Executive Interviews

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

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Jan-Paul Drost - Head of Commercial FP&A at AkzoNobel

Jan-Paul Drost is the Head of Commercial FP&A at AkzoNobel in Amsterdam. He has worked in the business in various roles for over 20 years and achieved his Certified Management Accountant qualification from Institute of Management Accountants.

What excites you about working for AkzoNobel?

What really excites me is it’s a very diverse and evolving company. With diversity, I mean the people who work there, the different cultures and the different backgrounds, etc.; it creates an enormous sense of a melting pot - in a positive way. But I also mean it as a business and a company itself.

The company has evolved from a holding structure company with multiple industries into a paints and coatings company. But, even within that painting and coatings company, we have all kinds of different business types. We have retail business, wholesalers, B2B business, ecommerce business, so it’s not one thing.

You work with different cultures from all over the world and you learn things from all these people. One moment, you’re busy with a business case and retail, the next moment you’re talking about something on a B2B level, which makes it very interesting. It’s never a dull moment in that sense.

I’ve been here for over 20 years and I’m even surprised myself on how long it’s been. I’ve always received the opportunities to grow and develop myself in a role, and I’ve always said: “I’m not married to AkzoNobel, I’m married to my wife, very happily.”  

I have talked with outside parties on different options, but then - in the same period - AkzoNobel came up with a better opportunity within the company and then I went for that.

So, the diversity, the constant transitioning, and the chances the company has given me to grow and develop myself.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your current role?

I think there are two elements. One is helping the business with improvements, with strategy and to really get the most out of it, from the role as a financial, but also as FP&A.

I really believe that FP&A should be a supporting function, which adds value, and also makes reports and supporting documents, which help the business come to the right conclusions; we should not just make PowerPoint analysis for management.

The second thing, which I think is almost even more rewarding, is developing people. You’re only as good as your whole team, and I feel enormously proud when I see people I’ve worked with over the years - who have been in my team, or who I’ve coached as a mentor to grow in their roles - make the next steps in their career and develop into mature financials. I think that is sometimes even more rewarding than supporting the business in growing.

What would you say are the current recruitment challenges that you face, if any?

Like all of us, we always struggle to find and to keep the right level of skilled staff. I am a firm believer of internal recruitment and I also believe that, especially for internal recruitment, the way you are and the way you operate as a manager is very important.

For me, that’s the principle of trust to engage and empower your team. I’m not the type of manager who will, for example, follow up on progress on a project on a daily basis. However, if there’s a problem or someone gets stuck on something, I do expect the person not to wait with rage until the next project meeting, but to come forward openly.

So far, especially in my current role, I have been relatively lucky that, when I have had vacancies, some candidates stepped forward to say: “I really want to join your team.” The way you are as a manager plays a very important role for internal recruitment.

In terms of external recruitment, we struggle with all the same things as everyone else. A job advert just about explains, as clear as possible, what the job is, how interesting it is and what the chances are to develop yourself within AkzoNobel - and then you are hoping to encounter the right person.

You’ve had a nice variety of roles during your career at AkzoNobel. How do you look back at this?

20 years is a long time. My original background is in both Legal and Finance, and I’ve been lucky enough to work in many different fields of the Finance function. I really believe that makes you an all-round financial, who can add value to the business.

I started in Internal Audit. That was a very solid basis of learning the basic processes throughout the company. If you look back at all the projects I’ve done over the years, that has really helped me as a manager, and helped me in the field of motivating and influencing people. But, also, doing multiple things at the same time and ensuring that you have good time management.

As an Accounting Manager, I really learnt the details of the financial systems, especially going through multiple European implementations. As Finance Director for different businesses, I enjoyed working with the business to create and execute the right strategy. I believe that, as a Finance Director, you cannot just do your job behind your desk; you need to also know your customers and your suppliers.

My Legal background also helped me with working on contracts and discussing disputes. Also, the Integrated Business Planning trainings I did have, over the years, allowed me to actively link Finance to the Supply function.

Now, I’m a firm believer that we, as Finance professionals and FP&A especially special - as I’ve already said - should do more than just analyse and make nice PowerPoints; it’s vital that FP&A really understands the business. The reports we make should be useful, not only for the Finance community, but for all managers in the communities.

Also, advice should be based on the full knowledge base, and aligned and discussed with the business Finance Directors; it should not be in a separate silo based purely on spreadsheets. It’s a combination of those things, which help to evolve you as a manager.

What would you say is the secret to building a strong network?

It sounds very stupid, but it’s simple: talk with people, be nice, be open, be welcoming and helpful to others. It’s all about people relations.

A good network has similarities to a friendship. You could say there are business friends; it’s almost like business friendship and business friends.

How will digital transformation change the role of Finance, in your opinion?

I am a firm believer in the big advantages of the use of digital information. Digitalisation will allow us to make faster, more in-depth analysis. We currently see that already with the use of Power BI and SAP Analytical Cloud for things like margin management.

It allows us to go deeper, and it could do more detailed analysis on the customer and product levels. It does highlight, however, the importance of correct master data. I still believe that the human element in these analyses still needs to play a very important role.

