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.
Thomas Zinsli is Global HR Director at Adidas in Lucerne, Switzerland. Thomas started his Human Resources career as an HR Business Partner at UBS, before spending almost 12 years at Mondelez International, where he became HR Director Supply Chain Europe & Chair European Works Council. He is also the Co-Founder of a baby accessories business that he started with his wife.
You mention on your LinkedIn profile that leading change in transformation is important to you. Why is that?
It's really interesting work, essentially; it's usually not easy and it's different every time you do it. There are some things you can repeat, but the context is different every time - and transformational work typically touches multiple parts of the business. Often, that includes people, culture, organisation, leadership - all of these topics that are core to HR.
Change is happening whether we want it or not, so why not embrace it and be part of that cross-functional team that really looks at the change and how to solve it best?
Having said that, it's really important that we’re driving change from the head and the heart. What I mean by that is that we're really trying to identify what the problem is, what the underlying root causes of that problem are, and then look at what's the best and most sustainable option to tackle the problem for both the business and our people.
We also need to recognize that words like “change” and “transformation” are scary for people, because they're often connected to redundancies and restructurings, etc. It’s then up to us to also show positive transformational aspects, like building new capabilities, or bringing in exciting technologies or leadership programs, because often it's a bit of both.
I've been in quite a few transformations, and it's always been an opportunity to learn and grow for me and everyone involved.
How have you been successful in building effective organisations with engaging cultures?
I try to do this with my own teams and I think it's similar advice I would give to leaders for their teams. It is something that has evolved throughout my career.
For me, the idea is always to surround myself with a group of team members with different backgrounds, if I can, but they should also - of course - be really good at what they do. That gives us the best chance to tackle issues from different angles and to explore ways of how we can do our jobs better. Then it's important to find common ground, to listen and build trust with each other.
Once those things are in place, I feel it's quite organic - at least for me it is - as I usually involve the team when we flesh out priorities and responsiblities; we look at the context and see what's needed for the business. We organise ourselves in a way that people can do work they're passionate about and gives them meaning, while also growing and taking on new challenging work.
On an individual level, it's about the clear mutual expectations up front: What do I need from them? What do they need from me? The deal with my team members is always that we both give it our best - they deliver the best performance they can, and I try to be the best coach I can by helping them navigate through their issues and challenges, and becoming better leaders and professionals, and helping them get to the next step in their career.
It's really important to me to have time for the team, to be available when they need me and, if they need me for longer, then I try to be there longer.
What made you go into HR? Was it some of those aspects that you've recognised, actually seeing the potential in people?
Yeah, you're right. I started out in the Sales and Claims department of an insurance company, so quite different. But what it taught me was how to deal with clients - and often not very happy clients, as you can imagine in the insurance company. I knew that interacting with people was something that I did like – just not necessarily in this job. So, I didn't quite know what it was I was looking for.
Then, I went to university just as I turned 20 and started studying Business Economics. I really got interested in the topics of leadership and organisational psychology, and more human-centric topics.
It was a small university, so the closest thing they had on offer in terms of majors was Human Resources - and I guess the rest is history; that got me hooked. I also had very inspirational professors there. After graduating, I got a traineeship at one of the Swiss banks as an HR Manager, and I got the opportunity every few years to move into a new role and even abroad.
I thought, “Okay, this is what I really want to do,” because, what intrigues me about HR - still to this day - is the breadth that we’re working on. It's literally from hiring to retiring and everything in between, on both the operational and the strategic level. What we do really matters for people.
Also, in the more recent years of my career, I found that HR BPs are often some of the people that are closest to leaders that need to make those big and difficult decisions. So, it is a bit of a unique place. It gives us the opportunity to gain insights of how those leaders think and also, sometimes, what they're going through, how alone some of them sometimes are with their decisions. We can have an impact by advising them and partnering with them.
It's interesting - one C level executive I worked with told me a few years ago that he thinks, in HR, we have some of the most challenging jobs, because the people and culture topics are the most difficult topics to tackle. Those were his words - not mine. But, let me just say that I don't disagree. Obviously, I’m biased, but it was nice to hear from a C level that he appreciated it, as well.
You mentioned that you started in HR in a Swiss bank and I've noticed you have worked across multiple industries. It's often difficult to do, so how have you adapted to that?
One of my favourite aspects of HR is that we can do that. When I’m looking at job advertisements, they often say that industry experience is a must-have requirement. I think, for many HR roles and others, that's a good bonus, but why would it be an absolute requirement?
I think quite the opposite - learning from other industries can be quite enriching. Otherwise, you're always in your silo. To get a bit of input of how things are done elsewhere, there is something to it, because many of our HR and leadership skills are transferable across industries.
