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.


Andreas Muller - Group Head of Human Resources at Sefar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the secret to building a strong network?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will digital transformation change the role of HR?

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

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

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

Thank you to Andreas for speaking to Keely Straw, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in Switzerland.

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

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Matteo Stefani - Head of Procurement Europe at Novartis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Zinsli - Global HR Director at Adidas

Thomas Zinsli is Global HR Director at Adidas in Lucerne, Switzerland. Thomas started his Human Resources career as an HR Business Partner at UBS, before spending almost 12 years at Mondelez International, where he became HR Director Supply Chain Europe & Chair European Works Council. He is also the Co-Founder of a baby accessories business that he started with his wife.

You mention on your LinkedIn profile that leading change in transformation is important to you. Why is that?

It's really interesting work, essentially; it's usually not easy and it's different every time you do it. There are some things you can repeat, but the context is different every time - and transformational work typically touches multiple parts of the business. Often, that includes people, culture, organisation, leadership - all of these topics that are core to HR.

Change is happening whether we want it or not, so why not embrace it and be part of that cross-functional team that really looks at the change and how to solve it best?

Having said that, it's really important that we’re driving change from the head and the heart. What I mean by that is that we're really trying to identify what the problem is, what the underlying root causes of that problem are, and then look at what's the best and most sustainable option to tackle the problem for both the business and our people.

We also need to recognize that words like “change” and “transformation” are scary for people, because they're often connected to redundancies and restructurings, etc. It’s then up to us to also show positive transformational aspects, like building new capabilities, or bringing in exciting technologies or leadership programs, because often it's a bit of both.

I've been in quite a few transformations, and it's always been an opportunity to learn and grow for me and everyone involved.

How have you been successful in building effective organisations with engaging cultures?

I try to do this with my own teams and I think it's similar advice I would give to leaders for their teams. It is something that has evolved throughout my career.

For me, the idea is always to surround myself with a group of team members with different backgrounds, if I can, but they should also - of course - be really good at what they do. That gives us the best chance to tackle issues from different angles and to explore ways of how we can do our jobs better. Then it's important to find common ground, to listen and build trust with each other.

Once those things are in place, I feel it's quite organic - at least for me it is - as I usually involve the team when we flesh out priorities and responsiblities; we look at the context and see what's needed for the business. We organise ourselves in a way that people can do work they're passionate about and gives them meaning, while also growing and taking on new challenging work.

On an individual level, it's about the clear mutual expectations up front: What do I need from them? What do they need from me? The deal with my team members is always that we both give it our best - they deliver the best performance they can, and I try to be the best coach I can by helping them navigate through their issues and challenges, and becoming better leaders and professionals, and helping them get to the next step in their career.

It's really important to me to have time for the team, to be available when they need me and, if they need me for longer, then I try to be there longer.

What made you go into HR? Was it some of those aspects that you've recognised, actually seeing the potential in people?

Yeah, you're right. I started out in the Sales and Claims department of an insurance company, so quite different. But what it taught me was how to deal with clients - and often not very happy clients, as you can imagine in the insurance company. I knew that interacting with people was something that I did like – just not necessarily in this job. So, I didn't quite know what it was I was looking for.

Then, I went to university just as I turned 20 and started studying Business Economics. I really got interested in the topics of leadership and organisational psychology, and more human-centric topics.

It was a small university, so the closest thing they had on offer in terms of majors was Human Resources - and I guess the rest is history; that got me hooked. I also had very inspirational professors there. After graduating, I got a traineeship at one of the Swiss banks as an HR Manager, and I got the opportunity every few years to move into a new role and even abroad.

I thought, “Okay, this is what I really want to do,” because, what intrigues me about HR - still to this day - is the breadth that we’re working on. It's literally from hiring to retiring and everything in between, on both the operational and the strategic level. What we do really matters for people.

Also, in the more recent years of my career, I found that HR BPs are often some of the people that are closest to leaders that need to make those big and difficult decisions. So, it is a bit of a unique place. It gives us the opportunity to gain insights of how those leaders think and also, sometimes, what they're going through, how alone some of them sometimes are with their decisions. We can have an impact by advising them and partnering with them.

