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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Tijani Djaziri - Global Vice President, HR Digitization & Organization and Rewards at gategroup

Tijani Djaziri is the Global Vice President, HR Digitization & Organization and Rewards at gategroup in Zurich, where he’s been for over six years. He previously spent more than eight years at Dufry Group and two years at Sellbytel. Tijani started his career as an Auditor/Consultant at Mazars.

You started your career working for Mazars as an Auditor/Consultant. What attracted you to Human Resources?

I realized I wanted to move into HR at university. The various political and human aspects of organization was a fascinating discovery back then, and it kept being the most appealing side of HR throughout my career. The strategic aspect or organizational development - whether on the pure organizational side of things or people empowerment - has been a constant driver in my HR path in various stages of my career.

Even though, in the early stages of my HR life, the focus was mainly around basic organization skills in putting together processes and clear guidelines of HR best practices, it was always driven by a strategic view to improve the business capacity, to face daily challenges in alignment with the overall business strategy.

As I grew with the role and gained experience, I managed to reach this strategic goal to bring HR to a level above the usual administration role it was assigned to, with fresh and pragmatic approaches - mainly data driven to bring more fairness, together with additional efficiencies.

You have implemented and led HR projects on a global scale. How do you manage integrating strategies across different cultures and environments?

The challenging part of global projects is that all the various regions involved come with different priorities and focuses. Most of the stakeholders are usually struggling with their day-to-day issues and do not necessarily understand or even care about the global strategic necessity; they are stuck within their scope of responsibilities and don’t have a global vision around HR.

Hence, helping them change their views can prove challenging, and can require a lot of energy and time to help them evolve to another level of thinking.

The other challenge is usually to align global objectives with local ones, which comes with a lot of exchanges and compromises on both sides; the difficult part being to stay aligned with the global target, while compromising on specific details, generally ruled by legal constraints.  

How do you manage internal stakeholders to see the value of HR technology and digitalization?

Managing internal stakeholders is a key skill to drive digitalization and HR technology initiatives. To convince stakeholders of the value of HR technology, I had to align the HR technology strategy with business goals and priorities, through various workshops with them, defining the business processes and aligning them for a single set of rules to be globally implemented.

This helped to demonstrate the impact of HR technology on operational excellence and business value through leveraging data and analytics to showcase the benefits and ROI of HR technology.

Further to this, throughout the implementation journey, aside from the governance element, I had to communicate effectively and frequently with all stakeholders to address their needs and concerns, build a change management strategy through newsletters, regular calls and meetings, and end user guides and videos to improve the end user experience.

All these initiatives helped to foster a culture of innovation and experimentation in HR across the organization.

Your LinkedIn profile mentions you have implemented new global HR systems with very limited resources. What obstacles did you face under these circumstances?

The main challenge in the implementation project I handled at gategroup was related to resources. Even though we managed to get the budget on the licence and partner side of things, from the HR perspective, we had to convince the regions to allocate a full-time, dedicated resource in each one of them (at their cost) to help with implementation.

Ultimately, this approach was very beneficial, as it helped each region feel part of the project - not only as an execution element, but more as a business partner, as these resources (SMEs: Subject Matter Experts) had a saying in shaping the project. They were also a key SPOC [single point of contact] with the regional HR leaders to ensure alignment and have all stakeholders moving at the same speed under the global coordination.

What excites you about HR technology?

In a fast-paced, technological world, HR needs to cope with this overall evolution as much as any other department. In the context of global companies with branches spread across the world and multiple timezones, where time is of the essence, evolution is a must if a company wants to keep up to speed.

I believe HR technology is the solution to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of HR management. HR systems can automate and streamline various tasks, such as recruitment, payroll, performance appraisals, training and development, and employee engagement. By doing so, HR systems can reduce manual errors, save time and costs, and enhance the quality of HR services.

Another business strength of HR technology is that it can support strategic decision making and organizational performance. HR systems can collect and analyse data on various aspects of human capital in real time, such as skills, competencies, productivity, satisfaction, and retention. By using this data, HR tech can provide insights and recommendations on how to optimize the workforce, align HR practices with business goals, and measure the impact of HR initiatives on business outcomes.

Ultimately, it pushes HR to become a strategic business partner, rather than a simple support or admin function, as it used to be.

How have you, as a leader, created a good working culture in your teams?

The key element in this exercise has been to always value transparency and collaboration, involving all team members in the project with clear plans and clear governance. Even though this governance approach wasn’t applied at the project start, its implementation brought clear boundaries to all stakeholders (internal/external) on the task split and responsibilities. This helped to identify and fix issues quicker when they popped up, and also have a better understanding of the root cause and assign it to the right resource.

