When I was singing it for maybe two or three minutes, people started looking around. I still remember the Head of Legal coming to me after, saying “Can you speak Mandarin, because your accent was perfect?” I just memorised it.

I like to make an impact on people in a fun way. And, of course, you pick up something from everybody you work with. You can pick up some skills from someone who is very good at public speaking and learn about stuff you cannot currently do. We have someone in Heineken that does fantastic jokes; I can't do them, even if I write them down, like he delivers them. So, I also learn what not to do.

For me, it's to connect with people, build a bond and stretch myself, because I'm easily bored. If I have a day that’s completely jam packed, in the morning, I might complain about it a little bit, but, in the evening, I feel quite good, because I’ve done a lot.

If you could go back and change one thing in your career, what would it be?

I think I spent a bit too much time with KPMG. I stayed beyond the learning curve, but, at that point in time, I enjoyed it, I had fun - I wasn't thinking about leaving.

But, looking back, maybe I should have left three or four years earlier, but there was no opportunity and there was no incentive. That would be the only thing, because I don't have any other regrets.

I thought back to my studies - because I did Economics. I also like Law; maybe I should have picked Law at university. I would have enjoyed that, as well, but I'm in a good place. I don't have too many regrets.

How has being a registered Insights Discovery Client Practitioner helped you identify and develop your team?

Before I was a registered practitioner, I was part of the workshops. I gave workshops myself for a team in Singapore and Nigeria. Especially in Singapore, it opened my eyes on how you could apply it in practice. Now that I'm a practitioner, I'm giving workshops in Heineken internally. I've done probably about ten to 15 for various groups.

The fantastic thing is you see many people across the business that you would never meet, regardless of people's backgrounds - I had people from Customer Service, Supply Chain and Engineers. I also had Marketeers, people in Finance, but, in essence, everybody has a similar profile.

The thing I really apply in the teams is when you need to make people aware that there are different styles and each style is as valuable or as important as the other - there’s no good or bad, you just need to be open.

I would say they need to listen to understand, not listen to respond. Be less biased. This particularly helps me, because you know the inside out of all the colors quite well. You do recognise the surface, but you only learn the real depth and motivation for people to dial up a certain strength or dial down a certain strength in conversation, and that’s what you need to have. You need to have open conversations and don’t judge too soon.

In a team, the thing you need to try and achieve as a people manager is not to hire mini-mes, which is very difficult, because it goes against your nature. The conversation is most fluid with people that are most like you; you have the same interests. It’s okay to have a few people similar to you in your team, but you also need to have people that go totally against what the team normally would do, because that makes it richer.

It takes a lot of courage to hire those people and be able to work with them. If you come into an existing team, you should try and think about what’s missing, and when you’re able to build your team, you should do it cautiously.

I’m in Global Audit; most of my team members like structure, they like checklists, but I also have a few that focus on the relationship, and it’s great to have those together.

Did you take them on using this kind of insight?

You shouldn't use it for recruitment, because an interview is only an hour. How much can you learn? You can definitely ask certain questions to get a sense for it, but you can be wrong. I've had hiring mistakes in the past, where people were completely different in the interview than when they were in the job for a while.

Also, you sometimes see, if people get promoted, they change their behaviour because they're in a different role.

For me, the essence of someone is whether they are extremely structured or more outgoing - that is the mix that you can normally sense and that you can work with, but you need to spend time with the real nuances.

My advice, if you want to put it into practice, is to have a team that's diverse. Diversity is age, culture, and also gender - but it's not the most important thing. It's how they were raised, what kind of moral compasses they have, what their ambition is… It needs to be a mix.

You need to have people - I call them worker bees - in the team that are in a happy place. They like what they do. However, if everybody is ambitious and everybody wants to grow, that's not a good environment. You need to have a balance. I would call that the real diversity that you should try and achieve.

I’ve put in this final question because we work in partnership with Operation Smile, an international medical charity. What was the last thing that made you smile?

There are so many things. I particularly like to have fun with words. We have a Dutch programme, an evening show, with humour that I really like - it can be sharp.

It really made me smile last night. What I loved about it was that the gentleman acted like he had reporters in every political party headquarters while the results were coming in. Of course, they were in the studio, but they had such extreme role models of the parties that really made me smile.

But there are many things. Like I said, I try to put a smile on someone's face every day and, hopefully, every day I succeed in it.

Thank you to Wouter for speaking to Ali Cawley, Senior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.

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

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Wouter van Hunnik - Head of HR at LAVA Therapeutics

Wouter van Hunnik is the Head of HR at LAVA Therapeutics in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He started his career at Boer & Croon, before spending over 11 years at Philips.  

