The EMEA Recruitment podcast welcomes guests from across our network and beyond to share their career journeys, advice, and inspirational stories.
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Thank you to Pehr Magnus Karlsson, Head of Finance Transformation at EF Education First, for joining us on the EMEA Recruitment podcast. “Learn to deal with complexity, but also learn to simp
Thijs Glasz is the People Vice President EMEA & APAC at Össur in the Netherlands. He started his career in Law, before moving into the Human Resources function with LeasePlan. He specialised in Compensation & Benefits before moving to Össur in 2018.
What are the key drivers to success at Össur and what do you, as a business, watch the most?
We're a global company, originally founded in Iceland over 50 years ago. We develop, manufacture, and sell prosthetics and bracing and supports to medical professionals. Additionally, we operate patient care facilities around the world, which service those in need of mobility solutions. Prosthetics are basically for somebody who has lost either a hand, a finger, a knee, or a foot and most of our clients in that segment are elderly people who have diabetes or other related illnesses.
It's less trauma-related; trauma is about 15% of our business. Most of our patients and end-users are elderly people who suffer from cardiovascular issues. For some of them, it means that one day they wake up and have a toe that is black - it's horrible to say, but that's kind of what it looks like. People ageing in general is beneficial for our business, because they’re the people most in need of our products.
The real cool stuff is bionic hands - you put them on your hand and then you can grab and pick up things.
The other line of business is bracing products. Braces can be applied to the neck, elbow, hand, knee, or hip, or anything that you need help with - that's more for support. It is very much for people who are ill, who've had a sickness and are recovering, or it's people who are elderly and need support. For example, if you still want to play tennis when you're 75, then it’s great to have some support with your elbow.
We sell those two lines of business mostly B2B . We’re acquiring the clinics where patients and end-users come for their prosthesis or their braces - and we're not the only ones doing it; our competitors are doing the same thing. One of the strategic reasons that we’re doing it is to make sure that we gain market share and this way can provide best-in-class services to patients and end-users.
This is what our clinics’ employees do every day. It is healthcare and we need to make sure that the care of the patients is our first priority.
Again, we’re not the only ones involved in forward integration. If you look at the people perspective, we need to hire clinicians, and physiotherapists, technically skilled people - different skills and competencies come into the business. It is our job to think about the best way how to develop our employees, how to reward them and keep them engaged, how to provide services to employees, how to train them - those are all things that are on our agenda, and we want to adopt one way of doing it, but differentiate where we need to, as well. That is a challenge. It's a good one to have, but it’s not always that easy.
Was that always the plan for the business or was it because of the competition going down that route that was the catalyst to move into that space?
It's a bit of both. We've been thinking about this for a while and some of those acquisitions we have done for over a decade in countries like Australia and in Nordic countries. We've owned many of those clinics for a while.
This means that, as an organisation, we must continue to be flexible and agile, and make sure that the different groups of employees collaborate well with each other and determine which HR services we provide to our employees globally.
In the existing product business that we have, in our Americas, EMEA and APAC markets, we have a high-touch HR model. This means that we have a good number of HR people supporting with recruitment, learning, organisational development, business partnering, and related services.
In the clinics, it's slightly different - it's a bit like in other industries where you typically have one HR Business Partner for a large group of employees (approx. 500) and many services come from a shared service centre. The support from HR business partners relates mostly to certain annual cycles like performance management, talent reviews, training and onboarding, etc. Our challenge is bringing these two models closer together and this requires thoughtful resource planning and managing expectations.
How far are you on that journey?
For our function, it's fairly at the beginning and that also has to do with the organisational structure we have in the clinics. It’s still very much intact the way it has been and, although it is part of our organisation, some of them operate as a standalone in some ways. There’s a drive to find synergies and work towards one operating model. Commercially and also in Marketing. For instance, in the Netherlands, we have a fair number of people working in Marketing. That can be marketing communications, product marketing, upstream, downstream marketing, etc.
If you look at the clinics, the Marketing function is embedded in the Sales organisation and we do not have separate Marketing teams in the clinics. We have it centralised in our product business, so the question is, how we bring those closer together, who has the mandate to do what, and where do you find each other?
We're in the identification phase right now, which is good to be in, and at the same time in some operations - like in Australia - they’re already operating as one unit and have been for quite a while. In that sense, we can probably learn from that.
