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.


Jonas Slavinskas - Senior Director Group Controlling, Treasury, M&A at Capri Sun Group

Jonas Slavinskas is the Senior Director Group Controlling, Treasury, M&A at Capri Sun Group in Switzerland. He has been with the business for almost five years, having previously spent four years at PepsiCo and four years at Mondelez. Jonas started his Finance career at Kraft Foods Group in Lithuania in 2003.

What does your onboarding/hiring process look like?

It depends on the position and location, but we try to use our own network, because that gives us the opportunity to get someone we know or one of our existing employees knows. We also post the position on LinkedIn sometimes – depending on the seniority or if it’s a confidential project – and professional agencies.

What helps is that Capri Sun is a known brand and a top employer for the fifth year in a row, which obviously helps us to attract top talent in the industry.

We take onboarding very seriously. Even before the new hire starts, we have a checklist of the software and hardware we need to provide; we want to make sure that their working space is ready before the new hire joins.

Then we have an onboarding academy, which is the formal process run by our HR department. The candidate goes through a number of different topics, such as the Capri Sun culture, ways of working and business models.

The onboarding academy is followed by around two weeks of individual sessions with relevant stakeholders. They’re a bit like meet and greet sessions, but it’s also about explaining the stakeholder point of view. This helps the new hire feel welcomed, valued and prepared to do their best work from the very beginning.

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

We have five values that shape our identity as a company, but - more importantly - they guide us as employees in our day-to-day work.

Not in order of importance:

  1. Simplicity: We keep things simple, as it gives clarity and speed.
  2. Integrity: We say what we do and do what we say. We are honest, transparent and respectful to all.
  3. Entrepreneurship: We think and act as owners, and always demonstrate a can-do attitude. We always put our consumers first and see how we can best compete in the marketplace.
  4. Excellence: We constantly raise the bar and find more efficient ways of working. We believe in innovation and technology to help us reach our goals.
  5. Solidarity: We believe we are stronger if we work together. We work hard, but also party hard. We look to eliminate internal barriers and work towards common and aligned goals to reach our global vision.

Is Switzerland a good place to live and why?

It depends a lot on personal taste and circumstances, but – of course - in my view, Switzerland is a great place to live and work. I’ve lived and worked in Switzerland for 12 years.

What’s important to me is that Switzerland is very stable economically and politically, and is safe. Being a father of two, it has a good social system, and relatively low taxes.

It is also in the heart of Europe, meaning everything is quite accessible, and it’s international. There are a lot of international businesses, with a big international community. I, personally, don’t feel any discomfort being a foreigner living in Switzerland.

Another point I’d add is that even in big cities, there is a lot of nature around – you have mountains, lakes, and the Swiss focus on preserving nature or incorporating nature in their daily lives.

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

That’s a great question. What does it mean to take a risk? For me, it means moving outside of your comfort zone. A few things can happen. One thing, you grow, and your comfort zone expands. That’s the desired outcome.

If I thought I haven’t failed, I would argue that I haven’t taken enough risks. Looking back at my career, there were probably three defining moments where I took certain decisions that got me where I am today.

The first was when I decided to take an expat assignment abroad. I joined Kraft Foods back in my home country and worked there for six years. I reached the Treasurer role for the Baltic region, built my network, and gained a lot of respect. But it became a comfort zone. I took the decision to get international experience.

Something that was meant to be one year to collect international experience and come back turned into 14 years of living and working abroad - and counting. But I don’t regret the decision for a minute; I worked in different countries, met many talented people of different nationalities, which immensely broadened my perspective on work and life in general. My kids were born in Switzerland, so I would call it being a citizen of the globe.

The second was that, after four years working for one of the largest food companies, Mondelez (it was like a second home for me), I decided to leave for one of the largest beverage companies, PepsiCo. It not only allowed me to grow professionally, but it also gave me the comparability angle. It allowed me to objectively compare what is the best-in-class practice across the two different businesses.