Can you talk me through how you have experienced the transition from a very large, traditional business to one that is in the scale-up phase?

Reflecting, I moved from an 80,000-plus FTE , robotics - can be automated and/or outsourced or done in-house at a lower cost. It also means that, across the board in a company, HR will become less visible, because simply there are fewer boots on the ground. That's a factor that's definitely going away.

I do believe that leadership teams - irrespective of where they are, large companies, small companies, functions and geography - can benefit significantly from HR support, because I’ve witnessed enough suboptimal leadership to see that this is a dire need - and maybe even more so in industries where there are a lot of subject matter experts moving into leadership positions.

At the same time, I think it also forces HR to think about where we add value, how we make sure that what we do helps whatever the customer is willing to pay for the parts that this company creates.

I know also, in my previous company, we did a conversion on succession planning and how many people ended up where they were on the succession planning sheet? 5% or so. If you think about the amount of time spent on succession planning, either succession planning doesn’t make sense, or we were doing something wrong.

Wherever I create the most value is going to be of growing importance as we progress, because that is part of the Business Partner role that you are going to play. Also, what are the interventions you have up your sleeve to do so and what interesting developments are around - for example, should we still do performance management?

But, if performance management goes, that is a significant chunk of your time back, and I think that is all well and good.

I also think that it’s important that leaders start to play their role as leaders more and more, and not look at HR to do that stuff to a certain extent. But then, again, this is where HR can add value.

For me, personally, I can see that in organizational design, restructurings and optimising your employee base, because that doesn’t remain the topic as we progress, but much more from a hands-on, strategic consultant perspective, it’s just a role that I would see us playing in the future. There’s a lot of interesting dynamics that are going to come into effect in the coming years.

Thank you to Wouter for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands.

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

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Stefanie Glanzmann - Group Talent Acquisition Lead at Zur Rose Group

Stefanie Glanzmann is the Group Talent Acquisition Lead at Zur Rose Group in Thurgau, Switzerland. She was previously the Head of Talent Acquisition Manager at Hilti Group and led the Graduate Program at Syngenta Crop Protection. Stefanie started her career at Novartis in Basel.

How do you approach work in a fast-growing and changing environment? What is the biggest change that you’ve adapted to?

Pretty much all the environments I’ve been in in the past five years have had superfast training. Zur Rose was the fastest changing one, because we acquired a lot of companies before I joined. So, while I was joining the company, there was this big cultural change.

I try to connect with people as fast as possible, getting to know them, understanding what their views and needs are. People always work with you when they see a value in that, so I’m trying to add some value if possible. I’m trying to win them over, which sometimes I’m successful with and sometimes not as much.

The other one is being open to change. In my current job, there are still a few people that are not willing to work with us as a team and who feel like we’re not adding any value. At some point, you just have to accept it.

You try to win them over, you’re trying to convince them that what you’re actually doing is making their life a lot easier, which it is, but some people just don’t want to change - and you cannot force them to.

Something from the past - it wasn’t that much of a change - was moving from Basel to Liechtenstein. I was still living in Switzerland, but working in Liechtenstein, and I was going to completely different environments, from pharmaceutical to construction. They were completely different people, which was very overwhelming; they were super nice, but it was such a different vibe in that rural area than it was here, so there was really a big cultural change.

Being an expat, do you have to connect quicker and in a different way than in your home country?

I wouldn’t think of myself as an expat, because it was just ships crossing the border every day when I was still living in Switzerland, and I just went to Liechtenstein to work. I almost felt like an expat in my own country, because sometimes Switzerland is super traditional and people don’t really move so much.

Think back to the best manager you’ve worked for. What did you like about their style and how has it influenced you?

Actually, that was my first manager at Hilti. He was Chairman Head of HR back then, really quite a character.

If we can use stereotypes, he was a super Chairman - super straightforward, a tough one, but so knowledgeable. At the same time, he was not necessarily empathetic, because that was not his strength, but he really taught me a lot of business and management skills.

He was the most open person I have ever met. He gave me some constructive feedback, and challenged me in my thinking and my leadership skills, so I learnt a lot from him.

I’m trying to be similar to him, in term of understanding business needs and how to translate it into our work. I’m not trying to be as direct as he was, because sometimes - at first - he was a bit too much, but I’m trying to give people constructive feedback. I’m not good at looking at people running into the wrong direction.

In HR, you always have to show that you add some value, because people think that you don’t. I had a conversation about that with a friend on Sunday - he’s a director at PwC Legal and he said: “I have to ask you, I only see you as a service provider, you only cost us money, what’s your value?” And we are very good friends!

A few years ago, I would have taken it as really offensive, but then I realised a lot of HR people are probably not adding value, so it’s a fair question, and you have to add value as a corporate function. It’s the combination of the employees and their needs, but then you also have to fulfil a business need and make that happen in a positive way.