Aside from that, knowledge sharing and internal mobility (mostly) laterally, helped to grow internal technical knowledge and know-how, and helped progress much faster in the early stage of the project. It also helped to face challenges in a more structured and efficient way to enhance the product and improve the usage level for all users.

Thank you to Tijani for speaking to our Human Resources recruitment team in Switzerland, led by Keely Straw.

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

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Franca Mercurio - RD&E Director EMEA at SC Johnson

Franca Mercurio is the RD&E Director EMEA at SC Johnson in Switzerland. Franca has spent many years at SC Johnson in cross-functional roles. Having lived in different countries, she brings a broad perspective to her work and is involved in several Diversity & Inclusion activities in Switzerland.

How would you explain your job to those who've never worked in your field before?

It's funny, because - if I look at my job from a very simplistic perspective - when my daughters ask me what I do at work, I explain to them that normally I'm just on the phone 24/7! I do a lot of talking and try to gain an understanding of what the situation is.

If I have to be a little bit more concrete, I lead a team that is implementing products into the manufacturing areas, which means that we are not doing fancy work. We’re not the designers or the inventors, but we are the people that actually make things happen. We translate innovation into reality.

How do you identify with the mission at SC Johnson?

I would say that SCJ is definitely proud of the values and the integrity that we have. Our mission is visible, first of all, if you look at our logos, but even from a lot of the talks that our Chairman does on trying to make a better world.

We’re also here to make sure that we continue to think about the next generation. If I can make a little bit of a transposition between what we do on a day-to-day basis and what the ultimate mission of SCJ is, it is really to be involved in the execution and implementation of projects that are making those values true. So, you might have seen a lot of activities from the Chairman on sustainability, recyclable plastics, and those kinds of things.

Sometimes, we ask ourselves what it is that we do, but - when you see a product on a shelf that is responding to the values of the company - you can really feel proud of that.

Do you have a memorable moment from your career?

I have two memories that are a little bit similar in the sense that I made the best steps in my career when I was pregnant.

The first one, I already delivered my baby, and she was two-months-old. I was asked, “Would you apply for a position in the Netherlands, which would be a promotion?” I was like, “Well, why not? She is small, so we can do it. I have a fabulous husband that is following me.” So, I discussed it with him, and we were like, “Okay, let's go.”

Having the opportunity of the company considering my profile, even when I was on maternity leave, was amazing.

Subsequently, I was pregnant with my third child, and there was an opportunity. They were like, “Would you apply?” and I was like, “Yeah, but guys, I'm actually going on maternity leave and then I will be back.” They were like, “No worries. If everything goes well and you're responding to what the needs are, we're going to wait for you” - and that's what they did.

I found it so respectful and amazing that those values of D&I are true, irrelevant of what stage of your career you are. That was really memorable, and I’m grateful to the company that has given me the opportunity.

Do you have any advice for people who are relocating as a family?

It very much depends on where you go. When I moved to the Netherlands, I found a place which was very easy to move; it wasn't necessary to learn the language immediately and there were a lot of part-time opportunities. There are a lot of places to put your child or your children into the care of somebody; that was extremely helpful, because it makes it easy to move. You need to be very conscious of the things you want to do yourself and the things that you can leave to others.

When I moved to Switzerland, on the other side, I thought that I would find the same kind of structure. But, in reality, it was a little bit more difficult to find a place. The moment I moved to Switzerland, I had three daughters, so our needs were different. We had an au pair for a while - she was part of the family actually - she's Dutch, so it was also nice to keep on using the Dutch language for the girls.

Then, I always chose to have my daughters in public school, but also in the public sector, where I could leave them after school. I was lucky that they were not very ill a lot, so I could send them every day, and I’d also have the flexibility that, if they were not okay, I could work from home. It's really important that you understand what your values are, what your need are, and then see where you can find the help.

I am super lucky; I had a lot of friends that helped me if there was any need. That helps with taking your mind off things, because you know that there is a support network around you that will actually step in if you need them.

Do you have any advice for leaders who are looking to engage new talent entering the workforce?

It's really funny, because my team is pretty young and the values that they are looking for are always different from the ones that I was thinking myself when I entered the workforce. Sometimes, it's like, isn't it not enough? What is it that you're looking for?

For me, the key ingredient is to be there, and be open and available to talk and to listen to them. That is because they don't always know how to explain themselves with what they are looking for. But you cannot just assume that, because it was like that in your time, it is still like that. I find it fascinating to understand more and to open more.

For two days per year, I go into a school of Marketing in Lausanne. They're all between 20/22/23-years-old. It is really fascinating to understand where they want to go next, or the things that they're looking for, how you engage them for eight hours consecutively, making sure that they're not just looking at their mobile phones. That is something that you need to be very conscious about - anything that was true for you does not necessarily apply to them. Actually, a lot of the skills that we are looking for today are different from the ones that I was growing with.