Digitalisation and AI (artificial intelligence) can absolutely help in preparing and taking away lots of work, but - in the end - there are always other factors that need to be taken into account to make the picture complete - and the financial still comes into play to leave the final added value.

I really believe in digitalisation; it makes this function much more powerful, and we can help the business with even more information - but I don’t see it as a replacement of the financials in the organisation.

Why would you say the Netherlands is a good place to live and why?

I think having had the chance to live in different countries, I can honestly say that the Netherlands is a great place to live. First of all, general quality of life. The social system is well organised, and, on the people side, people are generally open for newcomers. And the level of English in the Netherlands is, of course, very high.

Often, in the office, the Dutch speak or write in English amongst themselves - because they’re just used to talking English the whole day in meetings - without noticing they were talking English to each other, so that makes it a very easy place for someone outside to join and get started.

What is the best compliment that you’ve ever received?

Apart from what we discussed on people wanting to join your team, a compliment I got not that long ago, which really stuck in my mind, was from an HR Director, who said to me: “Jan-Paul, you are the type of Finance Director most Sales people fear, because you know their customers and their business just as well as they do.” I found that very nice, because it fits into my belief that, as a Finance Director of a business, you do need to understand the business you’re running.

As I said before, you can’t be a Finance Director just off a spreadsheet, so that compliment actually confirmed to me that I did that job in the way I believe it should be done.

Thank you to Jan-Paul 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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Marta Munk de Alba - Director Talent Acquisition EMEA at Netflix

Marta Munk de Alba is the Director Talent Acquisition EMEA at Netflix in Amsterdam. She started her Human Resources career in Spain, where she joined Booking.com in 2011. Marta has been with Netflix in the Netherlands since 2016.

What excites you about working for Netflix?

When I started at Netflix almost seven years ago, I wasn't really sure what Netflix was. If I'm honest, the reason I got excited about this company and this brand is because a former boss of mine shared a Harvard Business Review article with me, called How Netflix Reinvented HR. She didn't know that, by sharing that with me, I would resign!

I have been in recruitment all my life, from a big head-hunting firm to NGO work, and then big tech at Booking.com. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to talent and, when I came across the unconventional approach Netflix had, I felt I wanted to work for a company that operates like that and to see - of course - if the claims were true.

I was very sceptical about the way they spoke about how they treated people and how they approached the freedom and responsibility they gave people. So, when I started talking to people during the interview process, I started to realize those values seemed to be true. I always say that I joined Netflix and I continue to work at Netflix because of the culture.

It's not perfect; I don't want to sound like we’ve found the holy grail of business scalability, because it's not. It's very unique and very unconventional. HR and recruitment are very strategic functions in the business, and we think about our culture as a toolkit for excellence.

We give people freedom, so they do a good job. We give them a large amount of responsibility, so they can make a big impact. We put people over processes, because we don't want to delay decisions. We don't have KPIs, but we rely on radical candour or feedback.

Our content executives would kill me if they heard me saying this, but - to me – the actual product is secondary. I love the content, I love the reality shows, the films, the international component of it all, but - for me - what goes first is the way Netflix has allowed me to work.

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

When we're talking about business challenges, I like to see it as an opportunity. I'm the type of person that sees the glass half-full and gets excited when I need to solve very difficult problems.

To think about the future, you need to look at the past. We come from being a very successful business. We were number one in the streaming industry, number one to expand internationally, number one to create local content in each country and speak to audiences in their own languages. We have had a very positive trajectory; it has been hypergrowth, success and discovery.

I think it's not only specific to Netflix, but currently in the world there are macroeconomic factors and social factors influencing the trajectory of companies and industries. There are external factors that we cannot control, but also industry factors, like competition and keeping up with great content, are creating a new reality for Netflix.

We are in a reality where there is more competition, where we need to continue thinking about what shows are going to excite our members.

I've been here for almost seven years. If I think about the next seven years, it's very exciting to be in a company that needs to not necessarily reinvent themselves, but to make sure we keep up with that growth and success. That will mean revisiting some of our habits and some of our practices that we took for granted until now.

An example of this is the working from home flexibility. That flexibility affects Netflix a lot, because we are a creative environment; we come up with ideas that, in most cases, come from the interaction of people. So, what does this remote work or working from home concept mean for Netflix?

I think the next couple of years are going to be very exciting, because they are going to force us to solve different challenges that we didn't have in the past and, from a recruiting standpoint, I find it very exciting.

How does your company work to retain high potential employees?

We are lucky that the brand itself attracts great talent. People know, when they join Netflix, they're going to be doing great work, either on the tech side - because they're going to be developing the number one platform in the world - and on the creative side - as they're going to have freedom to create their product. So, I think the work itself is the main factor that keeps people at Netflix.

The fact that freedom is one of our values; we give people a lot of freedom in the way they should do their work and make decisions. The work, plus how we let them do that work, is the best retention plan.

Then, of course, there are other factors, like competitive compensation. I don’t think we should shy away from speaking about that, as well as the development opportunities in growing in an international company - I’m a good example of that.

More recently, we have started to be a little bit more intentional in how we think about development at Netflix. We shouldn't expect everything to happen organically or for people to be happy in their jobs forever. So, we are investing a lot more in making sure we equip our leaders and our people managers to be able to have growth conversations with their employees.