Now, I see how vast the HR functions are, so I understand where people are coming from.

What struggles have you overcome since taking ownership of your career?

I started my career when I was 15. I finished school when I was 15 - that was too young, at least for me, to think about it.

I was struggling about what to do overall. In Switzerland, we have a dual system, so you don’t need to study; you can join a profession, and I went down that road and I worked for a bit. But then, I realised that I wanted more, so I decided to go back to school.

My first struggle was to decide what I actually want and, at 15, I was a baby - I didn’t know anything. I went back to school and that was really good. I did something I actually really liked and then I started my professional career over there.

I had people in my life who didn’t really believe in me. When I was still at school, I had a boyfriend, and I was struggling with studying and he was like, “You can always quit, it doesn’t matter,” which wasn’t helpful, so that didn’t work out.

Then, I started struggling because I always looked younger than I actually was, and people always thought I was the intern. When I had my first leadership role, people referred to me as if I was the intern. There were a lot of struggles around not being taken seriously.

Back then, I took it very personally. There was also another career change for me when I was in Syngenta, someone once told me, when I was managing a graduate programme, “That’s actually as far as you can get.” That was super hard for me to hear, but then I was like, you know what, you’re not telling me what I can and cannot do, so I changed company and started over again, and that was really good.

I’m trying to prove that I can do more than people would think. I’m really ambitious and that is just something that is inside me, I guess.

You’ve said that you didn’t really have an idol to begin with, but later on you found it in your grandmother’s sister. How did she inspire you in being who you are today?

I did not really realise it back then, but I was looking up to her for a very long time - she was not the typical role model you had back then.

She was one of the first doctors in Switzerland. She was the only female in the family who wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, who was independent, who was working and living in the US, had a super fancy car, and who was living that lifestyle.

Back then, I didn’t actually realise how cool I thought she was, because it did not fit in with that general role model. I always looked up to her, but I only realised it when I really started to reflect on what inspired me. I realised that she was a big part of that – the independent career woman.

How do you approach building strong relationships in your network?

What I’m trying to do is build a personal relationship, at least with the people I have to work with closely. There’s no like secret recipe behind it, but I think it’s just to listen to people, because when you actually start listening to people and you talk to them, you let them speak, you get to know a lot about them.

There’s a lot of people who, when you talk, they’re not listening or they don’t really care about what you’re saying, so people are super surprised when you listen to them, and you remember three days later what you discussed. Sometimes, you do it a bit more on a personal level, like going out for coffee, but I think it always serves whenever possible to meet in person. So, you go for lunch, you go for a drink after work and I think that’s it - it’s not extraordinary.

I’m not always easy to handle as a manager, because I like to self-reflect. I can be super tough, even when I am not trying to be. What I’m trying to do now is draw a realistic picture of myself, but sometimes it’s a bit difficult.

There are a few things about all of us that we don’t like about ourselves - you have to accept it’s part of you, but you’re working on it, and you never really get rid of it. For me, it’s being that pragmatic, tough person; it’s something I like, but also something I have to watch out for, as it could be overwhelming for people.

What advice would you share with someone fighting impostor syndrome?

What helps is to think about the past two or three years and about what you have achieved. It’s making yourself aware of where you were three years ago, what has changed, and what you achieved - where you pushed the change or drove the change, or what impact you had on the change.

That makes you aware, because sometimes you forget what you’ve achieved and then you feel like you didn’t do anything or own everything. It helps to reflect on what you have achieved and where you are.

Did you experience that at the start of your career or do you still have it now?

I still experience it right now. Now that I’m looking for new jobs, I think: Do I really fit the profile? Can I live up to their expectations? Then I have to say, “I did it twice already and I did it successfully.”

Look back and try to make a list of your achievements, and try to see the knowledge and what you learnt out of it. That helps you to understand that you have grown as a person. It’s recognising your own growth and seeing where you were back then, seeing what steps you took and so on. For me, it has a lot to do with reflection and appreciating all of what you’ve done.

I reflect quite a lot, in particular about myself: How I have done something? How could I do it differently? Do I need to do it differently? Do I need to worry about something? I think that’s a really important step in developing your own personality. But you have to be very careful with overdoing it, because you’ll become insecure, as you are telling yourself you could do better, and then you’re getting into the impostor syndrome, so do it very carefully.

Also, what helps is talking to other people; get their views. Not necessarily asking them how they perceive you, but have conversations with your team on what you have achieved and so on. I think that helps, too.

I try to prevent other people - also in my team - from getting into the same situation, as we need to highlight and celebrate achievements. I have one person in my team, who is now employed by a new team lead, and she has come so far.