It would be good to understand your approach to Diversity & Inclusion. How can leaders create a nurturing environment that is inclusive?
DE&I [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion] is big on our agenda, and it started becoming more apparent in our American business a few years ago, so they’re a bit further ahead when it comes to governance around DE&I, involving business leaders, etc.
Also, reporting wise, you have other requirements in the US than you may have in Europe, specifically when it comes to diverse groups. Diversity obviously is key, but what we try to focus on is foremost inclusion. If you focus on inclusion first, we believe that diversity will somehow follow.
We aim to have a diverse workforce in many ways. Diversity of thought is very big for us and we approach this as part of team development. We make sure, when leaders are looking for new people, that we have a diverse team of people working together in a high-performance format.
In some markets, DE&I can be tough. In healthcare, for instance, in some larger countries in Europe, our workforce is male-dominated, and we want to get away from that somehow. In that sense, I think there's still a lot to do.
Where I work in Eindhoven, we're very lucky to have over 20 nationalities in our distribution centre and our shared functions; we have a lot of diversity, which is fantastic, and we're creating structures around it that are inclusive in nature.
One tool we have used is Develop Diverse, a Danish software tool. It's a tool you can use to make your communication language more diverse; that can be on job advertisements, marketing materials, reports - whatever you have out there. Some words may be non-inclusive or maybe exclusive for specific groups, which can be women, the elderly, but also people who are physically disabled or neurodivergent. Our communications become more diverse in nature, so in the end we attract more people.
For example, you can consider using an alternative to a requirement like “excellent communication skills,” as there may be people who do not master English as a first language. You can alternatively say “professional language skills,” which is appropriate, but slightly different. This way your pool of talent becomes much bigger and hopefully also more diverse. You have more to choose from, specifically in a world where it's tough to get good people for your jobs.
One other thing that is interesting, and somebody taught me this, is job descriptions. The old-fashioned way of setting job descriptions is very much, “These are the requirements. A certain university diploma is required; we require having excellent skills in different areas”. These are often listed in bullet points. Doing it this way some potential candidates may feel that they do not tick all those boxes, so they will not apply. If you describe the requirements in a different manner, e.g. in a paragraph, and say, “These are skills you need to have…,” candidates may think that they may not tick all the boxes, but overall the role fits their skills and expertise, and they believe they are the right person for the job. If you put it down in bullet points, you may miss some good candidates. These are just simple things where you think, why didn’t I think about this before?
I also think it's incredibly valuable to ask younger people what they think. If I read materials, I try to look at it from what my kids would think. Younger employees tend to look at this completely different and of course they are our future leaders. There is nothing against having a young group of people reviewing some of those materials once in a while. Why not use your younger workforce to help you draft your communication material?
Do you think there are things that Össur does particularly well to create an inclusive environment?
It starts with your vision and how you are going out in the market. As I said before, we're not that well known in all our markets. We need to have eye-catching branding materials to say, “This is the company I want to work for,” and I think we're doing that extremely well. The branding materials that we have in place are really spot-on and we have a great product to sell, as well.
The purpose of our company is really clear: the tagline Life Without Limitations is attracting a lot of people, which is really positive. But then, of course, you need to make sure that people really are warming up to your company.
What we're trying to do with hiring managers is encouraging them to use inclusive language in the questions they ask. It's not just me as an HR professional thinking, they need to do this; it is the hiring manager who is sitting down with candidates and should ask the right questions and use the right approach. We must make sure that the language they use or the way they appear and behave is inclusive, as well. We are focusing on that.
We've also done a really good job in upgrading our facilities. This building where I am right now is a state-of-the-art building from 2017 and, if we get people in here, they really want to work here. It's a fantastic, open space with a lot of glass, with inviting meeting rooms and common spaces. A lot of people feel it has a positive vibe. It’s sometimes hard to describe, but that usually helps a lot with bringing people in. In COVID times, for the first time in my life, I hired a lot of people online, which worked out well. Apart from that, we have done impactful renovations to offices in most parts of the world.
How did it impact the business during COVID when we were all remote for a period of time?
It helped us commercially and internally. Commercially, we're now doing way more with our customers online. You need to make sure they have the right equipment to collaborate with you. We're doing that in all of our markets, which I think is really positive. We also apply this internally when hiring people, and in many other meetings.