How can a job seeker stand out in the current market?

That's a great question - and we could spend two hours talking about that - but one of the things I value the most when I assess candidates at any level, and also when I interact with colleagues, is authenticity.

Authenticity comes with honesty, which comes with being loyal to your principles and values, and making sure you feel passionate about the job you are pursuing.

I would say that's one element that I always look for when hiring for a business or hiring for my own team. I try to be authentic as much as I can, because that brings me a lot of joy when working.

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

For me, if there's no risk, there's no success. I'm not saying everybody should be taking risks all the time, but I'm someone that leans into this. I think risk-taking is important, and I’ve learned the most from failures.

When you’re drawn to working in innovative environments, like Booking.com or Netflix, who are at the forefront of their industry, you have to get used to leaning into risks, and - for me - it's very rewarding and represents a lot of learning.

It’s not just this, however, that has contributed to the success in my career; I've had some great leaders and great teams that have allowed me to be successful, so it’s not just an individual effort.

What would have been your second career choice and why?

In my early career, I had to make a choice between going into organizational psychology or clinical psychology. So, I would have probably gone the clinical route, had I not chosen my current career. I really like learning about human behaviour and understanding human minds.

One day, I hope to go back to university and study Architecture, because I really like interior architecture - not necessarily decoration - but the building process. I hope I have the chance to do that, and I have a second life when it comes to work.

Who is the most inspiring person in business for you and why?

I have a very inspiring mother. She has tenacity and authenticity, and is someone very loyal to her principles. When it comes to business, I've had several leaders who I admire for the way they've led me and others.

If I go back to Heidrick & Struggles, for example, I worked with two principals, and they exposed me to clients and to the business, which expedited my understanding of organisations. This was something unusual for such a young associate to have the opportunity to do. Principals in executive recruitment firms don't often do this, and I learned that you can do things differently and then, when you trust that team member, you should invest in them like that.

When I was at Booking.com, I worked with a lot of amazing executives, like Andrea D´Ámico in Italy and Angel LIull in Spain. I looked up to them, because they were able to manage very big multi-disciplinary teams, while remaining very human and approachable to those teams.

I then had a boss, Jaap, who taught me how great it is to be a hands-off manager. Jaap was a boss that didn't monitor what I did; we didn't have one-on-ones, but, if I picked up the phone and I said I needed help, he reacted immediately.

At Netflix, I have had the best bosses anyone could ask for: Alix Jacobson and Valerie Tola - they are both incredible. My relationship with them is based on trust and authenticity, and the idea of being completely transparent, and they have become my rocks.

I go to them not only to report back on the work, but I use them as my sparring partner and sounding board; they are people I can be vulnerable with. It's a judgment-free relationship, which I appreciate greatly, because I think we as individuals judge ourselves a lot and I’ve certainly had imposter syndrome at many points in my Netflix career.

It was obviously more intense in my early days at Netflix, but it's something that comes and goes, and I think just by saying it out loud, it subsides a little.

In our minds, we all have a little judge telling us we're not doing this right. I have the judge in my head all the time. I've learned how to live with this little person, and I think we all have it - especially when we have demanding environments.

It taught me that relationships that are based on trust can include a lot of challenging and heated conversations where we provide feedback to each other in a very candid way; I think that brings people together, because you know the trust is there and is shared with good intent.

What are your tips on achieving work-life balance?

It's been a journey. When you're 23, you don't even think about it. However, when you're 41 - like I am now - I'm more confident in prioritising myself.

How people achieve balance is a very personal thing. For me, I think of it as work-life integration. When you’re recruiting for a business, unexpected things happen. If you work for an American company, you might need to be available in the afternoons or evenings, and - at Booking.com - I had to travel 75% of my time, so the idea of work-life balance was just impossible.

But, what I do aim for - and this is where I put myself first - I make sure my expectations are very clear and it’s in the integration. I am a high performer and I give 120% to the company, but I also expect flexibility in return. However, I'm talking from a position where I've been here for a long time - I have a leadership position, I have my credibility, and I don't think you can go into a new job and expect this immediately. I think, once you’ve proven yourself, you are in your right to set the boundaries that work for you, as long as the work is done. You earn the freedom once you have delivered great work.

I used to travel a lot at Booking.com and, when I joined Netflix, I said what's healthy for me is that I take a holiday every quarter, and that short, frequent breaks allow me to be healthy and give that 100% to the company.

I think, with time, you get to know yourself a little bit, you get to understand what works and what doesn't work; a nine-to-five schedule might not be the right thing for everyone. For me, my days normally start a little later; I have a dog and like to go for a walk, and then my day ends at eight or nine PM, because that allows me to connect more with my US peers.

For others, this might mean they'd rather start early on and have free afternoons, or have a big break in the middle of the day to work out. I think it's about asking yourself what makes you feel good, what's healthy, what allows you to take care of the rest of your responsibilities, and then making sure that you’re up front with your boss or manager about your needs.

There are small tips and tricks where you can find out what works best for you. I have colleagues that introduce themselves over email with a short bio explaining what works for them, like meeting-free Fridays or work-from-home Mondays.

Setting boundaries is not always easy, especially when you need to set boundaries upwards, but reminding ourselves all the time that we have the option to set boundaries is important.