It's interesting - one C level executive I worked with told me a few years ago that he thinks, in HR, we have some of the most challenging jobs, because the people and culture topics are the most difficult topics to tackle. Those were his words - not mine. But, let me just say that I don't disagree. Obviously, I’m biased, but it was nice to hear from a C level that he appreciated it, as well.

You mentioned that you started in HR in a Swiss bank and I've noticed you have worked across multiple industries. It's often difficult to do, so how have you adapted to that?

One of my favourite aspects of HR is that we can do that. When I’m looking at job advertisements, they often say that industry experience is a must-have requirement. I think, for many HR roles and others, that's a good bonus, but why would it be an absolute requirement?

I think quite the opposite - learning from other industries can be quite enriching. Otherwise, you're always in your silo. To get a bit of input of how things are done elsewhere, there is something to it, because many of our HR and leadership skills are transferable across industries.

Again, it's always about people, culture, organisation, inspiring leadership. Every company needs to attract and develop people. Every company needs to build capabilities and work on their Diversity & Inclusion, etc. I’m convinced that only when leadership fosters an environment where people actually enjoy to work, thrive and find meaning, will they really innovate and grow their business.

I think HR, along with maybe Finance and just a couple of other functions, allows you to really get to know every part of the business. During my 12 years at Mondelez, I had the opportunity to work with every function in some shape or form - not every job profile can say that. To be able to do that across different industries makes that experience even better.

On your LinkedIn profile, we can see that you founded your own business. How have you had time to do that alongside a successful HR leader role?

It's been a bit of a slow burner, I have to admit, and it's actually my wife's baby; she’s been toying around with the idea for quite some time. Just before our first daughter was born, she was looking for an accessory for pacifiers on the market and just couldn’t find anything good.

We saw something comparable that we sort of liked in the US, but couldn’t find it here, so we said, “Hey, why not explore that a little bit?” Then, before our twins were born in the middle of the pandemic, I decided, now is the time to take some time off and focus on the family. We said, “Let's do that for a year.” That also gave us the opportunity to switch gears and put a bit more time into the business.

Then, just over a year ago we went back to work - both my wife and myself – so, we said, “If we want to keep this going, we need to stay disciplined.” Now, we find time when the kids are with their grandparents for an afternoon on a weekend, or we have a dedicated evening per week when we say, “Let's do sort of quick sprints and try to get stuff done fast without overthinking it.” I have to say, it's mostly worked out that way so far.

At EMEA Recruitment, Paul Toms, our founder, set the business up with his wife, Kelly. How have you found the dynamic working with your wife?

We enjoy working with each other on a whole different level now. Of course, we're not always on the same page about everything. We do have quite complementary skills; she is a teacher, and very much into the arts and crafts. I wouldn't remotely be able to do any of these things that she does. I mostly take care of the business side of things. Plus, our kids are our best product testers, so it’s a family venture.

We also have a great network of friends and contacts that we assembled throughout the years, and that's enormously helpful. We're enjoying that we're learning a lot.

Last week, for example, we filed for a patent; I never thought I would do something like that. So, that's also exciting for both of us. We’re surprised ourselves how often we agree on things.

You started off in the customer sales side, you've moved over into HR across multiple different industries, and obviously you have your own business - what would you say is your career highlight?

That's a difficult one, because there have been many. But, specifically as an HR professional, I would point out two. What they have in common is that they both started out one way and then had a sudden change in context.

The first one was earlier in my career. It was my assignment for UBS to lead Wealth Management’s HR in the Caribbean. When the bank decided to acquire a Latin American bank and we had quite some involvement, especially from the Bahamas.

All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of an international integration. That was exciting and a great learning experience. I got a lot of trust from my leaders who were sitting in Zurich, so I also learned a lot from them about leadership.

The second one is more recent. It was when I was at Mondelez - I was asked to take over as Chairman of the European Works Council on top of my job being in charge of the European Supply Chain HR team.