The third was my decision to join Capri Sun. After 18 years working for big US multi-national, publicly listed companies, I decided to join a privately-owned company. It turned out to be the best decision of my career. I got used to working for businesses with a lot of support around you, but I wanted to get closer to the business.

I was leading Operational Finance in the Group Controlling function in one of the most severe economic environments. When you’re on a smaller boat and there’s a storm in the sea, you feel it. It’s down to how you navigate with the rest of the crew. It was very tough, but it taught me a lot about resilience and calculated risk.

Most importantly, it taught me a lot about entrepreneurship. You can’t hide in big structures anymore, so you need to drive results and be visible. It’s rewarding, but very daunting; you immediately see how your decisions are reflected in the business results.

But, if you do that successfully, you have immense rewards. 

What is the biggest myth about your profession that you would like to debunk?

There are a few about Finance! Probably the universal one is that Finance has long been associated with number crunchers or bean counters. However, a lot has changed recently, and we’ve seen a massive strategic shift in data automation and digitalization, which have taken over repetitive and burdensome tasks. 

A Finance professional is now expected to become a business advisor or business partner who can curate the data and provide progressive insights on how to navigate the business and enhance shareholder and stakeholder value creation decisions.

What is your opinion on the four-day work week?

I would respond with two points. The first is that I think it can only work if there is an even playing field; it can only work if it’s universally adopted by all players in the industry. Otherwise, it would be very hard to compete against other businesses who are on different schedules.

The second is my personal answer - I go with the quote, "Don’t count the days, make the days count,” which for me - if you love your job - counting working days somehow loses meaning.

What is the future of Finance?

Hard to say, but clearly there is a lot of buzz going on around artificial intelligence. I think AI will continue to transform Finance on the back of digitalization and automation. Eventually, like I said before, technology will take over repetitive tasks.

I expect the Finance professional role will move towards how to leverage the information that is produced by technology to drive effective decision making across the organization.

I think our soft skills will almost become more valuable, including understanding business processes outside of Finance. Also, how to navigate across the organization, how to network with your business partners, how to communicate and influence. The data will always be there, but you need to be able to leverage the data to drive effective decisions across the organization. 

What are the key challenges your business faces regarding sustainability?

It’s a very important question for all businesses in the food and beverages industry. Elimination of plastic and CO2 footprint reduction are the major challenges faced by the food and beverage industry today, and Capri Sun is no exception.

We always say that every challenge is an opportunity. Our vision is to become the most sustainable, number one kids drink in the world.

Over the last few years, we’ve taken many steps to make our product as sustainable as possible. In 2020, we launched our paper straw, which saved over 400,000kg of plastic in 2021. To reduce our CO2 footprint, we localize our production close to consumers.

We are launching the fully recyclable pouch, which will be one of the most sustainable packaging formats in the beverages industry.  

How do you approach strategic workforce planning?

It starts with a three-year strategic business plan.

We call it the strategy house, which sits in the heart of our strategic plan. We call it the house because the roof is our vision, and we have three pillars: Growth, cost and cash, and people.

Then we have a fundament on which the three pillars stand, which enables us to win based on our key enablers, like systems, processes, quality, safety, and sustainability.

Under the strategic pillar of people, we address how we will raise capabilities, deliver our business plan, boost our talent pipeline, and create a great place to work. We address all three goals as part of our three-year strategic business plan, which creates the individual work plans and the one-year operational plan.

Thank you to Jonas for speaking to Annie GosnellSenior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment division in Switzerland. 

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

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Marcin Skarbon - Global Director Capability Development, Diversity & Inclusion and Talent Acquisition at AkzoNobel

Marcin Skarbon is the Global Director Capability Development, Diversity & Inclusion and Talent Acquisition at AkzoNobel in Amsterdam. He has been with the business for over seven years, having previously spent almost nine years at DSM and six years at ALSTOM.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your career so far?