Finally, asking for help is very important. We all tend to forget that no matter how senior you are, there are moments in work and life where you need to say, "Hey, I just can't do this, can you help me?"

Thank you to Marta 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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Kalle Kormi - Controller - Western Europe at KFC

Kalle Kormi is the Controller – Western Europe at KFC in Lausanne, Switzerland. He previously spent over eight years at Alcon and more than six years with O-I.

How do you build a high performing Finance team from scratch?

It all starts with recruitment and recruiting the relevant people with the right competency. I want to recruit talent and, of course, a variety of talent. I also like to recruit a diverse team, so people who are at the beginning of their career, people who have ten years’ experience, more senior people - having the right mix of talent is very important.

First, I really focus on how to create the environment for a team to be successful and high performing. It starts with creating a safe space - a psychological safety that everybody in the team feels safe. You can take risks without being afraid of the consequences. If you succeed, or even if you feel insecure or even embarrassed, it’s a safe place for everybody; you can say silly things and you ask silly questions and are not afraid of the reaction or the consequences. It’s very important for me that I create a safe place for my team, because I think when you feel safe that’s when you can try to drive the performance.

The second point I normally focus on is dependability in the team. What that means is trusting my team, colleagues and teammates that they all deliver what they promise. For example, if I say, “I haven’t done that report, but I will get that report done tomorrow,” My team should trust that I deliver tomorrow. Also, finding out if every team member can trust all their team. What is very critical for me is dependability.

Next, the structural clarity. Knowing if everybody understands what the goals are, why we do what we do as a team. Also, the clarity of roles and responsibilites and the understanding of each other’s roles, along with if they need further clarification.

Team vision and where we want to be as a team, now, in the next three months, next year. Ultimately, if I look at what makes a high performing team, I need to know how to keep the team motivated. Knowing why this work is personally important to me. I mean, we all work to get paid, but going beyond that and what makes the work meaningful to me. Believing in the work I do, knowing if I am making a difference, what my role is and the bigger picture, why my work matters and what’s important.

What we do is very important for the crew, because ultimately it all goes to our external reporting, which is then shared with the investors in Wall Street. The work that matters and the bigger picture – those are the key factors.

Also, building a safe space, to give the team clarity, what’s the team vision, why we do it, can we count on each other, why the job is important, why does it matter to me - and it starts with recruiting the right people.

How do your outdoor activities help you decompress in your personal time?

I run three times a week and then I do hikes or skiing in winter. If I have a sport that gives me the chance to really focus on the activity itself, for example, if I’m skiing and I really need to focus and concentrate, or I am climbing the mountains, I forget everything related to work. I will just focus on the activity at hand.

It is very important for me that when I do activity outside of work, like a ski day, it really gives me a chance to forget work and give me the good, clear boundary between work and life.

How is KFC reducing bias in the hiring process?

First, I think it is very important for all of us - managers, people hiring - that we actively do training on understanding our bias. We all have both conscious and unconscious bias. There’s lots of online courses I’ve taken on LinkedIn, for example, which we give access to all our employees on how to train, understand, and recognise both your conscious and unconscious bias.

The first interview we do is usually with a camera off, so we don’t have influence based on the person’s looks.

Also, what is very nice is we normally have a number of stakeholders involved, so for any recruitment process, we have three or four people working on the role, and at least three people interviewing. We can then compare notes, so it’s not only my own bias, we always have a consensus.

I personally believe that everybody seems to be much more interesting when I meet them, compared to what the CV could maybe indicate. It’s also nice that, when I have interviewed people, there are usually silent competencies that I might only discover when I talk to people, which they might not highlight in their CVs.

For example, there might be CVs that I will just look at to see if they have relevant work experience or what their level of education is, and I could miss a lot of high potential people. Other times, when I do the interview, I discover they might have a silent competency based on their hobbies, or even just the way they interact and explain things, that they didn’t think were originally relevant for the role.

Of course, it’s a time constraint - I can’t interview every single person who sends a CV. I need to do some pre-selection, but sometimes I’m okay if the person doesn’t meet all the criteria. Nowadays, if I look at the requirements for the job, hardly ever will I meet a person who will meet every single requirement we put on the job ad tax ruling.

Switzerland has signed a tax rule with OECD, so we can’t compete with just lower tax rates, but I think most companies don’t come here just to benefit from a low taxation; we come here because Switzerland is very innovative and a competitive place for companies, and I think that will continue to develop more. Access to the talent pool is also very key - that is why companies tend to locate here.

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

I have been mobile from a very early age in my career before having a family – it has definitely helped me a lot that I was able to be mobile and I took a risk. The first risk was in 1997, when I decided to go to study in the UK instead of Finland. That already opened my exposure to working and studying in a different language environment, which is more international.

I spent six years in the UK, before moving back to Finland in 2003, where I managed to stay for only two years. I joined an American multi-national and then they started a big integration process buying a French company, and they asked me if I’d like to move to Paris in 2005, and I said yes.

After four months in Paris, they set up a European Headquarters in Lausanne, and I came here. I was mobile first as a one-year project worker, and then they offered me an expat contract for three years, and I was mobile.