Still, she feels insecure sometimes, and I have to talk to her and let her know what she has achieved, and we have to celebrate that with the people surrounding you. We all have feelings and we all get frustrated; sometimes your anger and frustration gets the best out of you. It’s happened to me a few times, but then you move on.

How important are mentors to you and do you currently have a mentor?

Right now I do not have one, but I used to have one. When I was at Hilti, there’s a network in Switzerland which is called Advance. It is a female leadership network and Hilti was part of it, and their goal is to empower females in leadership positions, in any area.

When you are a member of that programme, you have someone who is a mentor, but you can also nominate a mentee. They nominated me, which was super cool, so I got to work with a really great lady whose name is Natalie Zihlmann, and she was the Head of HR for Randstad in Switzerland, and now she’s the Head of HR Business Partners for a big insurance company. She is super cool and she’s very much like me. She helped me reflect a lot and also define that impostor syndrome.

At that point, I was insecure and she helped me get back on my feet and say, “You know what, it doesn’t matter what they think.” She gave me a lot of very good tips and I’m grateful for having had her in my life, particularly at a time where it was super difficult for me. That was the best that could have happened to me to be fair.

How can someone stand out in the interview process to show their potential?

We probably have a less formal approach in interviewing. What I do not believe in is having these firm interviews where you ask typical questions and you’re trying to put stress on people.  

I think the conversation like we’re having now will get the best out of people. I am just trying to understand what people are about; their base and their experiences, and trying to see what I can read out of it, which is sometimes not easy.

I think a lot of people have more potential than they actually think and they need to have the right environment to be successful. That’s probably the key - if you’re not successful in one company, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be successful in another one. Maybe it’s just not the right environment for you.

Also, as a manager, you need to have the guts to tell people that this is not what you should be doing. Sometimes, it’s just not working and you have to be tough with them, too.

When you let people be themselves, that’s the only way you can read or see what they’re capable of, because you don’t want to have the answers by the book.

What did you achieve in 2022 that you were proud of and what are your goals to achieve in 2023?

In 2022, what I’m super proud of is, we built a functional Talent Acquisition cross-segment team at Zur Rose Group. We had people in Spain, in the Netherlands, in Switzerland, in Germany, and we are working as a team. To get there was super tough, but that’s something which I’m proud of.

It sounds sad now, but what I’m trying to achieve is to separate the team again - not to separate it because that is what we have to do, but to separate it in a way which is comfortable for everyone and still leaves two workable teams. That is because, basically, even though they are leaving us, they still need to be in a good working mode with the rest of the team. So, if we can achieve a really nice, smooth split, which does not leave any hard feelings, I think then we did a good job on that.

We are having a meeting to make a list of the tasks that we need to do, to make them aware of what’s going to happen, what their workload is going to be, and to engage with them and make them aware. That is because, currently, we don’t have the awareness of what it will mean for the different teams.

I am worried; we’ve put another balance sheet into building the team and we finally made it work, and now the task is to separate again, so it’s super difficult. I have some really good people in the team now - I don’t want to lose them. We will have to say goodbye to a few people, also.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

What really made me happy was today, for lunch - now that I’m living back in the area, I’m very close to my family again, and my family is all super close. I have a sister with two boys that are eight and ten. My brother, his wife and his kid, who is like six months, all meet for lunch on Wednesday, and I hadn’t seen them because of my vacation and their vacation.

I was standing in front of my parents’ house and one of my nephews came running to me with open arms, “I miss you so much, I’m so happy to see you,” and that just made my day. That was super nice and really made me happy. The thing with children is they are genuine, they are just real; he was just so happy to see me and I was happy to see him.

Thank you to Stefanie for speaking to Lauren EagarSenior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment division in Switzerland. 

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

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Mohamad Mohamad - Global Category Director Skin Care, Aerosols, and Bodycare - External Manufacturing Procurement at Coty

Mohamad Mohamad is the Global Category Director Skin Care, Aerosols, and Bodycare – External Manufacturing Procurement at Coty in Amsterdam. Mohamad moved to the Netherlands while working for Coty last year.  

What are the three to five key drivers to success in Coty that you watch the most?

The most important thing to start with is why we exist at Coty and to think like the consumer.

Our mission is to create forward-thinking beauty and provide new, innovative, science-based solutions. We do that with our people, our partners, and our customers. Together, we unleash a vision of beauty.

Some key drivers there are being consumer/customer centric; understanding and meeting their needs is critical to our success. The other one is how we position ourselves through innovation, staying ahead and meeting changing consumer trends.

One key driver to success that is near to my heart is operational excellence; my background is in Operations and Manufacturing. Part of the engine that makes a good products company, in my opinion, is focusing on the operational efficiency or effectiveness to drive cost savings and value for our business and consumer.