There are probably two elements. One is related to the career path I’ve chosen, which is more around what I’m working on, and the other one is the people aspect.

If I think about the career path I have chosen, it was a very conscious choice to be an expert in the centre of expertise area, which is part of the Human Resources practice. I think the most rewarding part of being in that area of HR is when you see what you’ve designed come to life in the business and they tell you that it made a difference.

On the people side, I think the most rewarding part is when people voluntarily come over to me and ask for my opinion on something that they’ve developed or that they’re working on, and they say, “If we work with you, it will work better. You will make it better for us.”

I find this extremely humbling, because I never look at myself as someone who knows everything, but the fact that people come and ask for my opinion is quite a rewarding experience.

Thinking about your role as a leader, what would you pick out as being the biggest challenges or the biggest learnings from being in a people leadership role?

One element that I undermined during my career is mental health and employee wellbeing. I took it for granted. But the last three years have proved how fragile humans are.

As a leader, you are not only responsible for the output of your team, but also that there is psychological safety in your team. Leadership is not just about the hard stuff, it’s also about the heart and mind of people you work with.

What I’ve seen recently is that some people have become more comfortable showing their real emotions in the workplace. If you think about it, five to ten years ago, tears in the workplace were quite stigmatised; you were considered a weak person or you were not adjusting to the corporate environment, etc. Now, if you cry, you just show a moment of vulnerability, and the day after nobody remembers it.

Looking back, have you taken any risks within your career and has that helped you get where you are now?

Generally, when I look at my career, I make very conscious choices. I chose the path and I follow that path, which is also how I work on a daily basis. I have never had a problem - even when I was 20-something - packing my things and moving continents, moving countries, trying new things, which was very scary, because you didn’t know what you were signing up for.

Also, nobody’s career is always going to go upward or without big bumps. In 40 years, there’s going to be family situations, relationship circumstances, health challenges or big company changes. Those things will impact your career

I was never afraid to take on a new challenge with the assumption it might not work and, if it doesn’t, you cut the losses and you move on - and it happened to me. I give myself permission to make the wrong choices. We all sometimes roll our eyes over something that’s happening in front of our eyes. Believe me, the one person I roll my eyes over the most is myself. But guess what? We’re just human. Sometimes we get taken with the flow, but it’s okay - it’s what makes us unique.

Was there a manager that stood out for you in the past and what was it about their style that makes them stand out?

There was one that really stood out for me. There were elements of his management style or his personality that I found extremely powerful and had an impact on me.

One was that, when I entered his office or whenever we had interactions, there was never anything fake about him. He was authentic, but also very consistent. I always knew where I stood with him in terms of whether he liked what I was doing, whether there were some suggestions to improve, and whether he had criticism of something I’d done.

I also appreciated the speed of his decision making. He was somebody who was able to decide very quickly, which I found very important, and I knew whether we were going to do something or not and we did not procrastinate.

The last thing was his sense of humour. It was almost self-deprecating humour; he wasn’t positioning himself as the best next thing. It made him very approachable and relatable to me.

I think it had a profound impact on me, because - as I grew older – I noticed I started role modelling some of those behaviours in my life.

Was there a different path you might have taken or something you might go on to do as a second career?

Interestingly enough - and more on the wild side - I dreamed about running a dance club. I always had it in my head. Originally, I thought I would be a teacher, and I was prepared to do my PhD and then actually teach. But the one aspect I would probably lack enormously is the practical application of what I’m teaching.

To a degree, the path I’ve chosen in the centre of expertise on one side gives me the possibility to do theoretical elements, where you design and create, but then I can also see the actual application in a business, and I find this very important. I think the element of teaching and imparting knowledge to other people has stuck with me, because I have mentored many talented people through my career.

Outside of the work environment, what do you do to relax and have fun?