Sometimes, it’s not only looking at the vertical move - take horizontal moves in your career just to broaden your skills, plus your experience. I have taken horizontal moves; I am not always looking to go higher or get a promotion. Sometimes, horizontal moves have really helped me in the long-term more. I think that’s my advice for young people, and also, don’t always think you need to get a promotion or move up.

Also, I took a one-year sabbatical leave in 2011, and it definitely helped to realise what I want to do and where I want to go. If ever people have a chance to take sabbatical leave before they start their families and having children, I strongly recommend.

For me, it had no real impact on my CV, either. After I came back to Switzerland after sabbatical leave, it took me three months to find a new job. I don’t think people should be worried about having a career gap on the CV. If ever you want to have a little pause and think what you want to do, a sabbatical leave is a great opportunity for that.

What’s the secret to building a strong network?

You need to be frank and curious. Have a genuine interest in other people. People can easily tell if you just do it for self-promotion. Its just like, what’s in it for me? At some point, I stopped - it’s a very fine line.

There’s a lot of networking opportunities in Switzerland. I think I’m very picky and selective, like when do I want to go, what events, and is it a self-serving purpose. For the network I build, I think it’s important for people that they know that they can trust me. I generally care for people; I really want to be generally interested in people.

Never burn any bridges and, when you leave the company, always do it in a friendly way, because you never know what will come around. It has helped me; I stayed friends with the colleagues I had, they move around Switzerland, and we share career opportunities.

Be authentic. You need to be social; you need to show interest in other people. And also, the network doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been here 17 years, so it’s come to over ten years that I have known the people, different consultants, different audit firms, different bargains I had.

If I look at the network that I have now, which is quite extensive, it didn’t come in one year - it takes some time. You can’t rush that. It’s the people you work with in different projects - the contractors, the consultancy you have used - you know if they are good, you want to work with them again.

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

Professionally, I was told by my peers and even my ex-boss that I am a role model, and praised for how I care for and how I stand up for my team. I don’t want to be overprotective of my team, but I do stand up for my people.

Outside of work, I’ve been told that I have a great, but very twisted, sense of humour, and I guess that’s the six years in the UK. I love sarcasm – the British sense of humour is very dear and near to me. Ultimately, the best compliment I could say is hearing my daughters saying that I’m the best dad.

Particularly, since COVID-19, how have you seen your approach to Finance evolve?

I think the hybrid, flexible work models have become relatively normal. For myself, before COVID, I used to go to the office four days a week and have one home office day. During COVID, I worked for almost two years from home with my teams here in Switzerland, but also in Denmark, Germany and Italy, and we found an acute way of working.

We did quarter close, we did year-end close, we did audits, everything remotely. Now COVID is over, so I see sometimes we do need to have physical people at work, especially when building a completely new team of people. You need to spend some time with each other before you can get us on Facetime, and onboarding new people is easier.

That being said, I’m very flexible. I believe we can deliver very strong Finance reporting, Accounting whether you work three days, two days at home - I don’t really care. People are learning to appreciate this flexibility, and also flexible working hours.

If you don’t have a customer-facing role, I don’t really care if you just work from eight to six. If you prefer to work four hours during the day, take a few hours off to be with your family, and come back online after nine o’ clock, if that’s what suits you, I’m fine.

I think this is what more and more people are expecting from employers, as well. It’s better that you have a hybrid model, so that you can work remotely if you wanted to with flexible hours. We rely much more on things like Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

I used to travel a lot, as I had teams in Denmark, Germany and Italy. Now, I travel less. I try to make that travel more impactful when I go, but there’s less need to meet in person, which is also good, because sometimes it can be a hassle – for example, going to a country for a half-a-day meeting.

COVID gave us a chance to also question a lot of the habits we used to have and what really is necessary; I really like that, as we can work in a hybrid model - that’s at least the picture since COVID, and I hope this will stay.

Talented people know the deadlines. How they get there? I leave it up to them. I believe if I meet my people once or twice a week, it is enough.

Thank you to Kalle for speaking to John Bower, Director in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in Switzerland.

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

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Jitka Carolin - Director Sourcing Direct Materials MEU at Mondelez International

Jitka Carolin is the Director Sourcing Direct Materials MEU at Mondelez International in Zurich, Switzerland. She has worked for the business for over 13 years, in countries such as the UAE, South Africa and the Czech Republic. She started her Procurement career at Kraft Foods in 2005.

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

As many other businesses, our business was battling with supply chain disruptions and enormous inflation. The challenge for the business that I see is to get more resilient – both from the supply chain perspective, but - more importantly - taking care of our people and focus on the mental health of our employees.

We also need to find the right value equation for our consumers, and make sure that our brands keep growing and we have the right product offering.

I am responsible for raw and pack supplies for our factories in Europe. With the challenge our Procurement team had to battle, on many fronts, people feel exhausted. My biggest challenge is to keep our people motivated and in good spirits.

Continue building on strategic relationships with our suppliers that have been key for the success of Mondelez during this volatile time. Take learnings we had over last two years (there have been many) and transform them into new, more resilient Procurement strategies.

Managing raw materials and packaging at Mondelez, I would imagine that ESG (environmental, social and governance) is a strong focus and driver. What do you/your team do to drive sustainability and the sustainable sourcing agenda?