But, always assume that you can learn from them. Always be available - your door needs to be open, and you need to talk to them so they can explain to you. And, see that there is also a point of reference in a moment in which they can talk and it's going to be more on a parity role, rather than a manager or an employee. It should be like, “Okay, explain to me what it is that you're looking for and how I can help you.”

This week, I was training on inverted classroom. They were talking about the standard way of viewing a class; there is a teacher, they talk to you, and then you go home and do your homework. But, now, they're looking into giving you the material first, so that you have an idea of what we're going to talk about, and then when we're in class, we are enhancing that opportunity there.

I was thinking about what I can do at work, instead of me just telling you, “Okay, this is your task,” giving you some hints and then brainstorming with you - constantly working on these additional things that you can find to engage them and to show them that, actually you don't know everything, but it's mutual growing.

What is the most exciting project you've had outside of work?

Teaching in a school is one of them, but the other big piece is related to D&I. I'm part of the LEAD Network in Switzerland. I'm part of the board there for the chapter. It is incredible, because – between 13/15 people - we're looking to do webinars, mentoring sessions, face-to-face or virtual events where we can give tips to the women around us. Actually, this morning we were discussing what our next event is going to be.

First of all, the amount of people that you meet, and the amount of things that you learn from just listening to their stories and by exchanging experiences is really impressive. I hope, just by doing a little bit of this, I can give a small contribution for my daughters when they're entering the world of working. It’s super important that we look into it.  

I know there were a lot of studies showing that we went backwards with the pandemic on the women's side, so we need to catch up and make sure we go back to where we were before pandemic – but, also, that we accelerate going forward.

When you're hiring new people, what would you say is trainable and what do you think must already be there?

If I think about this question, I've changed my perspective along my career. When I was younger, I would say, if you wanted to be in a technical role, you need to be a grown technical first, and then we’re going to add some of the soft skills around that.

However, going forward, you can always learn the technical piece. Of course, if you are a formulator, you need to have some real formulation experience and studies behind - it's not applicable to everything. But 80% of the things are trainable; you go for a course, an MBA , a post-doc, or whatever you're going to get.

The thing that you need to have is the ability to shape the person. So, you need to have the adaptability of the person, or you can just grow those soft skills that are going to be even more important than the real hard skills. By that, I mean they need to be open, they need to be receptive to feedback, and they need to be curious.

You cannot teach those things. Yes, as you grow, as you become more mature, you can understand that certain things are necessary and you can try to adapt, but you need to have all of those at the beginning. I'm really looking more at how the person is responding, rather than the answer they're giving on a certain problem.

I will always remember, once I was doing an interview - we were looking for a lady that was more on the data type of work. We did a business case with her, trying to see how she would think about it and how her reasoning was developing. I thought we gave her a very easy task, but - after half an hour - she came back and said, “I don't know what it is that you're asking me, I don't understand it. So, I'm not sure that I'm able to do it.”

First of all, I appreciate the fact she came back saying she didn’t know how to do it. But then, we gave her two or three things that she could start reasoning about, and after that, she was like, “Oh, okay, now I know,” and she did it.

For me, first having the humility to say, “I'm not able to do it,” but then the rework happens, and they came back with a good performance - those are the things I'm most looking for.

How does SC Johnson engage and develop top talent?

We do great onboarding; people are very happy when they come, because they can see a lot of things in a month that sometimes you don't see even after a year.

The other piece that SCJ does in an amazing way is to keep you engaged. So, if you want to be going beyond what you're normally doing, you can always raise your hand at any level. It’s giving you the freedom of just doing your work or going beyond, if you wish. This is the most attractive way to keep you engaged.

What advice would you give to new graduates who are looking to step into R&D or Supply Chain for the first time?

First of all, don't be scared. It could be technical on the R&D side, but even the Supply Chain side could be technical. But don’t be scared to start working from the basics.

Sometimes, when we start working, we think that it's going to be all these nice things and very flowery, but, actually, you need to also do the very basics, and you need to start understanding what you're talking about from the lowest level. This might mean doing the practical side of things.  

The most important piece is to understand what it is that you're doing and to give back. Don't be scared. Nobody is born knowing all these skills. Nobody is going to be asking you to make super-duper things if you don't have the capabilities. We're going to be asking you to just be yourself, to come in and to be humble enough to say, “I don't know,” and be willing to learn how to do it.

The other piece is, don't be scared to ask if, after a couple of years, you question what you can do next, where you can expand. Find a sponsor, find a mentor, find somebody that you like as an example, and go and explore what it is that you can do next.