Again, it's always about people, culture, organisation, inspiring leadership. Every company needs to attract and develop people. Every company needs to build capabilities and work on their Diversity & Inclusion, etc. I’m convinced that only when leadership fosters an environment where people actually enjoy to work, thrive and find meaning, will they really innovate and grow their business.
I think HR, along with maybe Finance and just a couple of other functions, allows you to really get to know every part of the business. During my 12 years at Mondelez, I had the opportunity to work with every function in some shape or form - not every job profile can say that. To be able to do that across different industries makes that experience even better.
On your LinkedIn profile, we can see that you founded your own business. How have you had time to do that alongside a successful HR leader role?
It's been a bit of a slow burner, I have to admit, and it's actually my wife's baby; she’s been toying around with the idea for quite some time. Just before our first daughter was born, she was looking for an accessory for pacifiers on the market and just couldn’t find anything good.
We saw something comparable that we sort of liked in the US, but couldn’t find it here, so we said, “Hey, why not explore that a little bit?” Then, before our twins were born in the middle of the pandemic, I decided, now is the time to take some time off and focus on the family. We said, “Let's do that for a year.” That also gave us the opportunity to switch gears and put a bit more time into the business.
Then, just over a year ago we went back to work - both my wife and myself – so, we said, “If we want to keep this going, we need to stay disciplined.” Now, we find time when the kids are with their grandparents for an afternoon on a weekend, or we have a dedicated evening per week when we say, “Let's do sort of quick sprints and try to get stuff done fast without overthinking it.” I have to say, it's mostly worked out that way so far.
At EMEA Recruitment, Paul Toms, our founder, set the business up with his wife, Kelly. How have you found the dynamic working with your wife?
We enjoy working with each other on a whole different level now. Of course, we're not always on the same page about everything. We do have quite complementary skills; she is a teacher, and very much into the arts and crafts. I wouldn't remotely be able to do any of these things that she does. I mostly take care of the business side of things. Plus, our kids are our best product testers, so it’s a family venture.
We also have a great network of friends and contacts that we assembled throughout the years, and that's enormously helpful. We're enjoying that we're learning a lot.
Last week, for example, we filed for a patent; I never thought I would do something like that. So, that's also exciting for both of us. We’re surprised ourselves how often we agree on things.
You started off in the customer sales side, you've moved over into HR across multiple different industries, and obviously you have your own business - what would you say is your career highlight?
That's a difficult one, because there have been many. But, specifically as an HR professional, I would point out two. What they have in common is that they both started out one way and then had a sudden change in context.
The first one was earlier in my career. It was my assignment for UBS to lead Wealth Management’s HR in the Caribbean. When the bank decided to acquire a Latin American bank and we had quite some involvement, especially from the Bahamas.
All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of an international integration. That was exciting and a great learning experience. I got a lot of trust from my leaders who were sitting in Zurich, so I also learned a lot from them about leadership.
The second one is more recent. It was when I was at Mondelez - I was asked to take over as Chairman of the European Works Council on top of my job being in charge of the European Supply Chain HR team.
At first, I thought, “I probably won't like this much.” But it turned out to be a true highlight, because what happened was, at first, we had Brexit, then we had a company-wide restructuring, and - on top of that - a pandemic had started.
The pandemic was itself huge for the business, especially for our 50-plus manufacturing sites in Europe, and then, very quickly, Works Councils got quite involved. It became a tricky thing, especially because me and my colleagues had to manage all those topics with the Works Councils in parallel across many countries. Those consultations are heavily relationship driven, and we needed to manage it all remotely in multiple languages via telepresence - so, logistically, it was a challenge. But the results were good, and it was a good experience.
I think the learning from both was that stepping out of your comfort zone, staying calm and putting a bit of structure behind your thinking - while also remaining flexible, because things literally changed every day in another direction - were things that were essential and that I actually enjoyed doing.
Of course, it makes a big difference if you have a great team and colleagues that all support and go with you in the same direction, and way above and beyond what's in their job descriptions.
I can see that you follow Simon Sinek - he particularly always questions the “why.” So, has he inspired you along your career choices?
Yes. What I like about Simon Sinek is that he shifts the paradigm in a bit of an unexpected, but very simple way; it's not complicated models that he talks about. The famous Golden Circle model is to always start with the “why”, and you’d think, “Okay, that’s a no brainer,” but he was the one who wrote it down and brought it into the mainstream.
In that sense, yes, that is inspiring, and I actually try to use those approaches regularly, for example, when we build tools like change and transformation frameworks that we can apply to multiple parts of the business.
The other piece from Sinek that I really like is his book The Infinite Game. There is this notion in business - and I guess in life in general – that it's not a game with set rules that you're done after 60 minutes, like hockey or another game. When you play the infinite game, you need to be pragmatic and reinvent yourself; the rules change constantly, and you need to be conscious of how you play.