At first, I thought, “I probably won't like this much.” But it turned out to be a true highlight, because what happened was, at first, we had Brexit, then we had a company-wide restructuring, and - on top of that - a pandemic had started.

The pandemic was itself huge for the business, especially for our 50-plus manufacturing sites in Europe, and then, very quickly, Works Councils got quite involved. It became a tricky thing, especially because me and my colleagues had to manage all those topics with the Works Councils in parallel across many countries. Those consultations are heavily relationship driven, and we needed to manage it all remotely in multiple languages via telepresence - so, logistically, it was a challenge. But the results were good, and it was a good experience.

I think the learning from both was that stepping out of your comfort zone, staying calm and putting a bit of structure behind your thinking - while also remaining flexible, because things literally changed every day in another direction - were things that were essential and that I actually enjoyed doing.

Of course, it makes a big difference if you have a great team and colleagues that all support and go with you in the same direction, and way above and beyond what's in their job descriptions.

I can see that you follow Simon Sinek - he particularly always questions the “why.” So, has he inspired you along your career choices?

Yes. What I like about Simon Sinek is that he shifts the paradigm in a bit of an unexpected, but very simple way; it's not complicated models that he talks about. The famous Golden Circle model is to always start with the “why”, and you’d think, “Okay, that’s a no brainer,” but he was the one who wrote it down and brought it into the mainstream.

In that sense, yes, that is inspiring, and I actually try to use those approaches regularly, for example, when we build tools like change and transformation frameworks that we can apply to multiple parts of the business.

The other piece from Sinek that I really like is his book The Infinite Game. There is this notion in business - and I guess in life in general – that it's not a game with set rules that you're done after 60 minutes, like hockey or another game. When you play the infinite game, you need to be pragmatic and reinvent yourself; the rules change constantly, and you need to be conscious of how you play.

The bottom line is that inspiring books like his help me become a bit of a better leader, and a better partner to the business that I work with. So, Sinek has this quote that the goal is not to be perfect in the end, but to be better today. I think that sort of grounds you in the present, as well.

Thank you to Thomas for speaking to Keely Straw, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in Switzerland.

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

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Thomas Kruijver - Senior Director and Controller EU & Canada at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

Thomas Kruijver is the Senior Director and Controller EU & Canada at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Amsterdam. He previously spent over ten years at Amgen Europe and seven years at Dell. Thomas earned his CMA qualification through the Institute of Management Accountants.   

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

Our ability to deliver much-needed new medicines to patients requires a highly motivated, diverse and inclusive workforce, and we are committed to building an environment where employees are encouraged to achieve their full potential. We want to hire the right people and we want those people to bring their unique differences to work, because our business will grow stronger with original thinking, enabling us to innovate in everything we do. Regardless of what team or function our employees work in, each individual is vital to our core mission to transform many more patients’ lives and to become a top-tier biotech company.

The challenges for my role itself revolve around building out my organisation in Amsterdam over the next 12 months. Last year, the team returned to the office post-COVID, and that has created a very positive momentum. As an organisation, we do an annual culture survey, and the most recent set of results have been very positive across the organisation, and particularly for the Finance team. My challenge is to keep this positive momentum over the next 12 months and beyond

What excites you about working for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals?

I started at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals five years ago as the first employee in the Netherlands. Now, we are nearly 60 employees, so this growth is motivational, not only for me, but for all the employees who have joined within the last five years.

Working for a small, rapidly-growing organisation, where you are able to contribute to building out a larger company, is so inspirational. I think that really makes it very easy every day to come to work at this company. One of our core values at Alnylam is commitment to people, and you feel that every day here.

This focus on our people has made us an employer of choice worldwide. For the last four years running, we have been recognized as one of the world’s leading biopharma employers by Science Magazine in the US, and have been named once again as a Great Place to Work in the Netherlands, along with several of our offices in other countries across Europe, the US and Japan.  

Also, because we are a fast-growing company, we can make career development a reality. We have some great examples of colleagues who joined us in junior roles and whose career development has grown in parallel with our company growth. We also have a number of movers between functions within the company. People often move from medical to commercial or vice versa, and it’s a very interesting place, so that’s something to consider if you work for a company that is in the growth phase.