At the same time, don't be too arrogant and say, “I know everything,” Instead, it’s, “Okay, where can I go next? Where can I do different things?” and the opportunities will come.

So, start, go, don’t be scared about the type of work, deliver what you need to deliver, and then the opportunities will just come.

Thank you to Franca for speaking to our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in Switzerland, led by Neil Cope.

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

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Bram Lybaert - FP&A Director Europe at Ecolab

Bram Lybaert is the FP&A Director Europe at Ecolab in Zurich. He has been with the business for over six-and-a-half years, having previously spent more than four years at Kellogg’s and almost eight years with Procter & Gamble.

How did you get into ultra trail running and can you share your best running experience?

I got into running by chance. I wasn't really a runner until I saw an opportunity to run the New York Marathon. It was a company that was going to acquire Pringles, and they were a sponsor of the New York Marathon. One day, I got an email titled: “Who wants to go and run the marathon in New York?”

I had never run more than ten kilometres in my life, but the attraction of running the New York Marathon inspired my colleague Garreth and myself to go for it. It was a great experience; if you ever can run the marathon in New York, I strongly recommend to do so.

I also like mountains, do a lot of mountain sports. And, once I ran the marathon, I started combining running and mountains, and that is how I got into trail running.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to start running?

I'm not a personal coach, but I believe it is possible for anybody to train for a 10k, half marathon or a marathon. I’m absolutely convinced. Start step by step. That can be running a kilometre or a mile and then build from there. Don't do nothing and then go running 20 miles - that will be a very hard and painful experience.

Then it is about personal operational discipline. The most difficult part of running is putting your shoes and shirt on; once you've done that, you go running. That's my tip: just put on your shoes and your sports clothes.

The great thing about trail running is that it sucks you in – very similar to other endurance sports, like marathons and triathlons. From there, it sort of escalated in terms of distance and difficulty - it is addictive, in a way. You realise once you start running longer distances that there are no limits. The limit is what you put on yourself - it's a mental limit.

The body can take quite a lot of things. Of course, you need to prepare, train, have the right material, you need to feed yourself correctly, etc. You learn along the way what works, what doesn't work, and it can be different for everybody.

And this applies to your work life as well; it is a confidence builder. You realise there is no true limit in life, only the limits you set for yourself, which can apply to anything you do in your life; it's not limited to sports. In that sense, it's an eye opener and it's something that can help you succeed in other aspects of your life.

We're going to move on to your passion for wine. What’s the best piece of advice you could give me about wine?

Try different things. If you're interested in the subject, there are many courses available. If you are passionate, I can recommend WSET (Wine, Spirits, and Education Trust). Great education, for all levels.

What I like in any subject that interests me - whether it's wine, sports, or a subject like stock markets or financial planning and analysis - is to get the theory behind it and see if what I'm doing is in line or is different. That's one way I improve myself or learn more about a subject I like. Obviously, the condition is that it is a passion or a subject of strong interest.

Why did you join Finance?

I joined Finance because I figured you need a Finance person everywhere. Regardless of which operation you’re in, you're going to need somebody to count the money - to put it very simply. So, it is also a profession that will allow you to see all aspects of a company.

How did you arrive at that thought?

I think it developed during my time at university. I studied Economics, and a master's in Banking and Finance, because I quite like investing, stock markets, etc. I thought, let me try a bank. I did do a three-month project in a bank as part of my studies, at which point I figured out, no, the bank is not for me.

I am a bit older, so this was before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. I was in a Trading department, and it was full of PhDs in Physics and Nuclear Engineering. I didn't understand a word of what these people were telling me, and it all felt very artificial - there was no substance behind it. I felt quite uncomfortable with it, and quickly concluded a bank was not for me. I did like the Finance aspect and something more tangible, so this is how I ended up in P&G.

I wanted it to be a multi-national, because another criteria was to not be stuck in Belgium. Again, this comes from my university experience, and - specifically - the Erasmus exchange program, spending six months in a private college in the US. I very much liked this, and I would recommend going abroad early in your studies or career.

How did you adapt when you moved from each of these countries?

Within Europe, we’re not so materially different from a cultural aspect, even though you might think so. For example, if you're in Belgium and you go to Italy or Poland, you might think it's very different, but truly we all operate in very similar ways, and the differences are small.

A great part of that is just listening and understanding how things work in a different place and being open to that. You don't always realise that for yourself, because you have been brought up in a certain system, culture, way of working and thinking. So, when you arrive somewhere new, you might just continue, and you don't realise that some of the stuff you're doing is actually very different from how people in that other place, country or culture would do it.

This is the richness of an experience of going somewhere else. You learn some of the stuff that you might have thought to be universal is only true for your very small part of the world where you live. It’s like, okay, we’ve done it here this way for the last 50 years, but why does it have to be like that? Sometimes, in other places, they do it differently and it works better. A life lesson learned.