The bottom line is that inspiring books like his help me become a bit of a better leader, and a better partner to the business that I work with. So, Sinek has this quote that the goal is not to be perfect in the end, but to be better today. I think that sort of grounds you in the present, as well.
Thank you to Thomas for speaking to Keely Straw, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in Switzerland.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.
Thomas Kruijver is the Senior Director and Controller EU & Canada at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Amsterdam. He previously spent over ten years at Amgen Europe and seven years at Dell. Thomas earned his CMA qualification through the Institute of Management Accountants.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for your business and your own role over the next 12 months?
Our ability to deliver much-needed new medicines to patients requires a highly motivated, diverse and inclusive workforce, and we are committed to building an environment where employees are encouraged to achieve their full potential. We want to hire the right people and we want those people to bring their unique differences to work, because our business will grow stronger with original thinking, enabling us to innovate in everything we do. Regardless of what team or function our employees work in, each individual is vital to our core mission to transform many more patients’ lives and to become a top-tier biotech company.
The challenges for my role itself revolve around building out my organisation in Amsterdam over the next 12 months. Last year, the team returned to the office post-COVID, and that has created a very positive momentum. As an organisation, we do an annual culture survey, and the most recent set of results have been very positive across the organisation, and particularly for the Finance team. My challenge is to keep this positive momentum over the next 12 months and beyond
What excites you about working for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals?
I started at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals five years ago as the first employee in the Netherlands. Now, we are nearly 60 employees, so this growth is motivational, not only for me, but for all the employees who have joined within the last five years.
Working for a small, rapidly-growing organisation, where you are able to contribute to building out a larger company, is so inspirational. I think that really makes it very easy every day to come to work at this company. One of our core values at Alnylam is commitment to people, and you feel that every day here.
This focus on our people has made us an employer of choice worldwide. For the last four years running, we have been recognized as one of the world’s leading biopharma employers by Science Magazine in the US, and have been named once again as a Great Place to Work in the Netherlands, along with several of our offices in other countries across Europe, the US and Japan.
Also, because we are a fast-growing company, we can make career development a reality. We have some great examples of colleagues who joined us in junior roles and whose career development has grown in parallel with our company growth. We also have a number of movers between functions within the company. People often move from medical to commercial or vice versa, and it’s a very interesting place, so that’s something to consider if you work for a company that is in the growth phase.
Since COVID, we have seen an acceleration of some global roles – roles that might have traditionally been based in our US HQ – being located in Europe. This increased flexibility allows us to bring in the very best candidate for each role, regardless of where they are located.
What’s the best or worst interview experience you’ve ever had?
I have two examples. One of the examples is the best interview experience. Once, in my career, I was asked if I was interested in a particular position in a different company and I was initially hesitant, because, at that time in my career, I felt okay where I was. However, I was persuaded to do the interview, so I went along. But, because of certain things, I was late and not super prepared. Normally, if you’re fairly keen for a position, you are on time and you’re super prepared; I did everything that you shouldn’t do.
In the interview, I met my future manager, and he was so inspirational and positive about the company. In the end, my initial thoughts had turned 180 degrees and I joined that company.
As an interviewer, you shouldn’t only focus on the candidate and their strengths and weaknesses, but also consciously promote your own company. You are an ambassador for your company, because - for the candidates who you hire, and for those you don’t hire at this point - you want them to leave that interview with a positive feeling about the company. So, that is what I learned. Sometimes, you have an interview just to explore and better understand what the opportunity is, but this was nearly an hour. By the end, I was hoping that I would be the preferred candidate.
In my worst interview, I was very interested in the job, and I had three interviews. I had a very good connection with the first interviewer, who would be my future manager. After the conversation, I was very keen to get the job. The final stage was to speak with the Head of Finance, who was the manager of my future manager. It was very interesting, because you can imagine it being in a corporate setting, so I was in a meeting room waiting for him; he was based in the UK and only in the Netherlands for one day.
The interview was scheduled for half-an-hour, but he was making phone calls outside the office for 26 of those minutes; once he called my name, the interview time was only four minutes! Having said that, I was called the following day and made an offer. I worked there for seven years, and it was a really great experience.
How do you see things going in the Dutch economy and how do you see that evolving in the next five years?
The risky thing about working in a particular sector is that you are always in a kind of bubble. I am in this bubble of the pharmaceutical sector, which may be less or more impacted by some economic factors than other sectors, e.g. we do not have a manufacturing site in the Netherlands, therefore, we do not have the enormous energy consumption and costs that some other companies or sectors do.