I’m an avid runner. I run five days a week. I put my headset on, turn up the music, I run through the path I choose. For me, it’s the reset button. I get a runner high and I push myself to breaking point, where I almost feel like I’m reborn after it.

On the opposite side, when I reach a maximum stress level - which happens sometimes - I go to a wellness centre with saunas and steam rooms. I like the fact that there’s nothing to hide, but also, it’s the environment where people don’t talk. It’s a silent environment, you’re on your own with your thoughts. I can spend five hours in an environment like this.

Interestingly enough, both are solitary activities. I work with people and talk to people eight to ten hours a day, which is probably why I chose Human Resources in the first place. However, that doesn’t mean it should continue for the remainder of the day. I re-charge when I am alone.

The interesting part is that the virtue of the job I do may lead people to think that I’m a very extroverted person. But, deep inside, I’m quite introverted and those solitary moments of running or being in the wellness centre are very dear to me and help me to re-charge and face whatever life throws at me.

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

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

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Ana de Kok Reyes - Group Director Financial Control and Group Diversity & Inclusion Officer at VEON

As both Group Director Financial Control and Group Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Ana De Kok Reyes is using over 25 years of Finance experience to help shape the future of leadership within multi-national telecommunications company VEON.

In this interview, Ana shares her passion for VEON’s flexible working culture, the business benefits of leading multi-cultural teams and her unique jungle gym philosophy (inspired by Sheryl Sandberg) on career progression.

What excites you about working for VEON?

First of all, it’s a truly international organisation through and through, which gives me the opportunity to work with a diverse, multi-cultural team. And, because of the nature of the tech business and the fact that we operate with emerging markets, rapid change is a constant.

VEON isn’t a static, formalistic organisation. You have to learn to adapt quickly and stay resilient, so you never stop learning. There’s always something new around the corner, always opportunities to make changes and create a real difference – a real core value for me.

In this fast-paced working environment, what does VEON do to support employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

Whereas COVID was the driver of change in this area for many organisations, as a modern tech company, VEON has always offered a flexible, people-first way of working.

Post-COVID, we’ve changed and improved that model by creating a hybrid policy – one that’s helped everyone to reassess and find the best way to balance their personal needs with the needs of the business. We ask that everyone works at least two days a week (of their choice) in the office. And, with managerial agreement, you can also work outside the headquarters for a maximum of 30 days – so, if you’re in Spain and you want to log in from there, you can!

That flexibility obviously works both ways, but especially as a woman with kids, it’s great to be able to start and stop work when you need to, and pull in any extra hours in a way that fits with family life.

VEON also offers a lot of training in coping with change, in dealing with internal and external demands, and also working with multi-cultural teams. I’ve had the privilege to work with diverse teams for many years – but, for others, this is new territory, and it does require additional skills and awareness of different ways of thinking and processing information.

In the last two years, we’ve also seen an increase in training around self-reflection and personal growth. Of course, we work hard, we play hard and we celebrate our achievements! I think it’s so important to take time to come together regularly, especially when you’ve got a hybrid working model.

There’s also a great health and wellbeing focus at VEON. A lot of our roles are very static, so the company provides access to a gym and encourages all employees to build activity into each day, which isn’t just great for our fitness, it boosts productivity, too.

Looking at Diversity & Inclusion, how does VEON reduce bias in the hiring process?

Diversity is factored into our hiring process from the very start. So, we ensure our list of candidates always includes people from different cultures, different backgrounds and (as this is a male-dominated industry) that we have at least one female.

Whenever I’ve reached out to EMEA Recruitment, I’ve always asked you to find me that international experience, because I believe it’s a huge advantage to the company – you think outside the box, you’re easily adaptable and you have that resilience already embedded.

As Diversity & Inclusion Officer, I’ve also created strategic working groups that allow us to gather best practice and knowledge from every market, identify what we want to improve, and create a roadmap to get us there.