By far, the most difficult move was from Europe to Singapore, because the differences are much bigger. I naively thought that having worked in Europe, the Middle East and Africa that I had seen a great diversity already, and that I would be able to adapt easily, but the cultural shock was significant.

What was the thing that stood out to you most?

I developed a certain way of working in Europe that I applied there without adjustment. It is a quite direct way of working. I quickly realized that most of my Asian colleagues were much more relationship oriented. So, before you actually can achieve something, you have to get to know the person in much more detail than you would in most European cultures. That was a challenge, even more so in COVID times.

Luckily, the first nine months I was there without COVID, so I could travel to a lot of places, which is absolutely needed, and is a must if you are to go about and work with colleagues.

I came back to Europe with a different style than when I went there. I spend much more time trying to understand people on a personal level than I did before.

Is it quite easy to transition from industry to industry?

I believe Finance is needed everywhere and most companies have a Finance function – some still limit this to Accounting, a missed opportunity, I would say, in that case. Most of the time, we do similar things. Whether you work in an IT company, a chemicals company, an FMCG company, the basics are the same.

So, I generally found it easy to transition between companies and roles. Of course, there are very specialised roles or industries - like Treasury or Tax, or going into the pharma industry - but those are exceptions, and if you are eager to learn and work hard, this can be overcome, as well.

What is your secret to building a strong network and maintaining your international network?

It is about being open, curious and interested in people. I love meeting new people and learning about new perspectives, so it's not so difficult. It's easier in a place like Singapore than in a small place like Schaffhausen, but the concept is the same. I like this saying: “You have two ears and one mouth, so use it in proportion” - not always easy to apply in practice, but good to keep in mind.

Then, I network or connect with people in the areas I'm interested in. I do have a certain focus to it, and luck. You can force a little bit of your luck. For example, if you want to work in a certain company or country, it might make sense to join some networks where you have a high probability of meeting those people that do what you're interested in. So, I try to do that; it doesn't always work.

My key networks come from my employers - P&G, Kellogg's - and then the schools that I’ve been at or university. In Singpore, I attended a master in INSEAD - a great network. It's part of the business model, so in a way you pay for it, so you've got to use it. It's interesting how some of these things work because you are part of something; the access is much easier to certain people. It might not feel 100% fair, but it is how human networks operate.

Maximise your effort and time; today, it is extremely easy to connect, because we have all the technology to connect with anybody in the world. So, maintaining a relationship is more a question of you putting in the time and effort than anything else. There is no excuse not to do it.

I also like to have a little board of directors, or rather friends and/or mentors. There are a few people that I have met over the years - some date back from school, university, P&G – four, five, six people I know and trust. I can connect with them at any point in time. I might not talk to them for a year, but if I have a problem, a question, a doubt, and I want to get their opinion, they're the ones I go to. They are completely unbiased, because they don't work in my company, they don't do my job, they are detached from my situation, so they can give me completely independent advice.

Do you have anyone that you are personally mentoring?

Yes, mainly work related. There are many informal relationships without it being spelled out that I'm the mentor and they’re my mentee. Within my team, I take the time to coach them without it being an explicit mentor/mentee relationship, which ideally goes outside of your direct reports or people you work with. So, informally I do, but I don't have it written down in the system.

What is the personal highlight of your career so far?

In general, the highest reward is when you help develop people and then you see them succeed. The direct reward is to see them succeed and contribute to your team’s success.

An even greater reward is when you see them continue to develop and, one day, they might be your boss, or they might have a great opportunity somewhere else and you're like, “I knew that this person was going to make it, I'm happy I could contribute a little bit to their success.” That really gives me a kick.

And then, don’t forget, you contributed to their development, so it's not that they owe you something, but they will always be part of your network, and happy to help you.

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

For myself, being a more rational and data-oriented person, it is not to forget about the softer side of things, cultivate the EQ runs daily, and you can see your daily P&L automatically in the system.

Lots of things are possible; it's more a matter of how ready your management and key stakeholders are. It's not a question of how or what you can do - it's what do they want you to do, how do you see the process, and are they ready for it?

How do you keep up to date with what's going on digitally?

If you're interested, you go and delve into the subjects. Some members of my FP&A team are very interested in it, so I don't really need to ask them. They come up with ideas themselves, which I love. So, ideally, some of it comes from the team, and then some you drive yourself.

You need to enable your team. For instance, a few were interested in this space, so I said, “Let me find out how we can do some training." We found a great digital certification and online training. Then, a few wanted to go further, so then we found a trainer to do advanced Power BI, queries, programming, etc.