In general, I remain positive. We have an open economy in the Netherlands and there is still a lot of external interest in doing business here, especially in the Amsterdam area. This has a spin-off effect, because, if we have these companies, it creates jobs in the supporting industries, so I remain positive. Also, there are a lot of talented individuals who would like to work in the Netherlands, so we do still attract a lot of people.
What advice would you give to someone looking to move from a multi-national business to a start-up environment?
You really have to look in the mirror and consider whether you have an entrepreneurial mindset, which is of far greater importance in a start-up. I come from a family where my parents had a business and customers were always the most important priority.
When you go to a start-up company, where you have external clients and internal clients, it’s a different work environment compared to working in a very large company. You have to keep all the balls in the air and try to hold the staples together. And, because it’s a small, micro-environment, you have many more staples to deal with, but you also have more responsibility to manage the staples.
What risks have you taken throughout your career and how do you think they have helped get you to where you are now?
As a Finance person, we tend to think in terms of balanced risk! I have taken career risks when I feel I am at a certain plateau. What I have always done is make a thorough assessment and, only after that, would I then decide whether I should continue in a particular role. If I couldn’t identify the opportunities for growth I was looking for, I’d look for the next step. I did that a number of times in my career and, ultimately, I have found a company and position that I am comfortable with.
What I find interesting is the famous initial six-month probation period. My advice is to make the most of this period to determine whether the position and company is a good fit for you. Once, in the earlier part of my career, I moved to another company and I didn’t really like the culture. After these six months, I decided, okay, this is not working out, and I went back to my previous company. That didn’t work out very well, because after another three months back there, I was asking myself, why did I leave last time? I realised the reasons I left in the first place were still present, and so - after another six months - I left a second time for a place where I was more comfortable.
Another time, I joined a company where the culture was great and, in my first six months, I implemented a new software system. After this period, I realized there was not much room to develop myself, as the company was in a flat growth phase. I was concerned that I would end up in a role that would not give me an opportunity for continuous learning. This was another moment when I realized I needed to move on after only six months.
How does a job seeker stand out in the current market?
My advice to anyone is to make the effort to develop a very good CV. It will help in your career if you have really got some very good company names on your CV. As a hiring manager, I consider each candidate as an individual, but because Alnylam is growing fast around the world, I am interested in those who have experience working in larger companies, because then I know that this candidate can excel in a multi-national environment.
It’s also very important for a job seeker that you provide as much detail as you can within your LinkedIn profile, because hiring managers really do pay attention to the LinkedIn profile; where the candidate worked, what they did, and for how long. Add in all positions, what kind of education, any qualifications you have, and show when and why you took certain education or courses, making sure all details are up to date.
Thinking about the longer term, make sure you consider and ask any prospective employer about the development opportunities offered by any new role you apply for.
Finally, the obvious thing is to be prepared for any interview; as a hiring manager, it’s easy to tell the candidates who have invested ten minutes in preparation from those who have invested more than an hour to get ready for an interview, with challenging questions for me, too.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.
Famil Mustafajev is the Finance Director at Nutreco in the Netherlands. Famil shares what gets him out of bed in the morning, the challenges of managing teams across over 50 countries and why Nutreco’s success ultimately rests on welfare in the populations it serves.
What’s the number-one thing that helps you drive your career forward?
As a child, I was always breaking things to find out how they worked – and that curiosity has stayed with me throughout my life. I’m always looking for new challenges; new ways to do things.
Some people say, “How can you call yourself curious and open to new ideas when you’ve worked for the same employer for 19 years?” My answer is simple: my employer’s the only thing that’s remained the same!
With Nutreco, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a hugely diverse career, ongoing training, and opportunities to travel and work all over the world. Things are constantly changing; I’m learning all the time and there’s never a dull moment, which I love. And I believe that, when you love what you do, you don’t need a motivator – passion drives progression, naturally.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career?
If I had to pick one thing, it would probably be the timely anticipation of change. Doing the right thing at the right time.
I’ve practised judo for many years, and I always think of it like a move against an opponent. You have to anticipate. If you wait to react, it’s too late – you’re already flat on your back. You have to understand market dynamics and be ready to act before a change take place, no matter what it is.
What’s the biggest myth about your profession that you’d like to debunk?
I’m really happy you asked this question – the myth would definitely be that Finance is boring! Or that it’s a necessary evil, something you wouldn’t do if you had the choice.
I often quote my old mentor, a Scottish entrepreneur: “We are in business for fun and money – but if there’s no money, there’s no fun!”
Finance is only boring if you don’t understand the depth of it – if the numbers don’t speak to you. It’s the major way we measure the performance of a business. It’s at the heart of every investment made, every job created and every product produced. Where would we be without it?
For me, Finance is a complex, fascinating field that’s central to every business decision. This is why I’ve devoted the best part of my life to my profession, and why I continue to do so today.