First, you have to understand the cultural and societal reasons behind the diversity gaps in different markets – the reasons why, for example, half the employees and top leaders in Kazakhstan are female, compared to a much lower percentage in Pakistan.

From there, you can ask yourself, “What do we want to achieve, from hiring to retiring?” and formalise specific diversity policies and procedures, KPIs contract has just come to an end and, instead of going externally, we’ve promoted an experienced individual from within.

Is there anything you’ve learned as a leader within the last 12 months that stands out for you?

At VEON, 2022 was an unprecedented and difficult year – especially working in countries affected by war. So, one word comes to mind and that’s resilience. It’s possibly an overused term, but, at VEON, we really mean it, because we’ve had to adapt to constant change and be ready to deal with multiple crises, while continuing to look to the future.

One of the advantages of being a small team nowadays is that we work as one force – all united and in constant communication to achieve each goal, and move quickly onto the next. I’m so proud of my team and the other functions we work with; their calmness and professionalism has helped them prevail though difficult times.

Thinking about your own journey, what advice would you share with someone starting their career in Finance?

I would say, think of your career like a jungle gym, not a ladder you have to climb. Be open to opportunities, even if that means a lateral move – because, sometimes, it’s those sideways steps that open up new doors, create bigger opportunities in the short term, and allow you to build on your experience.

I also believe good communication skills are vital, from day one - the impression you give, how you present yourself, the sense of gravitas you create when you enter a room, and the way you tailor what you’re saying to the person or people you’re talking to.

If I could go back and change one thing about my younger self, it would be to experiment more. The more you move about in those early stages of your career, the more learning opportunities you create and the better equipped you are for future roles.

What are your thoughts on the future of Finance and where will your journey take you next?

As a Finance organisation, we need to adapt faster to the demands of the business. That will always be the context we work within. Any transformation a company goes through, Finance is central, because decisions can only be made on the basis of reliable financial facts and figures.

So, having agile data and analytics tools that support you to provide real-time data is key – otherwise, businesses risk bad decision making and, ultimately, stagnation. Even if you’re not there yet, having a strategy to get these tools in place is critical.

Focusing on your human capital is also really important – on developing and retaining Finance leaders, and ensuring that the young talent coming through isn’t forgotten. Millennials work in a different way. We have to adapt the organisation to harness these new ideas, enable everyone to flourish, and set the company up for greater success in future.

From a personal perspective, I want to bring my knowledge and experience to the table as a non-executive board member of a different organisation, as well as learning from them to help drive change. And, as someone who’s always looking to push myself out of my comfort zone, I’d also love the opportunity to become a CFO one day.

What do you do to relax outside the office?

Yoga’s big for me – I practise it at least three times a week. It helps me stay fit, relaxed, and gives me the skills I need to focus my mind and stay present.

I also love to walk in the forest or at the beach, go to concerts or just cook a really special meal, and have fun with friends and family.

Solitude while reading a good book also brings joys to my mind and heart.

What are your favourite mottos in work and in life?

There’s two! One is Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and the other is Walt Disney’s “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

I believe change starts with yourself. Once you know what’s really important to you personally, you can make a better contribution and engage others in your way of thinking – and they can, in turn, connect better with you.

Dreaming keeps you moving, keeps you ambitious and working towards the reality you want to create.

Thank you to Ana for speaking to Georgia Wright, Associate Director in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.

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

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Wouter de Veen - Director Global Audit Europe at Heineken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favourite quote and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the most memorable moment from your career?

I have many small things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you take them on using this kind of insight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Wouter for speaking to our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands, led by Hannah Mallia and David Harper.

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

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Wouter van Hunnik - Head of HR at LAVA Therapeutics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stefanie Glanzmann - Group Talent Acquisition Lead at Zur Rose Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you approach building strong relationships in your network?

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

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

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

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

What advice would you share with someone fighting impostor syndrome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the last thing that made you smile?

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

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

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

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

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