Absolutely. Sustainability become the fourth strategic pillar of Mondelez, and it’s a testimony that sustainability is top of our agenda. In raw and pack materials, we focus on working closely with our suppliers and farmers on our signature programs in cocoa (Cocoa Life), wheat (Harmony), and also building a strong sustainability program in dairy, as it is one of the biggest contributors to our supply chain CO2 footprint.

In packaging, we focus on packing our products in the “Light and Right” way, using the right pack material and using less, as well as recyclability of our whole pack portfolio.

We also have a strong program on supporting women and minority-owned businesses as part of our Economic Inclusion & Supplier Diversity program, and this agenda has really picked up nicely in the last few years.

You have a broad international exposure and moved across multiple countries and continents. Is there any advice that you would offer candidates looking at expat opportunities?

Yes, I had an opportunity to work in different countries and continents, and it has been invaluable. I have learnt a lot about business in developing countries, learned about different cultures, and also about myself. I hope it made me a better, more inclusive and more resilient leader.

My advice would be: embrace the opportunity! It is not always easy to make a decision to move to a different country - especially if someone in the family needs to pause their career – but, if you find the right balance, you decide as a family it’s worth it.

It is also the best you can give to your kids in terms of broadening their horizon, learning different languages; it’s just a cherry on top.

Is Switzerland a good place to live and why?

Switzerland is an amazing place to live; it’s safe, clean, stable, and - despite some biased opinions - also very full of friendly people.

What is a personal highlight of your career so far?

I would say it is my assignment in South Africa, where I was in charge of south, east and central Africa procurement. I came from the environment of Europe, with a mature market, mature processes, and established supply chains in an environment where day-to-day management of issues and smaller or bigger crises became a daily reality.

I still consider this period as the best and most intense learning period in terms of soft skills development, leadership and problem-solving. In the light of the current supply chain crisis and the high inflationary environment, I often go back to those days, thinking that the experience prepared me well for current challenges.

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

I don’t know if there is a myth about Procurement as such. I think, often, people outside of Procurement might consider that Procurement is all about negotiation with suppliers. It’s a big part of it, but there are so many other elements of our work that are important; starting with creating the right sourcing strategy to executing it, addressing both what we buy and how we buy.

Especially in the last few years, the Procurement function proved that - if the right strategy is in place - it can become a key competitive advantage for the company.

Who did you most admire when you were a child and why?

I did not have a specific person of character to admire. I got lots of inspiration from my parents, who always put education as a key pillar and both were working parents. I have three siblings, so my mum raised four kids while still managing to have quite successful career. That is a model that I want my kids to see, as well - to see that anything is possible if one has big dreams and goes after them.

What is the future of Procurement & Supply Chain?

Only bright! Margin pressure in many areas will not go away, macroeconomic and political situations will not become less volatile in the near future, and there will be a high need for Procurement professionals.

We, as a function, however, need to make sure we evolve in line with the needs of the current business environment; we develop new capabilities and knowledge, and take learnings from the past few challenging years.

How can leaders create diverse teams?

By starting with ourselves – creating the right vision and demonstrating the right, inclusive leadership behaviours, from the way we recruit to identifying and eliminating biases. Simply practicing empathetic leadership.

I think that, by now, most leaders know that having a diverse team is essential for the company success. How to get there might still be challenge for many of us, however, I am confident that we are on the right track. The fact that many companies have Diversity & Inclusion on top of their People agenda is encouraging.

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

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

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Corina-Elena Breban - Senior Director HR: EX, Leadership and Culture at Foot Locker EMEA

Corina-Elena Breban is the Senior Director HR: EX, Leadership and Culture at Foot Locker EMEA in Amsterdam. She started her career in Psychology, before moving into the Human Resources function. Corina-Elena spent over ten years at adidas in the Netherlands, becoming Senior Human Resources Manager.

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

As a leader, I am the one who lives for the future by making every moment count. My interest lies in seeing possibilities beyond what is already present and known, by using my intellect, intuition and ingenuity.

Driving a successful business starts with having the right team in place, and - because of my experience and background in organizational psychology - I go for using the following strategies:

  • Hire for the mission.

    Many of you have probably seen the famous advertisement which, as the story goes, Ernest Shackleton ran in the newspaper to try to recruit men for his Endurance expedition: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

    This advertisement is one of the most famous in history.
  • Promote and preserve psychological safety.

    Psychological safety at work doesn’t mean that everybody is nice to each other all the time. It means that people feel free to “brainstorm out loud”, voice half-finished thoughts, openly challenge the status quo, share feedback, and work through disagreements together — knowing that leaders value honesty, candor and truth-telling, and that team members will have one another’s backs.

    When psychological safety in the workplace is present, people feel comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work and are okay with “laying themselves on the line” in front of others. And organizations with psychologically safe work environments — where employees feel free to ask bold questions, share concerns, ask for help, and take calculated
    risks — are all the better for it.
  • Create and celebrate diversity.

    Celebrating our differences, as well as our common interests, to understand others’ perspectives, to broaden our own helps unite and educate us, and to fully experience and educate ourselves.