As someone who’s recently moved to the Netherlands, what advice would you offer to someone thinking about making that move?

The first one is, do it. The other one is, embrace the culture. The Dutch people are great; they’re very open, they’re very direct, so be prepared for that.

The other one is the outdoors. If you enjoy the outdoors and you come here, go and explore. The landscapes are great - the canals and biking. There’s a reason why a lot of people do it here, because it’s quite convenient.

I really recommend for someone who comes to the Netherlands to be part of that culture of biking, because - once you get over the learning curve - it almost feels like the most convenient way to get around. It almost becomes second nature. Even me, now, I very rarely use anything other than a bike to get around.

Was that quite a big culture change for you, considering that you often need a car to get around in the US?

Maybe from a muscle memory perspective, for sure. It is different than the US. What I would say is, the Netherlands has done a lot of things properly in regard to the easiness of an expat coming to live here, like getting a place, getting around. Even if you don’t choose to bike and you use public transportation, all these things are quite systematic and user friendly.

I’m quite accustomed to change and I like change. That’s my personal perspective.

What is a personal highlight in your career so far?

At Coty, if I look back, and even with our most recent vision, we are focused on our consumer; that’s why we exist, but we also have some good values.

One is being fearlessly kind to yourself, fearlessly kind to others, and fearlessly kind to the planet. I think all this relates back to my career, because Coty has allowed me to be myself. Whenever I wanted a new opportunity, or maybe I wasn’t learning in a specific area anymore and I wanted to expand or take my knowledge from one area and shift and apply it to another area, Coty has allowed me to do that.

Coty has allowed me to continue to grow, which I really appreciate, and I think the message there is, by allowing you to be yourself and nurturing your career, there’s a baseline that you need to deliver and do the right things.

But, if those things are done and you have flexibility, from a career perspective, Coty has allowed me to grow and I’m very thankful for that; I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. Again, our values are rooted in helping people grow in their careers, and in themselves, as well.

How did you plan out your career development path?

The first step is to start with the micro. The micro is setting clear goals and objectives, and seeking out short-term learning and growth opportunities. This includes networking with the people that are closest to you - they are within your circle day-to-day, peers or mentors that you have access to. The first thing I did was to understand, and connect with people, the goals and objectives.  

Once I felt comfortable, I started to ask the people that I developed a good relationship with: How do I expand? How do I learn about these other areas? Once I started to do that, I branched out. Even when you’re quite into your career, you only see what you deal with on a daily basis; there are things you don’t see. So, understand your area, then - once you start to branch out - you start to learn about what is out there.

Once I did that, I could say, “Okay, let me talk to my leader, this area looks interesting,” and I would ask if I could do stretch assignments or projects. I did a few of those throughout my career, whenever I wanted to see or develop new skills, or understand a new area.

Whenever I thought there was an area that I wanted to do, I would bring that back and link it to a personal highlight of my career, and even back to Coty as an organisation. When I came back with these opportunities, whenever I’ve been performing well, Coty has allowed me to take those and run with it or go into a new area and develop new skillsets.

What would be your opinion on the four-day work week?

I’m open to the concept, but I think there needs to be a few more in-depth studies on it.

Like many other organizations, the pandemic has provided us with a pilot experience, an opportunity to test both our technological capabilities and our appetites for a new philosophy of flexible working.

During COVID, we kicked off omni-work, a hybrid workplace flexibility model.

Removing the stress of having inflexible working principles, while ensuring people always feel productive, Coty provided the option to work up to 50% of the week remotely.

How is the growing focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) changing the Procurement function and how does it relate to your role?

If I were to keep it as simple as possible, the function of Procurement is to make sustainability a key consideration - let’s say a KPI or even a right way of doing business - for supplier selection and supplier management.

On a different front, it’s a journey; everyone’s on that journey, including our supply base. In certain cases, where we have developed partnerships, we get to work really closely with suppliers, co-building plans, partnering and going on the journey together.

Before, it was more of a supplier-customer relationship, now we’re very closely tied on this metric, and we have invested interest on each other’s success. That’s a little bit of change on that front.

What do you think the future of sustainability in your sector looks like?

At Coty, sustainability is the ultimate driver of innovation.

Our sustainability strategy, Beauty That Lasts, outlines the ways we will deliver on our goal of becoming an industry leader in a more sustainable and inclusive world. Launched in February 2020 and guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, our strategy is structured around three pillars: the Beauty of our People, Product, and Planet.

What are the three challenges ahead of you for third-party manufacturing?