Apart from the people who really need to be on site, we're extremely flexible to working remotely; we have a guideline of being in the office two to three days a week. Some people who live a bit further away from the office are here a few days a week which works for us.
“Be here when you need to be here.” Some people love to be on site; they may live around the corner, they come every day, or their house is too small, or they don't want to work in a home environment. That's fine and everyone's welcome.
I live more than 50 miles away from the office, so I do not commute to work every day. Luckily, in my role, I can do this. I'm connecting with individuals all over the world and I am in the office when I need to be here and when I think it's really key to be eye to eye with people, or we have certain meetings or events. We're very flexible in that sense, not just here in this office in the Netherlands, but also in other offices in other regions.
I’m hearing more companies starting to ask people to come back in five days.
I think the jury is out on that. Personally, I think we are at a point of no return. Hybrid working is absolutely there to stay and you can fight it, but I think you can better facilitate it and - maybe it's the wrong word, but - lure people back into the office for a good reason. Make it an attractive place to be and then people will likely come by themselves.
What helped us in the COVID times is, when recruiting, you focus for talent within a radius of 20 miles around the office - it's now 50 or 60 miles - so, some of the people we hired in Amsterdam or in The Hague commute to Eindhoven a few days a week, which is still quite a drive. Are you now going to say, “You need to be in the office five days?” If you do, then they're gone. I don't think that's the way to go. I like that we are able to attract a wider workforce. In these times, it's extremely difficult to find people and this policy of flexibility helps us find the right people and have a bigger pool to work from.
I think from a diversity perspective, as well, it's about doing everything you can to attract as wide an audience as possible.
It does require a different style of leadership and management; you need to be really clear about that and what it means. As a leader, you’d likely need to sit down with your team and say, “We're going to do more hybrid work, let's agree on some moments that we’re all together and how we're going to collaborate.” That means, if you're working from home, you can be reached at certain times, while respecting that people are also doing some stuff at home once in a while. You should be very clear about that.
Also, I think it's important when you are managing people that people who come to the office more are not getting more attention and thus receive higher performance ratings: “I’ve seen you more, I know what you can do,” and - on the other hand – “It’s okay, but I don’t really see you enough.” Then you’re going to disadvantage people – specifically, groups who may have circumstances why they cannot come to the office as often. I don't think that is fair.
I'd love to get your insight into where you think the profession's going. What you think it might look like going forward?
One trend in our time right now is that many companies are not just customer-focused anymore, but are very much employee-focused, as well. That has to do with the fact that it's hard to find people and I think everybody understands how relevant the right skills are in an organisation. In many Sales and Marketing organisations, it was always customers first. I believe we're moving away from that and are giving more value to employees. The question is: how are you going to make that work?
To make employees more valued and retain them better, you probably need different goals in your business models and make sure that managers and people in the company understand that. I think that's a key thing that organisations need to think about – think more employee centric, instead of only customer centric. Obviously, customers do come first, but create a better balance with your employee base.
The other thing is pay equity/transparency, which is incredibly important. I come from a hard HR background, I was in Comp & Ben [Compensation & Benefits] roles before, and I see pay moving towards internal equity. It comes back to DE&I, which we talked about.
Previously, many companies thought, “I just want to make sure we are paying people to market and the local benchmark.” Well, the benchmark was always outside and related to other companies. But it should not only be about other companies, but about internal relations. Are you paying Kate the same as you do Brian? That becomes more important, and you should be transparent about it. There are many laws changing in this field, as well. There is an EU directive coming up and, as of 2024, pay transparency is going to be big on the list for many companies in Europe.
It means we need to be more transparent about how we pay our people internally and how to go about finding people and putting salary ranges in adverts. You are not to ask candidates about their salary expectations anymore in interviews. Instead, you need to set yourself up differently when it comes to pay and, if you don't do that, you're going to lose out on talent. That's a big trend.
And digitalisation is very important. For our business, because we do many things in a digital manner, our products, our systems, but in HR, as well. For us, data analytics is key; we've got various analytics teams at work and we will likely increase that in the future due to business requirements. Technology will continue to drive our decision making and forecasting. So, automation, robots are the future… we should think about own roles and how those match these new innovations. I do think that analytics and our systems are going to have a huge impact on how we do our business going forward.