You’re currently based in the Netherlands, and work with teams in Africa and Asia. How do you develop innovative, high-performing teams when you’re so geographically diverse?
Obviously, proximity makes all sorts of things easier – but it doesn’t change the essence of what you do. I follow a few simple principles. You need the best teams in place, you need to provide them with the right tools, and give them the framework, guidance and support to allow them to come up with their own ideas and act on them.
My area of responsibility spans more than 50 countries, so it’s not about telling people what to do and how to do it. If you have the right people in place – you account for differences in culture, education levels and skills, and you put the right training opportunities in place – you can confidently trust that your teams will come up with the best ways to develop the business locally.
What sustainability challenges do you face as an organisation?
Perhaps the most obvious challenge is energy, in terms of availability and source. For example, in Africa, it’s almost impossible to secure a reliable power supply and factories are often run on generators. That’s costly for both the environment and Nutreco, especially given the spike in energy prices.
So, under our Sustainability RoadMap 2025, we prioritise improvements in energy efficiency that will help us measurably reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by investing in and promoting initiatives on renewable energy. I believe increasing the production of green energy is one of the biggest sustainability challenges in the developing world. Demand is rising, climate change is affecting everybody, and getting fossil fuels is becoming more and more expensive, and more and more difficult. The good news is, there are so many ways to scale up in this area – especially in countries like Africa, where the climate affords huge potential to tap into solar energy, for example. While green solutions are scarce right now, I can see investment increasing dramatically over the coming years.
Another huge factor affecting the success of our business is the link between welfare and demand in our markets. Even the slightest change in food prices causes in a drop in demand, which is understandable when you consider how low the average income is for many families in the developing world.
An article in The Economist recently claimed that, even before COVID and the war in Ukraine, more than 60% of the population in Nigeria was living on less than $2.15 per day. When you consider that a kilo of fish is more than a dollar, then just one fish would cost you half your daily income.
On the other end of the spectrum, we know that when income per capita increases, so does protein consumption. Through Nutreco’s purpose of Feeding the Future, we are focused on ensuring there is enough healthy protein available to feed the growing global population in generations to come. We’re also doing all we can to boost prosperity in the populations we serve – creating jobs with steady incomes. But these are worldwide issues, and ones we can’t tackle alone.
How is the crisis in Ukraine affecting your markets?
In addition to the deplorable human suffering and loss of life, the war has caused enormous disruption across markets in Europe. The company’s most important area of focus was, of course, to help ensure the safety of our Ukrainian colleagues and their families. We also sold our Russian livestock feed operation to its local management in 2022.
The indirect impact has been an increase in raw material prices and scarcity of cereals – especially in North and Eastern Africa. Goods have become more expensive, logistics more complex and more costly. Very few companies – or people – in Europe have been completely unaffected. We have worked hard to ensure continuity in our supply chains, so we can continue providing the nutritional solutions our customers need to keep producing the protein consumers’ demand.
What does your company do to retain high potential employees?
Plenty of my co-workers have been with the company far longer than my 19 years – as long as 35 years, in some cases. I think that’s because Nutreco allows us to grow professionally, to travel internationally and to learn from colleagues all over the world.
They’re also extremely diligent about people’s safety, from the top down. Even the smallest incidents are carefully reported, so we can learn from each other. It feels good to work for an organisation that so clearly cares for the development and welfare of its employees. When people feel cared for, they stay.
How has continuing professional development impacted your career?
Ongoing education is both a necessity and a privilege.
It’s necessary because, as everybody knows, the world is changing. And, if you don’t keep up, you fall behind. But, for me, it’s also a privilege, and there are so many benefits above and beyond the learning itself.
When I first came to work in the Netherlands, I already had a PhD, but I still felt there were gaps in my knowledge, especially regarding specific Dutch reporting requirements and tax rules. I had the opportunity to do an Executive Master of Finance and Control at Nyenrode Business University.
It didn’t just help me learn more for my role, it also gave me an insight into the level of education in the country – so, if anyone were to come to me for a job in future, I’d know what to expect from them.
Since then, I’ve aimed to complete at least one new training course every year – and I encourage all my direct reports to do the same.
What are your tips for achieving a good work-life balance?
If you enjoy what you do, it can be difficult, but it is important to draw a line. My advice would be to plan your private time as efficiently and carefully as your professional time. We’re all used to using an agenda for our working days, but we tend not to structure our free time – and, as a result, work can very easily eat into it.
So, whether it’s spending time with family, playing sport, reading a book – put it on your to-do list. Those things are just as important.
As you know, EMEA Recruitment is a partner of the charity Operation Smile. We’re curious to know, what’s the last thing that made you smile?