There are so many possibilities. It's just a matter of your personal interests and stimulating your team to go and explore it. Enjoy the journey!

Thank you to Bram for speaking to Lauren Eagar, Senior Consulant 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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Andreas Muller - Group Head of Human Resources at Sefar

Andreas Müller is the Group Head of Human Resources at Sefar in Heiden, Switzerland. He began his HR career at AIDA Cruises, before joining A-ROSA, Swiss International Air Lines, Swissport, CEWE Stifung & Co and Beyond Gravity.

What have you learnt as a leader over the last 12 months?

There are two thing that I have learnt. Firstly, I believe all industries and all businesses are people businesses. When you realise this or when you return to work, you’ll notice people are laughing, hugging each other, showing their emotions, and there’s happiness and fun taking place all around the office.

It’s really good to see that we are a people business – every business is a people business, so it’s very important to have these relationships to really drive businesses. I realised this much more during the coronavirus pandemic. I think we really need to focus on our people and create a more people-centric organisation to keep all these people happy, engaged and so on.

The second learning experience - starting with the coronavirus pandemic and continuing with the Ukrainian war - I think we have been in a crisis mode for more than three years now and, for me, as a leader, it’s really important to be helpful, be pragmatic, find solutions, and be very flexible in adjusting the targets to the changing environment, so this is what I learnt.

I don’t believe that we should ignore all of the strategies and visions, but I think we just need to be more flexible and more agile in adjusting to a changing environment, so that we can become successful. If you stick to your targets and milestones and so on, you may end up with a successful project, but the question is, is that project stable?

What’s the biggest challenge for leaders overseeing remote teams? How did you as a leader get through those challenges?

It’s based on the company pressure and on your own mindset. To give an example, when I changed my job to join a very traditional company, it was very challenging for the leaders to trust people. So, it’s all about trust, but, of course, overseeing remote teams means you have to use Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, etc., otherwise people will just disappear.

You have to be clear about the targets, what you want to achieve and what people have to achieve when clocking in the offices or clocking in remotely. In terms of target setting, there is no difference, but there is a difference in how to communicate and how clearly you define the targets. This is very important, and again requires communication and interaction.

Management actually leads by objectives, so this became more important to me. You have to follow up on topics and you have to provide feedback. If you don’t trust people remotely, then your relationship doesn’t really work out.

What I learnt is that you really have to invest much more of your time and plan time for communication, and you have to make sure as a leader everyone is onboard.

What you realise is that some people may not be present, in terms of switching off the camera and you don’t see them anymore. When this happens, you don’t know if your team member is engaged or still in the meeting.

Therefore, I think it is very important to have a mixed approach. This involves remote leadership, but also physical meetings in the office to see each other, because - for me - that’s important in terms of innovation, co-creation and developing new things together.

If you don’t see each other often, I believe productivity declines, along with people engagement. Also, what we realised during the big pandemic was that some people can’t really work on their own and may need further leadership, or they just don’t really have the work environment at home.

For example, imagine you are a single mum doing home schooling, and don’t have a specific room or space to really focus on your work. Also, this is not very often the case, but some people do not have very healthy relationships at home, so you have to really focus on those people and still support them more as a leader - this is a challenge in leading remote teams.

What risks did you take throughout your career and how did they help you to get to the level that you did?

I wouldn’t call it risks; what I really did several times in my career is I volunteered for new tasks. For instance, when it came to the Lufthansa Group transformation, I took the lead for that transformation for Swiss International Air Lines.

However, I am a pioneer, so therefore I think it is important that you be a safe starter, so I’m talking now about competencies. Competencies like curiosity, the power to stay focused, even if you fail in certain steps, along with having courage.

Being a pioneer may be risky, but if you’re successful, people start appointing you. I think it’s more being curious and being passionate about what you do. This personal confidence has helped me a lot in developing my career.

What is the secret to building a strong network?

For me, building a strong network and having a very reliable network is kind of a give and take. You have to invest a lot, sometimes you give advice, sometimes you help and support others. You’re sharing new ideas and, in return, you receive that from your network.

You also have to invest more in terms of time. Also, personal interaction is really important for me - meeting for lunch, meeting for coffee or for dinner; this really helps when building a strong network in terms of your career.

Naturally, to me, when I meet people, we share ideas. For instance, a director from a different company in Switzerland contacted me and we were sharing ideas or experiences in terms of setting up a shared service centre, debating whether or not it should be in Switzerland and its advantages.

We met two months ago, we kept in touch. This is what I mean - building a network and sharing ideas, supporting each other can bring different perspectives.

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

I would offer two pieces of advice. The first one is, if you really want to make it to the top, you should start career planning in the mid-30s, at the latest. Personally, I never planned my career, but career planning is key, and you have to start with that very early.