We are forced to align ourselves with new technology and trends and should not resist it somehow. I talked about younger people earlier on - how younger generations are thinking about these things. It's fantastic how younger team members connect basic systems more and quicker to each other than people of older generations. That's helping us, as well. We have teams in place which are diverse and are proactive in suggesting new ideas themselves and how they can best execute on it.
Was there anything else that you wanted to comment upon?
Coming back to what I told you earlier about this clinics business and product business. We're basically moving from a product organisation to a healthcare company and with that comes social responsibility, and that's branded in our DNA, as well. It also comes back to how we’re branding ourselves so we attract customers and end users to our clinics.
Branding is really key. Not just branding our products, but the overall employer brand and how we put this out to the market. We are mid-sized and in many places not well known in the market, so we need to continue promoting ourselves in the markets we operate in. We have many brands out there, and they differ because of the fact that we acquired many companies in the past. We have, for instance, sites in Africa, Europe and in South America, and if you go to one of those sites they may still call themselves by the brand name that we acquired some years ago. It would be good to have some uniformity when it comes to how you do things and how you brand yourself, while ensuring that we are locally competitive.
All in all, many good challenges to have and a dynamic, successful, and fun company to work for.
Thank you to Thijs for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our Human Resources 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.
Erwin Rengers is the Global Chief Human Resources and Marketing & Communications Officer at Hyva in the Netherlands. He previously spent over 20 years in FMCG with Kraft Heinz, becoming VP HR for Continental Europe, Russia and European R&D. He was also Global HR Director at discount retailer Steinhoff International and has acted as an HR consultant.
What excites you about Hyva and the mission that attracted you to the business?
Initially, I had never heard of Hyva, although it was founded by Jaap Vaandrager in the Netherlands, 44 years ago. Nevertheless, what was interesting was that I was approached by an executive search company, and I had a couple of conversations with Alex Tan, the CEO of Hyva.
From these conversations, I realised that Hyva had experienced strong organic growth over the past four decades. Reflecting on our discussions and looking at the business, it became clear what the company’s future journey needed to be, moving into the next stage of the business lifecycle and change.
This realisation was a very personal reason for my decision to join the company. I like to leave a legacy - not just for the sake of leaving a legacy - but to add value to an organisation; that’s where I get my energy. Looking back at my career, I've worked with mid-sized companies like Heinz to big corporations like Steinhoff, with a turnover of 20 billion and 130,000 employees.
But it’s not about the numbers; it was the complexity and opportunities ahead that were my main drivers for joining. I loved the product - I like concrete products. I had previously worked with products like Heinz ketchup, for example, and now I'm dealing with cranes and cylinders. These products aren't rocket science, but it’s very interesting to see where you can add value both from an HR perspective and for the organisation.
Two years ago, in July, I joined Hyva. After about a year and ongoing discussions with Alex, it became clear that changes were necessary. Factors like the impact of COVID-19 and the global supply chain issues - our cost price is for a large extent based on steel prices – meant our past strengths became our weaknesses, which was magnified due to COVID.
The organisational structure did not have many professional processes across various functions, such as HR, Finance, Business Operations, IT, and SOP processes – it was like “spaghetti” trying to manage that globally. This prompted us to consider a shift in the company to create focus for both the business and people.
We have five LOBs , but they were merged in how they were managed globally. The nature of the products - either route to market (selling) and production are different; some products are for different markets and totally different customers, some with tailor-made or specific specifications and requirements, which is very project based, and others standardized and made to stock.
So, we needed to change and enhance focus, accountability, and clarity within the business, which will create a lot of value in the long run. We initiated a project, called “Project Rainbow”, which was inspired by a rainbow I saw on a rainy November morning while driving to the office, and it symbolises a transition into brightness, aligning with our goal.
We recognised the importance of external support to make transformation happen – to be successful, you need to make sure your execution of such a big transformation is successful. So, we collaborated with McKinsey, drawing from their expertise. This partnership extended over six months - the first month with the management team and finally the entire organisation.
Mid-July, we unveiled the new structure, consisting of three vertically integrated business units: Components (core of the business), Cranes, and Recycling (Container Handling & Waste Handling). We still have some regional structure, as well.
This shift includes the globalisation of HR, IT, and Finance functions, using a matrix organisation. So, the full HR community will report to me, and someone else will take this responsibility for Finance, IT, etc.