Last week, my daughter had her final Econometrics exam at university in Rotterdam. She came home and said, “That’s it – I’m done!” It was one of those times when I didn’t have to ask how it had gone – I could read everything I needed to know in her face. Seeing her light up like this was one of the happiest moments in my life.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.
Marco Cobianchi is the Head Global Procurement (CPO) at Schindler Group, Switzerland. He has been with the business for almost 20 years - he was previously Head Global Controlling Supply Chain and CEO at Schindler Electronics. Marco started his career at Bticino in 1996, before joining Mikron.
Finance and Procurement need to work closely, as Procurement significantly impact the financials of a company. It is not only a matter of alignment on targets and results, but - most importantly - to achieve transparency and alignment on the impact and timing of Procurement initiatives to the company results.
Working in Finance in the past helped me in building the bridge with the Finance Manager community, get their trust (for example, in the reported savings) and ensure quick alignments.
But, Procurement is much more than savings or payment term optimization; it’s all about supplier relationship management, how to settle and develop relations with our suppliers to enable achievement of company objectives in a sustainable way.
Procurement in Schindler has recently gone through a huge organizational change. How would you summarize it?
In the past 18 months, we completely reorganized Procurement in Schindler, building a global organization with full responsibility of entire group spend across entities and geography.
We redefined the Procurement operating model, ensuring a strong global category management approach and, at the same time, fulfilling specific regional needs and implementing a Procurement center of excellence to drive best practice sharing, process standardization and harmonization, and provide Procurement analytics.
What do you foresee as your biggest challenges in 2023?
After two years of huge material inflation, in 2023, Procurement is requested to regain cost competitiveness, leveraging the declining trend of raw material prices, mastering the energy price risk and labor inflation above average in almost all markets.
In addition, the supply disruptions driven by the pandemic highlighted the importance of a resilient supply base; a reassess of the supplier risk mapping and implementation of a proper business continuity management is a must.
Sustainability is an absolute priority for Schindler, and Procurement is a key enabler to achieve our net zero emissions target by 2040.
How does Schindler work to retain high-potential employees?
Schindler designed the Schindler Career Development Program (SCDP) to provide challenging and purposeful opportunities for high-potential and high-performing talent that has an international mindset.
After joining the program, the person will be engaged in an international assignment, will take a leadership role, and experience a field operational role. These experiences will fully prepare the talent to assume a senior leadership position and shape our future organization.
How do you approach talent development?
As part of the global Procurement reorganization project, we built up a Procurement academy with development programs tailored for each role profile. This ensures harmony and continuously elevates the competencies and skills of the Procurement community, and develops our talent both on leadership and Procurement competencies.
Furthermore, we regularly review the succession pipeline for our key leadership roles to identify opportunities for our talent early and leverage training plans to ensure their readiness for the role.
What would you say is the most memorable moment in your career?
This year, I’ll celebrate my 20th anniversary at Schindler. During these years, I had the opportunity to change different roles.
Two of those were the most important moments in my career. The first was in January 2012, when I was promoted to Managing Director of the Schindler plant in Locarno; it was my dream job since my years at university.
The second was in June 2022, when I was promoted to Head Global Procurement. It was not in my plan; I started as Project Director of the global Procurement reorganization, and I ended up leading the new organization.
What are your tips on achieving work-life balance?
Today, it is almost impossible to completely disconnect from work; our mobile devices keep us connected. Also, working from home during the pandemic didn’t help to separate working time from free time.
My passions are my way to disconnect from my work, to free up my mind and regain energy. I never give up in dedicating time to my hobbies; to play sports in the evening and during weekends, and dedicate time and energy to my family.
Jens Krüger is a Zurich-based Supply Chain leader covering the EMEA market. He started his career in Germany in Logistics and moved to Switzerland in 2005 to work for large Logistics service providers, such as Kuehne + Nagel and DHL, before joining the manufacturing/retailing industry with companies like Estée Lauder and Migros.
As a Supply Chain leader, what are your key challenges when it comes to transforming Supply Chain Management organizations?
According to my experience, the challenges around Supply Chain transformations can be clustered into the human factor and technological limitations. These two aspects are linked by their common challenge: how to estimate the potential success and, later, to measure the success of a Supply Chain transformation.
Supply Chain Management is still a relatively young discipline and has constantly evolved over the last 25 years. Hence, systems and technology are not always up to par with the requirements of businesses and their Supply Chain functions.
Scattered systems - sometimes only linked by manual processes - can still be found in larger companies. This limits the ability to analyse meaningful performance indicators, let alone execute a system-supported process simulation.
When talking about the human factor, there is sometimes a sentiment that people’s dislike of change is the biggest challenge; but I don’t think this is the case, as I have rarely come across people who are resistant to change by nature.