Since COVID, we have seen an acceleration of some global roles – roles that might have traditionally been based in our US HQ – being located in Europe. This increased flexibility allows us to bring in the very best candidate for each role, regardless of where they are located.

What’s the best or worst interview experience you’ve ever had?

I have two examples. One of the examples is the best interview experience. Once, in my career, I was asked if I was interested in a particular position in a different company and I was initially hesitant, because, at that time in my career, I felt okay where I was. However, I was persuaded to do the interview, so I went along. But, because of certain things, I was late and not super prepared. Normally, if you’re fairly keen for a position, you are on time and you’re super prepared; I did everything that you shouldn’t do.

In the interview, I met my future manager, and he was so inspirational and positive about the company. In the end, my initial thoughts had turned 180 degrees and I joined that company.

As an interviewer, you shouldn’t only focus on the candidate and their strengths and weaknesses, but also consciously promote your own company. You are an ambassador for your company, because - for the candidates who you hire, and for those you don’t hire at this point - you want them to leave that interview with a positive feeling about the company. So, that is what I learned. Sometimes, you have an interview just to explore and better understand what the opportunity is, but this was nearly an hour. By the end, I was hoping that I would be the preferred candidate.

In my worst interview, I was very interested in the job, and I had three interviews. I had a very good connection with the first interviewer, who would be my future manager. After the conversation, I was very keen to get the job. The final stage was to speak with the Head of Finance, who was the manager of my future manager. It was very interesting, because you can imagine it being in a corporate setting, so I was in a meeting room waiting for him; he was based in the UK and only in the Netherlands for one day.  

The interview was scheduled for half-an-hour, but he was making phone calls outside the office for 26 of those minutes; once he called my name, the interview time was only four minutes! Having said that, I was called the following day and made an offer. I worked there for seven years, and it was a really great experience.

How do you see things going in the Dutch economy and how do you see that evolving in the next five years?

The risky thing about working in a particular sector is that you are always in a kind of bubble. I am in this bubble of the pharmaceutical sector, which may be less or more impacted by some economic factors than other sectors, e.g. we do not have a manufacturing site in the Netherlands, therefore, we do not have the enormous energy consumption and costs that some other companies or sectors do.

In general, I remain positive. We have an open economy in the Netherlands and there is still a lot of external interest in doing business here, especially in the Amsterdam area. This has a spin-off effect, because, if we have these companies, it creates jobs in the supporting industries, so I remain positive. Also, there are a lot of talented individuals who would like to work in the Netherlands, so we do still attract a lot of people.

What advice would you give to someone looking to move from a multi-national business to a start-up environment?

You really have to look in the mirror and consider whether you have an entrepreneurial mindset, which is of far greater importance in a start-up. I come from a family where my parents had a business and customers were always the most important priority.

When you go to a start-up company, where you have external clients and internal clients, it’s a different work environment compared to working in a very large company. You have to keep all the balls in the air and try to hold the staples together. And, because it’s a small, micro-environment, you have many more staples to deal with, but you also have more responsibility to manage the staples.

What risks have you taken throughout your career and how do you think they have helped get you to where you are now?

As a Finance person, we tend to think in terms of balanced risk! I have taken career risks when I feel I am at a certain plateau. What I have always done is make a thorough assessment and, only after that, would I then decide whether I should continue in a particular role. If I couldn’t identify the opportunities for growth I was looking for, I’d look for the next step. I did that a number of times in my career and, ultimately, I have found a company and position that I am comfortable with.

What I find interesting is the famous initial six-month probation period. My advice is to make the most of this period to determine whether the position and company is a good fit for you. Once, in the earlier part of my career, I moved to another company and I didn’t really like the culture. After these six months, I decided, okay, this is not working out, and I went back to my previous company. That didn’t work out very well, because after another three months back there, I was asking myself, why did I leave last time? I realised the reasons I left in the first place were still present, and so - after another six months - I left a second time for a place where I was more comfortable.