The next step is working on processes, clear accountabilities, and data. The processes are fundamental for the new organisation. We have a clear strategy and vision, but we need to execute that and look at processes and other elements like culture to gain a holistic view to change the organisation.
For example, HR will invest in HR systems for global management and employee self-service, as well as digitising processes to support locations without HR support. Overall, really driving functional excellence.
The transformation is a natural progression, mirroring the evolution observed in many companies after decades of growth; adapting to a new professional structure is an organic evolution in its journey.
How do you define what you want that culture to be like in Hyva as a business?
As I am responsible for Marketing as well, we recognise our strong brand in the market, consistently recognised in the industry. The brand strength translates globally, evident from our surveys and high net promoter scores, consistently ranging from six to seven. We should leverage that for our employer brand; so, we'll start focusing on various efforts, such as LinkedIn posts, social media engagement, and updating our career website, combined with internal and external communications.
But, before that, we want to reshape our values. When I joined, we had seven values - best practice is three to four. Entrepreneurship and customer relationships remain central. Fundamentally, I want to create a purpose. The “why” is crucial for attracting and retaining talent, especially among the younger generation. Sustainability is also becoming much more important.
We need to align the vision, mission, purpose, and strategy. While the strategy might change in detail, this structure remains. Simultaneously, reshaping our structure, processes, and culture to elevate our business. A lot of work still needs to be done.
Currently, we have a purpose, but we are not clear on that. We need to make it explicit. Our waste handling, for example, yields impactful solutions, a prime example being China, where we orchestrate comprehensive waste management for governments. Beginning with street collection, we transport waste to dedicated stations. These solutions contribute to a healthier world, particularly in countries like India, where the streets remain cluttered with garbage. India's government emphasises not only infrastructure development, but also an improved quality of life. Having personally witnessed this during my recent visit, the potential is there.
This is a perfect fit for us, as well, with growth opportunities. It's a mutually beneficial scenario, benefiting governments, collaborating businesses, people, and our own business. At Hyva, it's not just about products - it's much more.
Sustainability is clearly something that businesses are focusing on so much more now than they perhaps have in the past.
Recently, while visiting our Pune factory, which is about 160 kilometres from Mumbai, I gained a fresh perspective. We essentially serve as bodybuilders, modifying trucks and the body, and we build upon that by incorporating cylinders where necessary. However, this process consumes significant energy, for example, welding and other tasks generate a lot of heat within the factory. It's clear that we need to drive change and see what we can do differently in our processes to reduce our environmental impact as an organisation.
To address this, we've started investing in solar panels. This initiative is gaining momentum; even the Pune factory now has solar panels. The business has picked this up more over the past one to two years.
Is there anything that stands out to you as being a defining moment or maybe a risk that you've taken that has helped you reach that leadership role?
Having spent two decades at Heinz, I grew with the business and progressed through various roles. Then, the business was taken over by Warren Buffet and 3G Capital, and almost the top 200s needed to leave, including myself. I then moved to Steinhoff in a strategic role and decentralised organisation, which was totally different from Heinz.
Thin margins, managing quantity, having logistics right, and having Sales staff fully dedicated to do the best for the customer – a very interesting period.
I tried self-employment and did some project-based work at TE Connectivity in a Business Partner role, but found myself needing more challenges and to be able to leave a legacy. So, I put myself on the market. I reconnected with e-llis, a 4PL [fourth party logistics] organisation, a family-owned business. I worked temporarily on the company's purpose and market development as Business Development Director, but as I said, I wanted to leave my legacy and have more responsibility as a CHRO.
Finally, I was approached by an executive search company. I shared my limited industry-specific experience, emphasising competence over industry knowledge, as he was saying Hyva was looking for industry experience.
After that, there was a period of not hearing anything, but I held onto my belief that industry experience reaches a point of relevance, while competence holds more importance in a certain organisational context.
Suddenly, I was approached by another consultant from the same executive search company - someone I knew ten years ago at Heinz - and she put me forward again for the role at Hyva. She explained they couldn’t find the right candidates, but she said I would be a fit candidate from her perspective. The following day, I spoke with Alex (Tan) and, after three interviews, they hired me.
What struck me was the challenge, but also being at the top and being able to influence within the organisation.
If you didn’t choose HR, were there any other professions you’d like to explore?