For me, one of the most important things is to stay knowledgeable on innovation, consumer trends and market dynamics. I try and stay as knowledgeable as possible. We have some excellent leaders in our Procurement team, with our head CPO , Stéphane Delbos. We have some excellent people in our organisation, and we want to keep that knowledge and continue to grow that.

The other one that I mentioned is close to my heart, Operations and operational excellence - not just of us, but also of who we’ve chosen to partner with, because we also want to push our partners to be elevated.

We’ve talked about Operations excellence, consumer trends and knowledge - the last one is relationships and performance of our suppliers and partners. Coming out of COVID was a very dynamic time - everyone experienced it in one way or the other on a day-to-day basis4 through our energy costs, etc. So, now, we need to ensure we’re building really strong partnerships across the supply base we partner with.

Thank you to Mohamad for speaking to Aaron Bargrove, Consultant in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in the Netherlands. 

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

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Marjolein van Eck - HR Director IBM Northern Europe at IBM

Marjolein van Eck is the HR Director IBM Northern Europe at IBM in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She has worked for IBM for 17 years, having joined as an HR Transformation Consultant, and then rotated in a variety of global and European HR specialist and generalist roles.

What excites you about working for IBM?

For me, it is twofold: first, the company itself and then second, what it means for me personally in terms of career growth.

IBM, as a company and the business we are in, excites me a lot. We're always at the forefront of technology and we’re doing such cool, new and innovative stuff that it's very exciting to be working here.

I have a very technical background myself (Master of Science degree) and I’ve always been intrigued by technology, but - more so - the people that work in this business keep inspiring me and I enjoy being around them. It’s the people that make the culture and we often hear that back from when they join – or, unfortunately, when they leave, as well. The culture is the first thing that people really call out.

Secondly, it’s the HR profession at IBM, which is very mature. In many ways, IBM is leading in the HR space - and not just because of the technology aspects, which is obviously well adopted in our daily work. Whenever I read an article about HR trends or other research, we often already implemented it. And, personally, from a career perspective, I've always been given the opportunities to grow and develop.

How would you describe the culture?

Our culture is very collaborative, supportive and kind. Most people would never say, “That's not my job.” People are always there to help and, because we're so internationally organised, I can pretty much call anybody around the globe if I have a question or need advice.

We, of course, need to navigate the matrix, but the informal organization is also very strong. Culture is about belonging, and I feel that I belong and matter in this organization.

I'm curious to hear about what IBM does in terms of wellbeing and mental health, which is high on the agenda for HR functions these days.

It's definitely becoming more prominent on the agenda than it's ever been before - because of COVID and the aftermath, obviously - but I can say that, for IBM, it was already high on the agenda before we had COVID; it was easy for us to rely on the structures that we had.

Our strategy is primarily focused on prevention. But we, of course, also have many programs and policies in place to support employees when they are in need, from employee assistance programs to individual counselling – all tailored toward the specific health issue.

But, as said, our primary focus is to avoid people needing these services, and that means we drive a lot of investments and efforts toward prevention. This is embedded in our HR strategy, but we also have a separate Health and Safety organisation driving this agenda - anything from education, to programs, to teaching people how to manage work life. We even have training around sleep and nutrition. We go quite far in those offerings – but also leave it up to the people whether they think it's beneficial for themselves.

We have many local programs, but sometimes also need local country variation. Where in the US, for example, an app could be a good solution, that may not work well on the other side of the pond. Here, for example, we offer health checks to our teams - a separate, completely safe institution runs that for us and it’s completely voluntary to participate. There’s clearly a lot of investment in this area and we focus on physical, mental, but also financial, health.

We really see it as part of our overall Diversity, Equity & Inclusion agenda, and invest a lot in advocacy and allyship around this. We are a very open organisation in that sense. We not only embrace different cultures, make sure that people feel included, but also drive an open dialogue about any type of diversity or wellbeing topic. We want to ensure people not only feel supported to discuss these topics in the workplace, but also know how to find their way to the services provided.

I would say that COVID helped us bring the human factor more prominently, making this more okay than it already was. I personally like that and am happy to see the progression.

What would you say your biggest challenges will be over the coming 12 months?

Interestingly enough, my role has just changed. I was looking after the Northern European region - the eight countries there - but now I'm also looking after Central Eastern Europe. So, a lot more countries, with completely new cultures and people priorities.

In supporting the business, my biggest challenge is how to bring all those countries, different perspectives, people and profiles together in one new market that needs to operate as one engine to drive business. From an overall HR perspective, our agenda - like many other companies - is centred around organisational health, and the attraction and retention of critical skills.

The dynamics, especially in the IT industry, are quite fierce, so attracting talent, working on your employer branding are key, but we're a company that has people working for us longer than the average five years, so that says something about the culture, as well as our career progression and reskilling opportunities.