Another time, I joined a company where the culture was great and, in my first six months, I implemented a new software system. After this period, I realized there was not much room to develop myself, as the company was in a flat growth phase. I was concerned that I would end up in a role that would not give me an opportunity for continuous learning. This was another moment when I realized I needed to move on after only six months.  

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

My advice to anyone is to make the effort to develop a very good CV. It will help in your career if you have really got some very good company names on your CV. As a hiring manager, I consider each candidate as an individual, but because Alnylam is growing fast around the world, I am interested in those who have experience working in larger companies, because then I know that this candidate can excel in a multi-national environment. 

It’s also very important for a job seeker that you provide as much detail as you can within your LinkedIn profile, because hiring managers really do pay attention to the LinkedIn profile; where the candidate worked, what they did, and for how long. Add in all positions, what kind of education, any qualifications you have, and show when and why you took certain education or courses, making sure all details are up to date.

Thinking about the longer term, make sure you consider and ask any prospective employer about the development opportunities offered by any new role you apply for.

Finally, the obvious thing is to be prepared for any interview; as a hiring manager, it’s easy to tell the candidates who have invested ten minutes in preparation from those who have invested more than an hour to get ready for an interview, with challenging questions for me, too.

Thank you to Thomas for speaking to Hannah Mallia, Head of Executive Finance recruitment in our Finance & Accountancy 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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Famil Mustafajev - Finance Director at Nutreco

Famil Mustafajev is the Finance Director at Nutreco in the Netherlands. Famil shares what gets him out of bed in the morning, the challenges of managing teams across over 50 countries and why Nutreco’s success ultimately rests on welfare in the populations it serves.

What’s the number-one thing that helps you drive your career forward?

As a child, I was always breaking things to find out how they worked – and that curiosity has stayed with me throughout my life. I’m always looking for new challenges; new ways to do things.

Some people say, “How can you call yourself curious and open to new ideas when you’ve worked for the same employer for 19 years?” My answer is simple: my employer’s the only thing that’s remained the same!

With Nutreco, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a hugely diverse career, ongoing training, and opportunities to travel and work all over the world. Things are constantly changing; I’m learning all the time and there’s never a dull moment, which I love. And I believe that, when you love what you do, you don’t need a motivator – passion drives progression, naturally.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career?

If I had to pick one thing, it would probably be the timely anticipation of change. Doing the right thing at the right time.

I’ve practised judo for many years, and I always think of it like a move against an opponent. You have to anticipate. If you wait to react, it’s too late – you’re already flat on your back. You have to understand market dynamics and be ready to act before a change take place, no matter what it is.

What’s the biggest myth about your profession that you’d like to debunk?

I’m really happy you asked this question – the myth would definitely be that Finance is boring! Or that it’s a necessary evil, something you wouldn’t do if you had the choice.

I often quote my old mentor, a Scottish entrepreneur: “We are in business for fun and money – but if there’s no money, there’s no fun!”

Finance is only boring if you don’t understand the depth of it – if the numbers don’t speak to you. It’s the major way we measure the performance of a business. It’s at the heart of every investment made, every job created and every product produced. Where would we be without it?

For me, Finance is a complex, fascinating field that’s central to every business decision. This is why I’ve devoted the best part of my life to my profession, and why I continue to do so today.

You’re currently based in the Netherlands, and work with teams in Africa and Asia. How do you develop innovative, high-performing teams when you’re so geographically diverse?

Obviously, proximity makes all sorts of things easier – but it doesn’t change the essence of what you do. I follow a few simple principles. You need the best teams in place, you need to provide them with the right tools, and give them the framework, guidance and support to allow them to come up with their own ideas and act on them.

My area of responsibility spans more than 50 countries, so it’s not about telling people what to do and how to do it. If you have the right people in place – you account for differences in culture, education levels and skills, and you put the right training opportunities in place – you can confidently trust that your teams will come up with the best ways to develop the business locally.

What sustainability challenges do you face as an organisation?

Perhaps the most obvious challenge is energy, in terms of availability and source. For example, in Africa, it’s almost impossible to secure a reliable power supply and factories are often run on generators. That’s costly for both the environment and Nutreco, especially given the spike in energy prices.