In my youth, I was interested in many jobs, like a vet, architect or - like many - a professional soccer player. I also wanted to be a pilot; I even did some tests for the Royal Air Force. I had never even heard of HR. A good friend, who was studying HR, suggested that it might suit me. I joined him at school one day, and the combination of economics, philosophy, social studies, and psychology that HR offered was interesting. So, I decided to pursue it once I finished my secondary education. I went on to earn a degree in Business Administration, as well, achieving university-level education.
While at university, I worked for a food company for three years and, after, I worked at Heinz for the next 20 years - although I hadn't originally planned to become an HR Director or CHRO. My career within the company evolved gradually. I began as a factory HR Manager and the company expanded across the UK, Europe and Russia.
At one point, Heinz faced a decision about consolidating its European production. With government incentives, the Netherlands-based subsidiary was selected. During my time there, I worked on innovative projects, introducing concepts like lean production and flexible labour solutions to adapt to seasonal demands.
Throughout my career, there has always been a point of improvement, being innovative and looking for change. I never aimed for the next step up; instead, I focused on adding value and generating energy in whatever I did. As my career progressed, I took on roles of increasing responsibility and worked on diverse projects.
For this role, I wanted to be responsible and contribute to the organisation at the highest level. I find fulfilment in being close to the top where the communication is direct and I can influence decisions.
Was there anything else that you wanted to share about your own personal story or Hyva itself?
I can tell you about my personal life. I'm married and have a 12-year-old daughter, along with a golden retriever. I've always tried to balance my life, even though I make long working hours. When I do have free time, I focus on quality. Alex, the CEO, often tells me that, too. In fact, we recently went out for dinner, and I push him as well to also enjoy life outside of work.
For me, it's not the number of hours, but the quality of those hours spent. Maintaining the right balance is important in my life.
I believe in running the extra mile and driving passion and energy in everything you do. I always say there’s always a solution to a problem and don’t make things overcomplicated. After all, we are just selling cylinders and cranes - or ketchup, as I experienced at Heinz.
Be open and honest, respect others, and treat others as you want to be treated, as my grandmother always used to say – simple values in life. As the CHRO and Alex the CEO, we remain very humble, and I see that gap of perception some may have about our role, but we don’t feel that.
We want to serve the business and do the best for the business and for our people and grow further. We are accountable for 4,000 employees and their families. The ultimate goal is to be successful for our employees and customers – that’s it.
Thank you to Erwin for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our Human Resources 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.
Aidzil Subohi has spent the last 22 years growing her career within Greif, a global supplier and manufacturer of industrial packaging products and services in the Netherlands. Currently Director of Finance for the North & Western Europe Region, Aidzil shares fascinating insights into her career path, management style and personal development philosophy.
Greif has ambitious sustainability targets – specifically, to reduce scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 28% by the end of the decade. What are the challenges the company faces in its bid to achieve this goal?
The target is a challenge in itself! And rightly so – because it’s hugely important and we need to take it seriously. By setting the bar high and having a clear mission, I believe we’re far more likely to push ourselves and reach our goals by 2030 than if we set the threshold lower.
We’re committed to reducing our energy usage for every production unit, as well as delivering products and services in a more sustainable way – promoting a circular economy wherever possible.
Doing all that at the same time as offering the best value and customer service is a tall order, so our sustainability initiatives must be smart. For example, we’re seeking new opportunities in renewable energy, looking at new ways to recycle raw materials and manage waste or byproducts, and investing in green initiatives across all our locations – like solar panels and water pumps, right down to increasing greenery in our locations and finding ways to minimise paper usage in office environments. It’s about every team and every department doing their bit.
What are the successes and opportunities that have kept you at Greif for almost 22 years?
Since I started at Greif, there have been significant advancements in technology, business landscape, infrastructure and environmental perspectives, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to experience and contribute in the company’s continual development and growth.
To keep myself on the front foot, I’ve had to develop myself, keep learning new topics and not be afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I also think that when you’re genuinely passionate about the work you do, your career progression increases naturally.
I’m good at connecting and working with people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and disciplines, and my management approach is people-first. I encourage critical thinking in my teams and keep an open mind when it comes to communicating and implementing business strategies, because information and new ways of working will always be interpreted diversely by different people. You have to stay aware of that, recognise the sensitivities of each individual and adapt your way of communicating accordingly.
Did you always have your career path planned out from the beginning or has it happened organically?