    Four terrific ways to celebrate Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace are to:
  1. Pay close attention to pay equity.
  2. Cater strongly to employee advancement; become an ally.
  3. Build a company culture event calendar.
  4. Promote diversity education and resource groups to employees.
  • Drive common goals and value teamwork.

    Teamwork is important, because it enables your team to share ideas and responsibilities, which helps reduce stress on everyone, allowing them to be meticulous and thorough when completing tasks.

    Effective teamwork comes in many shapes and sizes, and has a significant impact on the success of the organization.

    - Hold a brainstorming session.
    - Great teams trust each other.
    - Willingness to share expertise.
    - Complement one another.
    - Be open to suggestion.
    - Rise and fall together.

Do you feel, as a woman, that you have encountered additional barriers in your career development?

Yes, I have put my career on hold for a time being. This trade has been there when building a family, getting children, and preserving the time and energy to spend with the loved ones.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to be where you are?

There are many ways to arrive in the same place and no journey is the same. What matters the most to me is being authentic - live every day as the best day ever and utilize your flow. Let go of all that does not serve you and be aware of the impact you create.

One thing I wished I would have known earlier in life is to lean on communities and networks.

Think back to the best manager you’ve ever worked for. What did you like about the person’s management style?

The best manager I’ve worked for had a coaching style: give the space people need, give them the bigger picture, help them to change perspectives, utilize differences, seek for a large spectrum of ideas and ways. Let them grow and go.

Are there any women that you would highlight as being your key role models?

Last weekend, I was visiting Teylers Museum. A museum which was founded in 1784 and is the first and the oldest museum in the Netherlands in Haarlem. While The Lorentz Formula offers a spectacular experience that can be experienced exclusively in the Lorentz Lab, I have noticed a group picture on the wall with all the scientists at that time. Marie Curie was sitting on a chair in the front row, nearby Lorentz and Einstein.

Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Price and one of five people to ever win two Novel Prizes; her life story is unique. In many ways, Curie has been called “the first woman to…”. She was both the first female Physics doctoral student and the first female professor at the Sorbonne, the first female Nobel Laureate and, in 1995, the first woman whose grave was buried in the cemetery on account her own merits. Marie Curie broke through the male bastion of science, without compromising her own work. She is therefore a role model for many female researchers.

You don’t need to get famous, or win the first prize ever, just follow your passion and follow your flow.

What challenges do you see for women in senior HR roles?

Getting a seat at the table as CHRO, and elevating and bringing the People function into the boardroom. While there are many women working in the HR field, there seems to be more men at the top. Remember that people are the most critical part of any company; only by investing in people will the business succeed. 

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

I have experienced a four-day work week, right after my maternity leave when I started working one day less to take care of my child. In that reality, nothing changed in my responsibilities or volume of work; I was supporting the same business from the HR standpoint. That was the time when I started thinking of the 80/20 rule: the Pareto principle.

Time management is the most common use for the Pareto principle. Many people tend to thinly spread out their time, instead of focusing on the most important tasks.

Likewise, there is the idea that people must work excessively long hours to produce good outcomes. This type of thinking can create an unequal work-life balance, resulting in burnout and overall decreased productivity.

With the Pareto principle, you can save time on work tasks and get more done in a shorter span of time. Think, output and impact. 

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

ESG not only makes a business favorable to lenders, but it contributes to improving the overall financial performance of a business. Even small efforts toward sustainability - such as going paperless, recycling, or making energy-efficient upgrades - can improve a business' bottom line and ROI .

From a People and culture point of view, the S component of ESG relates to corporate responsibilities in the form of the values and culture an organization wants to be identified with or have as hallmarks of their employer brand.

These include value manifestations such as Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B), promoting volunteerism, and other ways of simply prioritizing doing good for society.

The G, or governance, part of the equation often connotes compliance considerations Other core elements of this ESG pillar include business ethics and accountabilities to all who have any relationship with that business.

And, although the data security and privacy topics get a disproportionate share of the attention within this pillar, there are signs that organizations are endeavoring to make ethical business practices just as tangible, to the point where businesses can lead with relevant examples.

What are the three main challenges that lie ahead for you as the Senior Director HR: EX, Leadership and Culture for 2023?

Digitalize EX, while preserving the workspace for our people to deliver team results, grow individually professionally and be part of the community.

Redefine our culture, which integrates and extends CX (customer experience) along with the future of work.

Lead with the future in mind for our People agenda.

Thank you to Corina-Elena for speaking to our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands, led by Katie Insley.

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

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Michelle Wang - Global Head SCM Contracting and Partner Management at Hitachi Energy

Michelle Wang is the Global Head SCM Contracting and Partner Management at Hitachi Energy in Zurich, where she was recently part of a leadership development programme. She has been an active committee member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) in both Switzerland and the UK, having spoken at our co-hosted 2022 event in Switzerland.

What excites you about working for Hitachi Energy?

What excites me most is the relevancy of what the company’s products and solutions do to improve our daily life and future. I am happy to collaborate with my colleagues toward Hitachi Energy’s purpose of advancing a sustainable energy future for all.

It’s absolutely inspiring to think that what we are doing every day positively impacts the company's purpose of a sustainable, flexible and secure energy system for today’s generations and those to come.