So, under our Sustainability RoadMap 2025, we prioritise improvements in energy efficiency that will help us measurably reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by investing in and promoting initiatives on renewable energy.  I believe increasing the production of green energy is one of the biggest sustainability challenges in the developing world. Demand is rising, climate change is affecting everybody, and getting fossil fuels is becoming more and more expensive, and more and more difficult. The good news is, there are so many ways to scale up in this area – especially in countries like Africa, where the climate affords huge potential to tap into solar energy, for example. While green solutions are scarce right now, I can see investment increasing dramatically over the coming years.

Another huge factor affecting the success of our business is the link between welfare and demand in our markets. Even the slightest change in food prices causes in a drop in demand, which is understandable when you consider how low the average income is for many families in the developing world.

An article in The Economist recently claimed that, even before COVID and the war in Ukraine, more than 60% of the population in Nigeria was living on less than $2.15 per day. When you consider that a kilo of fish is more than a dollar, then just one fish would cost you half your daily income.

On the other end of the spectrum, we know that when income per capita increases, so does protein consumption. Through Nutreco’s purpose of Feeding the Future, we are focused on ensuring there is enough healthy protein available to feed the growing global population in generations to come. We’re also doing all we can to boost prosperity in the populations we serve – creating jobs with steady incomes. But these are worldwide issues, and ones we can’t tackle alone.  

How is the crisis in Ukraine affecting your markets?

In addition to the deplorable human suffering and loss of life, the war has caused enormous disruption across markets in Europe. The company’s most important area of focus was, of course, to help ensure the safety of our Ukrainian colleagues and their families. We also sold our Russian livestock feed operation to its local management in 2022.

The indirect impact has been an increase in raw material prices and scarcity of cereals – especially in North and Eastern Africa. Goods have become more expensive, logistics more complex and more costly. Very few companies – or people – in Europe have been completely unaffected. We have worked hard to ensure continuity in our supply chains, so we can continue providing the nutritional solutions our customers need to keep producing the protein consumers’ demand.

What does your company do to retain high potential employees?

Plenty of my co-workers have been with the company far longer than my 19 years – as long as 35 years, in some cases. I think that’s because Nutreco allows us to grow professionally, to travel internationally and to learn from colleagues all over the world.

They’re also extremely diligent about people’s safety, from the top down. Even the smallest incidents are carefully reported, so we can learn from each other. It feels good to work for an organisation that so clearly cares for the development and welfare of its employees. When people feel cared for, they stay.

How has continuing professional development impacted your career?

Ongoing education is both a necessity and a privilege.

It’s necessary because, as everybody knows, the world is changing. And, if you don’t keep up, you fall behind. But, for me, it’s also a privilege, and there are so many benefits above and beyond the learning itself.

When I first came to work in the Netherlands, I already had a PhD, but I still felt there were gaps in my knowledge, especially regarding specific Dutch reporting requirements and tax rules. I had the opportunity to do an Executive Master of Finance and Control at Nyenrode Business University.

It didn’t just help me learn more for my role, it also gave me an insight into the level of education in the country – so, if anyone were to come to me for a job in future, I’d know what to expect from them.

Since then, I’ve aimed to complete at least one new training course every year – and I encourage all my direct reports to do the same.  

What are your tips for achieving a good work-life balance?

If you enjoy what you do, it can be difficult, but it is important to draw a line. My advice would be to plan your private time as efficiently and carefully as your professional time. We’re all used to using an agenda for our working days, but we tend not to structure our free time – and, as a result, work can very easily eat into it.

So, whether it’s spending time with family, playing sport, reading a book – put it on your to-do list. Those things are just as important.

As you know, EMEA Recruitment is a partner of the charity Operation Smile. We’re curious to know, what’s the last thing that made you smile?

Last week, my daughter had her final Econometrics exam at university in Rotterdam. She came home and said, “That’s it – I’m done!” It was one of those times when I didn’t have to ask how it had gone – I could read everything I needed to know in her face. Seeing her light up like this was one of the happiest moments in my life.

Thank you to Famil for speaking to Michael Bentil, Senior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.

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

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