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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a personal highlight in your career so far?

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

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

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

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

How did you plan out your career development path?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Coty, sustainability is the ultimate driver of innovation.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Mohamad for speaking to our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in the Netherlands, led by Richard Bailey.

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

Read more >

Marjolein van Eck - HR Director IBM Northern Europe at IBM

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

What excites you about working for IBM?

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

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

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

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

How would you describe the culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more >

Sinead Sheridan - Procurement Director at Cloetta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Sinéad for speaking to our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment team in the Netherlands, led by Richard Bailey.

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

Read more >

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

Read more >

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

Read more >

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

Read more >
Page 8 of 28
Circle Image
Page 8 of 28