If we leave aside that a lack of knowledge could be the reason for the resistance, I think it is critical how the need for change is being explained and what data is available to support that argument.
Supply Chain professionals are mostly down to earth; presenting them with a new concept, which is purely based on a fluffy vision, without supporting data, might simply not satisfy them and ensure their honest buy-in. Hence, time needs to be invested for building a compelling business case and an alignment on assumptions to deal with data gaps. This will also help with achieving stakeholder alignment or receiving funds for such initiatives.
Thus, starting off a transformation journey with an honest assessment of the company’s Supply Chain capabilities - despite incomplete data - and getting to an understanding that the company can and will benefit from an elevation of the Supply Chain capabilities is perhaps the biggest challenge of the journey.
How can leaders create diverse teams?
Many things have already been said about creating diverse teams. However, the motivation that working in a diverse team can create a competitive advantage is not so often talked about. Therefore, diversity is sometimes perceived as a soft HR topic, and not as something that can create economic benefits for the company and for individuals. We live in a complex world and, even if no one likes to admit it, we often look for solutions inside our own box.
Within a diverse team, different backgrounds, mindsets and experiences can be brought to the table, and better solutions can be found. For example, Supply Chain Management has typically international, if not global, touchpoints. Having team members with roots in different areas of the world allows better interaction with business partners around the globe, and factors in the particularities of other regions when designing solutions.
Having diverse teams can certainly create challenges. These challenges need to be addressed through careful management and a set of rules. One of the most prominent challenges is that misunderstandings are more likely occurring within a diverse team. Hence, I keep encouraging my teams to prevent misunderstandings by asking questions.
Diversity shall not create insecurity; constantly thinking about avoiding mistakes will hamper interaction and kill creativity. At the same time, we should strengthen everyone’s self-esteem so that an unfortunate miscommunication blunder does not mean the end of the world.
I think, if we created a relaxed atmosphere that allows mistakes in interactions and talked more often about the benefits of diversity, it would be easier to sell the concept, and people would adopt that idea more rapidly.
Is Switzerland a good place to live and why?
Switzerland is certainly a good place to live, and my personal history is strong evidence for that. When I moved to Switzerland, it was originally intended to be just a stopover for two years. After living in Switzerland now for 15 years and acquiring Swiss citizenship, I can without doubt call Switzerland my home.
Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe and has a diverse culture, due to the country’s history. This diversity is enriched by people who come from all over the world to work and live in Switzerland.
On top of that, the beautiful nature, plenty of cultural events and civil liberties, the extremely well-functioning administration and infrastructure makes life here pleasant.
As a collective, what have you learnt from your previous managers? What good methods have you taken from them and, adversely, what negative approaches do you ensure you avoid?
I’m privileged that I have had several exceptional managers in my professional career so far.
One of the commonalities of all these great leaders has been that they all gave me challenges that were way outside my comfort zone at the respective stage of my career. They explained what needs to be achieved and fostered my self-confidence, so that I could succeed. Investing into employees’ skills was also high on their agenda. Confidence and the right skillset should go hand in hand, or - as one of those leaders used to say - “confidence without competence leads to disaster”.
It needs to be stressed that all of that was done with a clear business target in mind and not to facilitate personal fulfilment. All these leaders set ambitious goals; good was rarely good enough. They all showed a high commitment to their targets and were prepared to lead the team through stormy weather themselves.
I can’t think of any particularly negative leadership approach, but I would say that it would require you to keep the two elements mentioned above in balance. Strongly prioritizing one over the other is either not producing the results the company needs or is burning out their employees.
I had mentioned before that I appreciated it when leaders stepped out of their comfort zone for me. Unfortunately, I have experienced what I would call the imbalance of loyalty. This is when bosses were requesting loyalty, but being loyal to their team only as long as there was smooth sailing.
I think that this is one of the true leadership tests - to stay on course and keep agreements intact, even if outside conditions have changed. Having said that, I appreciate we live in a rapidly changing world and that it can sometimes become impossible to live up to these principles. Being transparent about the situation, acknowledging their own failure and looking jointly for ways to remediate it is a form of loyalty that a leader owes the team.
What does the future hold for Supply Chain and Operations?
Sustainability and social responsibility are already high on the agenda and will continue to be so. I believe that actions to accelerate reaching net zero carbon emissions and achieving other ESG targets will go in parallel to Supply Chain Management, facilitating new business models around the circular economy.
As mentioned earlier in our conversation, Supply Chain and Operations still need to catch up when it comes to applying technology. I expect that AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (internet of things) will together allow amazing solutions that are just starting to be discussed today. Technological advancements will also allow better process integration and collaboration along the linear and, soon, circular value chains.
This will improve Supply Chain’s ability to give the business a competitive edge by satisfying the customer’s specific demands at lower cost in an agile and responsive way.