Within IBM, the skill demand is continuously changing. So, for us, retention is naturally focused around skill development and ensuring there is continuous career growth, besides rewarding and recognition of our key talent. I think I am a personal example of how this worked, as I’ve had three different careers almost - there is really a value proposition there.

You’ve been with IBM for some time and had lots of evolution in what you've done. Is there something that stands out as a personal career highlight?

The moves between roles have been my critical career milestones. I started in consulting, then moved to more specialist HR, and now I’m in a more generalist role, so those were really anchor points.

During all roles I’ve had my key defining moments – but if I would need to call out one, it’s the recognition I received for a large-scale program I designed and rolled out across the entire company. This gave me a ticket to our special Best of IBM celebration in the Caribbean.

Sometimes, there are moments in your career when all the stars align and you're on a roll. I always look back at that with a smile.

If you were to go back and offer your younger self some career advice, what would it be?

I actually have a younger self in my house, my 12-year-old daughter! So, it would probably be the same as what I am trying to teach my children.

What I have found in my career at this point is that there's more stability, which comes with experience. Stability at work means you don't get too stressed anymore about certain situations - you stay in control of the situation and analyse it differently.

Early in my career, I remember that I sometimes would completely freeze or panic at work, or feel totally out of control and have sleepless nights for a week over something small. At a certain point, you will reach that stability and you will know how to shape things, make problems smaller, simpler, think around issues and create solutions, and don't get stressed as much.

It is definitely a skill. I am trying to figure out how I can help my children develop it, partly through role modelling and guiding them through their challenges. Overall, I feel their generation seems more mature, mentally, perhaps due to the world they are more exposed to today, than we were when growing up.

You talked about IBM being at the forefront of digital HR transformation, which is something that's happening at quite a pace. How do you see that changing the HR discipline in the future?

Quite a lot. If you would have told me, ten years ago, that I would be in this job or that it would suit my skills, I wouldn't have believed it. But, because of the transformation of the HR profession, I'm now a good fit, because of the technical background, but also the analytical capabilities and consultative mindset. I am now able to apply these skillsets in my daily work. Within IBM, I can even develop them further. For example, our analytics practices go far beyond a standard dashboard; we apply predicative analytics and even AI now in many of our HR processes.

By being able to advise the business - not just giving them a dashboard to say, your attrition is going up or down, but by actually bringing in the correlation and doing some predictive analytics to advise and drive better business outcomes - also requires different skillsets from an HR professional. I see a very accelerated path right now with analytics, but also the use of AI. It’s a self-learning mechanism, so it takes away a lot of the more operational work from us and makes the employee experience better, which elevates the HR profession from an experience standpoint, but also allows me to do the more value-added work for the business.

It’s fun and it's cutting edge - if you're speaking to your digital twin online and you see an HR partner that can help the business, from assignments to promotions - you name it - it's really interesting. Sometimes, I feel we’re already living in the future.

There’s sometimes discussion about whether there will even be a need for the HR function when the technology transformation is going so fast. Yes, our roles are changing, but pivoting towards using technology to drive even better business outcomes. It is not about replacing people, but doing work differently. It’s a transformation of the way we run HR.

What's the best compliment you've ever received?

That's a personal one. Reflecting on my father (who passed away a few months ago), the best compliments came from him. You can get compliments in the business all the time.

For me, there's also a difference between a compliment and feedback. But, he used to say that I'm a hard worker, dedicated and I always have a solution for everything. I'm always very genuine and switched on, but he would always say, when there's an issue, she would immediately come up with a solution - I think of that quite often. Compliments have more value when they come from those that know you best.

Do you have a favourite quote? If so, what is it and why does it resonate with you?

I'm not a quote person, but I had this sign from Albert Einstein, which said: “I have no special talents, but I'm just passionately curious.” It resonated with me.

Over the years, as it stood there, I started to think about what's behind that, because I'm always talking about EQ [emotional intelligence] versus IQ [intelligence quotient]. Yes, I have the IQ, but what made me successful is my EQ and my perseverance. Both have helped me to be where I am today. It's the ability to influence, bring people together - the human aspect - and constantly learning and being eager to jump into new things. That is what really stands out.  And it's always that perseverance that keeps me going. Behind me [the room Marjolein is being interviewed in], there is a sign from a song called Soldier On. It means, just keep going.

So, it's more the story behind it than the quote itself that really resonated with me. Over the past couple of years, during COVID, you read more about that skill and how to deal with AI taking over IQ. Your learning ability and those skills become more important, and I often smile and think, well that’s just normal human behaviour.