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

The biggest challenge and also opportunity in our industry is accelerating the global energy transition. We are championing the urgency, pioneering technologies and solutions that are helping to accelerate the carbon-neutral future, improving quality of living for today’s generations and those to come. Together with our customers and partners, we are collaborating to deliver innovative solutions. We believe that collaboration plus diversity equals great innovation.

And, for my role, the biggest challenge is to support business growth within dynamic environments, while continuing to successfully manage the contractual risk profile.

You are very passionate about contracting and the value of the best-in-class approach to what contracting can bring. What are the main considerations Procurement professionals should be assessing? What are the most common pitfalls you see?

Every clause is worth something, so make good use of them. The most common pitfall is to treat the contracting process separately within the overall sourcing process. Early engagement is key here to understand each parties' respective positions, and, if needed, the contract can be used as a way of managing trade-offs during negotiations. 

As the Head Supply Chain Management (SCM) Contracting and Partner Management, you have a lot of touchpoints within the business. Who are the main stakeholders that you deal with internally and what is the biggest value you feel your department brings?

Within my role, I am supporting all types of sourcing activities, ranging from large Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) projects, sourcing direct material and services, to indirect, and transport and logistics, too.

As the function lead, it is important for me to stay connected with each business unit, so everyone that comes across contract at some stage in their work, is my stakeholder. Of course, the heads of SCM for each respective business unit are my main advocates. I also have a reference team set up within each business, who function as my eyes and ears on the ground and my communication channel to reach everyone in the organisation.

As a function, we bring consistency in how to contract, we bring control when it comes to risks, we bring expertise when there’s difficulty during negotiations, and we provide trainings for all of them.

I understand that you are working on a number of automation projects currently. How will digital transformation change the role of Procurement & Supply Chain and what are the areas that you see are the highest potential in?

The digitalization of the Procurement and Contracting function will be revolutionary, and is going to be one of the key differentiators and enablers for the future supply chain. Of course, there are lots of things which need to be in place first to make it happen, such as data quality, training and change management, to name but three, but, eventually, this is the trend that we are foreseeing, and we need to be adequately prepared for it.

Digitalization would not only impact the operational side of Procurement, such as order processing, invoicing, etc., but it would further create a level of visibility and transparency that was not there before. It will also change how we manage supplier relationships, risks and even contract negotiations in the future.

What is a memorable moment from your career and why?

When I got the Fellowship from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). I have spent probably most of my spare time involved with all different kinds of CIPS activities. I have done every single role at the branch level; I was Congress Representative and later had my three-year tenure in the Board of Management, as well as being the Trustee to CIPS Foundation.

So, I was over the moon when the Institute granted me such an honour! It’s also the same year I had my first daughter, so I will always remember it. 

Having moved from the UK yourself, what advice would you offer to someone moving to Switzerland?

There’s absolutely no problem in getting by in Switzerland - especially big cities like Zurich, Basel - if you do not speak German, as most people living here speak good English. However, if possible, try to learn the German language as early as you possibly can. It will help your integration and, the sooner you start, the easier it should be (I’m talking from my personal experience and something I haven’t done myself, which I deeply regret!).

How did you plan out your career development path? 

I planned and didn’t plan, in a sense. I knew I would like to stay within the Supply Chain function and to explore all the different supplier-facing activities. I spent time consciously at the early stage of my career moving around in different roles to really understand the different functions within the business and to gain a breadth of knowledge.

I then focussed on the commercial and contractual management aspect, and have recently taken on the additional responsibility of strategic partnership management, which is a nice combination of my past experiences added together.

You have been an active member of CIPS for a number of years. What is the secret to building a strong network? 

CIPS is a great place, where you meet like-minded Procurement professionals. I don’t know much about secrets, but I just simply put my heart and soul to serve the Institute, be present, be supportive of its members, communities, and activities. The more you put yourself out there, I believe, the more people will get to know you. A network is just the secondary result of these actions. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in Procurement & Supply Chain?

Don’t be afraid of trying different roles within Procurement & Supply Chain. This is the golden time where one can afford to undergo trial and error. Explore more before deciding what role suits you best. Don’t worry too much about job grade, organizational ranking or salary - do a good job in whatever role you do, and the money will come afterwards.

What are the biggest challenges for a leader in an international business/overseeing a global team?

Not being able to physically interact with your team members. The importance of personal touch and rapport-building is not being able to be replaced by Teams or Zoom meetings.  

At Hitachi Energy, we have a very good flexible working arrangement, which benefits both the employee and the company. I certainly hope, with the opening up of international travel, there will be the possibility for more face-to-face touch points with the team and stakeholders.

What do you think makes for a great leader?

The first few key words that come to mind are: Being trustworthy, a good listener, enabler, competent, and strategic thinker.

What are the current recruitment challenges that you face?

Finding the right calibre of person and being able to execute the recruitment process in a timely manner, as good candidates always get snatched up quickly, if we don’t move fast enough.

What is your favourite business motto and why?

"Trusted to Deliver Excellence" is my favourite business motto. I learned this from my previous employer, Rolls-Royce plc. This motto applies equally to a company, to teams, and to all of us as individuals. I believe, with the right attitude, the willingness to take the lead and the determination to do good things to the best of my ability, I can be the trusted business partner to deliver business results.

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

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

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