Secondly, be patient in terms of your career, especially if you’re employed with a big company like I was employed with Lufthansa or Swissport. I applied for several positions, but I think my advice would be to keep calm and carry on, as you never know what will happen within the next following months - maybe there’s a better opportunity just around the corner.

I moved on when I found all these new challenges outside the company, but now, looking back, I think sometimes that it would have been much better to stay and wait for the next opportunity, so this would be my advice to the younger Andreas.

Who are your main stakeholders that you typically deal with internally?

I think IT is important, especially when talking about HR digitalisation, so we have a very strong relationship with the IT guys.

Finance is important in order to steer the company from a financial point of view; talking about HR KPIs, facts and figures is important in my role. Also, being ahead of the game and having the ability to really steer the people agenda into other people topics and the human capital of the company.

When it comes to programming, marketing, selling and employer development, then Communications and Marketing are my main stakeholders.

Last, but not least, ESG and Corporate Responsibility, as the sustainability topic is becoming more and more important.

Investing money, time and investing in people – this is what the ESG topic is all about, so these stakeholders are important, especially for the HR function, because a lot of the topics discussed in ESG are related to the HR function.

How will digital transformation change the role of HR?

I think digital transformation will really boost the HR function in terms of becoming really relevant. I mean, this happened to several companies already. For me, this is the underlying foundation.

I think you have to digitise HR processes, because this will massively increase the efficiency of all the transaction processes. This helps you to free up resources for tasks like employer branding, bringing change, focusing on talent and attrition, etc. 

This will bring HR to the boardroom in some companies, like the bigger ones. But small companies still have to do this, and this is my advice: Focus on reviewing the processes, define the processes in a much more efficient way, then digitise it. Then, you will free up a lot of resources, which you then can invest in these innovative tasks.

Thank you to Andreas 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

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Matteo Stefani - Head of Procurement Europe at Novartis

Matteo Stefani is the Head of Procurement Europe at Novartis. He started his Procurement career in Italy, before joining Elemica in Amsterdam and UCB (where he spent over eight years) in Brussels.

Having worked in Procurement Excellence, Digitalization and Sustainable Procurement, what attracted you to these areas, and how do you see them developing in the future?

These interesting and exciting areas are the foundation of Procurement, and enablers of a truly impactful function.

Building Excellence in Procurement has been attractive to me since the very beginning of my career, when I had to implement an online auction solution into a $40m telecommunication business. Internet, at that time, back in 2001, just started to be something used to do business in Italy. Senior Procurement leaders and large vendors were not ready nor used to working online.  

I started my senior Procurement career leading a Procurement transformation and building my own Center of Excellence with the intent to develop, implement and enable best-in-class purchasing process and tools. My team and I literally built strong wings for a very successful global organization. We designed sleek processes, developed the right market insights, the right way of analysing and benchmarking data, implemented the right tools to do competitive sourcing, qualifying and onboarding vendors, automated solution to order, invoicing and paying.

This topic (Procurement Excellence) is still incredibly actual: B2B and not even about signing contracts that can be literally outsourced into the business or to an AI-based chat!

We are seeing more and more non-Procurement experts taking over very senior Procurement positions, confirming that, today, the key aspect to unlock business value and impact lies in our leadership, curiosity, partnership, business acumen - rather than in our background and hardcore Procurement skills.

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

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

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Marta Amat - Global Senior Manager Revenue Growth and Insights Strategy at Philips

Marta Amat is the Global Senior Manager Revenue Growth and Insights Strategy at Philips in Amsterdam. We asked Marta to share her experience of working in a high-profile leadership role for a multi-national, as well as the challenges she faces in her field, and how she fosters teams that live and breathe Philips’ strong vision and values.

Firstly, what goes on behind the Commercial Policy and Pricing Strategy at Philips?

As a personal health business, our strategy isn’t just built around growth, promotion effectiveness/profit and creating global partnerships – it’s centred around our customers and patients. Our role in the Sales Center of Excellence is to use the information we hold to make informed, data-driven decisions about how best to create shareholder value, balancing that against consumer and market demand.

Our methodology informs every stream of the business – from Philips’ revenue goals and business model to the way we innovate and position our brand with consumers and patients alike. We also have to take into account consumer demand, how sensitive our audiences are to price fluctuations and their buying behaviour, as well as competitor pricing, regulations, and overall market and economic trends.

The amount consumers are prepared to pay for our products differs hugely depending on who they are, where they live and the cultural norms in different regions, too. So, getting our model right requires time, resources and consistent dedication.

Did you always have your career journey mapped out or did you become a Global Manager through a series of opportunities that you seized along the way?

If I think about it, my personal and career journeys have always gone hand in hand. I was born and raised in Barcelona, so I was exposed to and inspired by a diverse international environment from a young age.