You also read about companies that are selecting people more on the basis of what they could learn, rather than what they already know. We used to have cultures in companies where you always had to be in the know - but you are not always in the know. As an HR Director, there are so many topics coming in. Daring to be transparent is sometimes saying, “I don’t know and I need to find out, but I will find out and then I will come back with the proper advice.” That is okay and has been quite a change.

Thank you to Marjolein for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands.

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

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Sinead Sheridan - Procurement Director at Cloetta

Sinéad Sheridan is the Procurement Director at Cloetta in the Netherlands. She started her career in various Procurement & Supply Chain roles at H.J. Heinz Company, working for the business as it became Kraft Heinz in 2015. Sinéad also managed her own Procurement company before joining Cloetta.

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

This is a really important point for me, especially diversity in a team. I don’t think I’ve managed a team successfully that didn’t have a range of diverse individuals with different viewpoints and different ideas to pursue.

As a starting point, it’s the right mix of people with passion and energy. So, there are a few things that can somewhat compensate for experience - among them are passion and energy. If you’re passionate about Procurement, if you’re passionate about the food industry and you put that energy into everything you do, that’s a starting point.

Having that mix and energy in the team, and the drive to do better, is key. We have that shared energy and passion for what we’re trying to achieve as a team, and then it’s about learning from each other in an open culture.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an open culture within your team, where team members feel that they can put forward their ideas and they can freely question others’ ideas. That way, you can bring all the different knowledge and experience together. A key point for a leader is creating the opportunity for the team to be innovative.

What do you see is the biggest challenges for a) your business, and b) your role over the next 12 months?

Over the next 12 months, the number one challenge for me is to prioritise people.

Our team - just like a lot of teams in Supply Chain and Procurement throughout the world - have done an amazing job with keeping our factories running in the past couple of years during the supply chain disruptions. It’s been a high pressure two-plus years fighting these supply issues and, of course, the inflation that we’ve seen. I think it’s really important to recognise that achievement.

We’re all very quick to move on from these things and think it’s in the past, but to recognise the achievement and the work the team has put in to helping the business mitigate all these issues. It's key now to also try and guide the team back to a strategic sourcing approach and away from the constant fire fighting that has dominated all of our lives in Supply Chain over the past couple of years.

Things like restoring routines and processes that may have been put on the back burner because we prioritised solving supply issues and then also trying to reconnect in person. I’m cognisant that there are still people that haven’t met each other in person in the organisation over the past few years - even though some people are still a little bit reluctant to meet in a large group, and to be conscious of that, so prioritising people and keeping people on track is a big challenge.

Then, of course, inflation – unfortunately - is currently a word that is used across a lot of industries, and for all households, as well, and it’s sticking around for some portfolios. We see the CPI commitments. If you think about, again, science-based targets to 2030, is our supply chain ready to support us to deliver that 46% reduction in CO2 emissions, for example? We will have to make some key decisions around our sourcing strategies to achieve that, so we need to have adaptable strategies going forward.

My last one is, during COVID and the various supply chain crises we’ve had over the past few years, Procurement came a bit closer to being a more strategic partner for a business. Not only focused on cost and cash - the typical Procurement objectives - but also we need to be proactively supporting and delivering other key business needs, like innovation and sustainability.

That would be the three areas. Digital transformation, adaptive strategies, and to be a key strategic partner to the business.

What does the future of sustainability look like in the sector?

Cloetta is committed to science-based targets and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we’ve jumped in there and made that commitment. Procurement has a massive responsibility to deliver many of those targets, for example, areas like CO2 reduction, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, packaging from renewable sources or recycled material, human rights improvement in our supply chain, etc.  Procurement touches all of those areas and we have that responsibility to deliver on all of those points.

Again, it links back to the adapted strategies of the traditional Procurement approach. We need to adapt our strategies to meet these changing needs that we have driven by our science-based targets.

In the confectionary sector, we also have the challenge of the sugar debate. This is why we have added more healthy alternatives to our product range.

What do you think about the future of sustainability in the wider sector, maybe not just in Cloetta? How do you see that transformation happening?

As a total food business, we need to combine our efforts, because there’s no point company A running a programme, company B running a programme, company C running a programme, all impacting, for example, regenerative agriculture and wheat.

I think, for efficiency’s sake and for shared learning, we need to pool our resources, and try to set up more industry-wide groups to attack some of these areas in a cohesive way, rather than different companies imposing different standards and targets on suppliers, and suppliers having to sign up to different programmes. As an industry, we need to be a bit more aligned in our approach when it comes to sustainability.

Joint investment in sustainability programmes makes sense; the power of a number of companies joining together to invest is much more powerful than what any one company can run individually.  

Thank you to Sinéad for speaking to Aaron Bargrove,Consultant in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in the Netherlands. 

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

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