Thank you to Jens for speaking to Neil Cope, Associate Director in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment division in Switzerland.
Mandy Morgan is the Chief Financial Officer for Seenons in Amsterdam, a scale-up business on a mission for a waste-free world. Originally from South Africa, Mandy started her career as an Audit Manager at KPMG, before working at several businesses across South Africa and also setting up her own company.
What excites you about working for Seenons?
It's a company that is disrupting an established industry, and it's also a company on a mission.
Whenever you've got a good story, a mission-driven company, it adds a whole different dimension to the level of excitement when it comes to work, because you're not only striving for profitability - yet profitability is very important.
You're also trying to change the world and changing it into a better place for future generations. That's what excites me, and, because of that, it attracts people who are excited about what they're doing.
That's what makes Seenons special. We're about 83 employees now, and it is a company almost bubbling with enthusiasm in terms of changing the world for the better.
How would you describe the company culture at Seenons and how that compares to some of your previous employments?
Large, established companies always have great, solid structures; they have great training programmes, they've got a good network, they've got all those sorts of things, so there's huge value in that.
But I think that Seenons is excitement wrapped up in a bubble. We have a people-first philosophy, where we place high importance on people and their happiness within the organisation.
We have a very dynamic, young culture. I’m not saying that all staff are young, but I think it's the vibe that you feel within the organisation in terms of, we move quickly, we make a difference, and we do it as a team - there's no I in Seenons.
What are the challenges that await your business and how do you hope to overcome them? As a scale-up, there must be some interesting challenges.
Absolutely. In this economic climate, I think every business is under more pressure than they previously would be. I think investment and valuations have dropped significantly over the last six to 12 months.
Having said that, I think they are regaining some ground, and it’s fundamental that we are able to raise capital in order to grow, but we are doing well in that area.
Also, finding good people and keeping them is high on our agenda in terms of growth. I think your company is only as good as the people that you employ, and the passion that they have to make a difference and execute on the dream. That is generally what a scale-up is.
Also, in order to be successful, we need to automate as much as possible and make it scalable. Seenons is going through the stage where we've gone from start-up to now scale-up, and that drive for automation is essential, but is not an easy step.
What are three to five key drivers to success in Seenons that you see the most?
We look at our cash burn rate very closely, because that determines how long we've got with whatever funds we've raised. That goes without saying.
One we look at a lot is revenue per FTE is used in CV screening.
You need to get enough on your CV to make sure that you have enough to get to the interview. Then, I think it's the interview stage where you sell yourself.
I don't have the time to wade through pages and pages of CVs. So, I think something that's short, concise, catches my eye, has a few highlights shows me that the person has structure - and I'm talking from a Finance perspective – that, to me, is good.
Then, the interview - it's showing passion, enthusiasm, willingness to learn and ownership. This is because, often, people don't want to own their growth or own the process, but are happy to go for the ride; that makes a big difference in the people that I look for.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in Finance and Accounting?
You need to be adaptable to change, because the role of the Finance professional is going to change significantly.
Where we used to be responsible for crunching numbers, in the very near future, that's going to be taken over by technology. So, being adaptable to change and to be able to think out-of-the-box, to learn and understand and interpret things differentiates you from a tool.
If you can ask enough questions and you can challenge yourself to grow your knowledge continuously - along with being able to reason and explain processes - then I think the role of the financial is secured.
If you just rely on your ability to crunch numbers, then I think you your career prospects may become quite limited.
How is the growing focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) changing the function and how does it relate to your role?
Very nicely, because we are a mission-driven company from a social and environmental perspective. We are seeing it a lot more in investment rounds; it has become a big focus from investors, as well.
From that perspective, it's great that we already tick a lot of those boxes and we are a people-focused company that values diversity. Ethics and trust are fundamental when it comes to your governance component, as well.
You can break trust in a second, but it takes years to build it up. I think a focus on that is good for the global economy, regardless. If every business focused on their governance and ethics, became a trusted organisation, I think the world would be a better place. To me, all three of those are a win.
Who's the most inspiring person in business for you and why?
I think the CEO of Tutuka Software (now Paymentology), Rowan Brewer.
He inspires me, because I worked for the company for quite a long time, and he was always emphatic about ensuring that it was for the best of the company and for the right reasons.
He was the one who promoted the Changing Lives programme within the company, because he believed his success needed to be shared with all those around him.
He believed he was successful because he had opportunities that a lot of other people didn't, so his focus on that was incredible. He's made an incredibly huge success of his company, but he was always approachable, friendly and caring.
He always thought about problems differently, and he always made sure that he did things for the right reason - I think that's an inspiration. If anyone was to compare me or put me in a similar category to Rowan, I would feel hugely honoured, because he really is an inspiration.