I’m multi-lingual, and I’ve studied and lived in different countries, travelled and worked around the world at the headquarters of big multi-nationals for the past 20-plus years. I’ve always been interested in people, in connecting and in empowering others, and I’ve developed a global growth mindset.

As a leader, I’m a natural connector. I create diverse teams, and encourage strong communication, collaboration and storytelling, as well as a focus on meaningful, people-centred initiatives.

To make a connection with customers, you need to create emotion. In the various roles I’ve held throughout my career, I’ve seen storytelling do just that – helping businesses relate to their customers and bring the brand to life for them.

You’ve had an incredible career as a Global Manager for a multi-national, multi-disciplinary company. What would you say is at the heart of your success?

If I look back, a trait that’s always fed into my professional achievements has been my ability to genuinely connect. I put people first, an approach I team with critical thinking, lean management and problem-solving skills.

This helps me build bridges between the management team, general strategy and the business as a whole, and act as the voice of our customers, so we can identify opportunities and innovations that better meet their needs.

What are the key challenges in your field and what would you do to overcome them?

I’d say it’s being able to keep up with change – continually keeping performance high, while transformation and transition is taking place. It means we have to continually step out of our comfort zone, fall forward and maintain a never-give-up attitude.

At the same time, we have to think about improvements to our policies, our strategy and how the market is evolving, so we can have a greater impact and serve our customers better.

How is the concept of sustainability incorporated in the divisions you’re responsible for and what does that look like at Philips?

Sustainability is a huge priority for Philips. We’re committed to creating an enabling environment where change can take place, adapting our organisational objectives and articulating those across the company.

Personally, I’m thinking more deeply about the day-to-day decisions I make and the impact they have – pairing a planet-first approach with our customer-first mindset. When I’m involved in a project, sustainable practice is always on the agenda – using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which allows me to communicate our priorities, create momentum, and establish a culture of listening, engaging, sharing and caring about a better world.

Raising awareness within our teams in this way makes it easier to overcome current challenges, and shape new innovations and solutions – ones that use our natural, economic and social resources wisely. Working more sustainably is an ongoing process.

Every year, awareness gets greater and greater - not just internally, but in the world at large. We involve a member of our Sustainability team in every project to ingrain sustainability in the decision-making process. So, it’s there - but these things take time. Again, good storytelling comes into play if we want people to relate to our goals and develop a planet-focused mindset of their own.

When you’re assembling a team, what are the key characteristics in people that lead to success?

For me, potential – the ability and desire to learn – is more important than experience. The skills you have today might fall out of date in a year’s time, so there’s far more value in a quick learner with professionalism and great problem-solving skills.  

The ability to communicate is also essential. With that in mind, I do all I can to create a safe space where the dialogue between me and the team is open and transparent in both directions. I want to know exactly what motivates and drives each person in my team, so I can figure out how to help them succeed as individuals – as well as creating development opportunities that benefit the team as a whole.

I’m also passionate about creating the right culture, and actively encourage inclusivity, diversity, self-care and wellbeing. I want everyone in the team to feel equally important, so that they all bring something different to the table – because, when we embrace those differences, there’s always a positive outcome.

Finally, I always look for people who share the same outlook, sense of purpose and ambition as the company – so, as a team, we always uphold Philips’ customer-first vision. Working with that common purpose increases everyone’s engagement, empowerment and accountability with the job in hand – as well as encouraging perseverance, resilience and team spirit, no matter what changes take place along the way. When we work cohesively, it’s no longer one plus one equals two – we can achieve much, much more.

Finally, what books are currently sitting on your bedside table?

I’m currently reading about Ikigai, an ancient Japanese concept that means “your reason for being”, or purpose in life. The South African author Frank Brueck has created a model called Ikigai for Leaders and Organisations – posing four simple questions that help us assess how we live and work.

These are simply: What you are really good at? What do you love to do? What does the world need? What do you need for your market? In our personal lives, Ikigai can help us reinvent and reposition ourselves, in pursuit of a long and happy life. When applied to businesses, it has the potential to motivate an entire workforce and drive genuine change, inside and outside the walls of an organisation.

It’s designed to invigorate teams and encourage a state of flow in everything we do – generating vitality and passion in a world dominated by the pursuit of progress. Ikigai also helps leaders take a more value and purpose-led approach, and helps organisations foster employee loyalty and boost investors’ confidence. The big idea is that, when we live by all four pillars – personally, as a leader and as a whole organisation – we’ll reach a point where we positively affect our environment and society. It’s a powerful philosophy – one I believe we need in this world, now more than ever.

Thank you to Marta for speaking to Michelle Ewing, Director at EMEA Recruitment.

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

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