I graduated with a Law degree, so - in the early days of my career - I assumed I’d follow a fairly standard path, though I still had a high interest in Finance!
There was high demand for Finance professionals at the time, hence I specialised in this area and completed an MBA, thereafter started as a Finance Controller at Greif. It was an exciting time – full of challenges and opportunities to learn. I trained to become a Certified Management Accountant in the mid-2000s and, as the business grew, I became involved in projects such as business acquisitions and reviewing major capital investments.
I always had an awareness that, if I wanted to continue being involved in complex tasks like these, I needed to keep developing myself and taking on new responsibilities – even if they felt overwhelming at the time.
I still use skills I learned in my Law studies on a daily basis, i.e., analysis, critical thinking and problem solving, to name just three. No degree or textbook, though, can give you the learning curve you get from on-the-job experiences. It’s the knowledge base you build from these small steps that ultimately keeps you climbing higher in the structure of an organisation.
I’ve also had a lot of support at home during the most challenging times, from my parents in those early days and, later on, from my husband. You can’t underestimate the peace-of-mind that brings.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever been given?
That I am reliable and connect with people from various levels and disciplines. Also being described as a leader with emphatic values. I am able to connect to each individual according to their respective skills, as well as encouraging my team to problem solve independently, while at the same time guiding and supporting them along the way.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?
It would be to keep learning and developing yourself, both professionally and personally. Formal education, professional qualifications and on-the-job training are all important, but I give equal weight to softer skills, such as communication and presentation skills, and having the self-awareness to know when coaching will improve your way of thinking or approach to challenges.
I also believe career progression doesn’t have to be vertical. The best experiences and learning curves often come from moving sideways in an organisation.
Outside of work, what does relaxation look like for you?
I love spending time with family, reading and watching concert performances. I also love doing long-distance running and practising karate. Both sport activities increase my focus and sharpen my thinking. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to come up with ideas or find the solution to a problem at work while I’m out on a long run!
Karate, in particular, teaches self-awareness, discipline and anticipation, working out your competitor’s moves in advance, and those skills transfer over into my professional life. There are so many benefits, I could go on and on!
Thank you to Aidzil for speaking to Ali Cawley, 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.
Patrick Visser is the Vice President Global Internal Audit and Control Assurance at Universal Music Group in the Netherlands. He started his Audit career at PwC, before moving to KPN, Biomet, Stryker, and Angelini Pharma Company.
How, in your opinion, is the role of the senior Finance professional changing?
The current business world asks for more real-time insights, both from a past and future perspective, to allow for fast and preferably more fact-based decision making. The role of the senior Finance professional must adapt to that evolving expectation.
They need to play a meaningful role in delivering the right data insight at the right time and the right level of detail to the C-suite to support the decision-making process. I would expect that the senior Finance professional will take a lead role in exploring opportunities for a more intelligent process automation.
All of this will enable the Finance function to spend more time on analysing data, predicting trends, and predicting outcomes, rather than doing a lot of manual, repetitive work.
This trend started a couple of years ago, but is still as relevant as it was back then. My expectation is that we will only see more of that.
How do you approach strategic workforce planning?
Firstly, I’d say you need to have a good sense of what you’re trying to accomplish business wise and what you’re working towards. Define what your strategic initiatives are, which might require different or new capabilities compared to what you currently have in your team.
From my perspective, it is important to think about whether we have the right expertise to deliver on our strategy or not.
Flexibility is important, as well. Can we scale up and down when we need to, in terms of resource levels? I strongly believe in having a strong core team that is supplemented by a strong co-source partner. Having a strong partner allows us to gain an outside-in perspective; the expertise helps management to decide that certain things must be done.
Bringing in the flexibility, the experience and the expertise can definitely help in making sure you achieve what you want to achieve.
How do you think your management style works for you and your team?
As a leader, my goal is to always ensure that we create the right environment for the team to excel and to remove roadblocks when they appear. I am focused on empowering my team, mostly to create a positive flow of information and ideas, instead of me telling them what to do.
I tend to place a lot of trust in my team, but only after we’ve developed a system of checks and balances, so that I’m sure the output of our work consistently meets our quality standards.
I lead my team with a lot of trust, and it tends to work well, because it gives a level of freedom and empowerment to the team. Typically, people like that and it engages them. We use their experiences and their innovative capabilities to always challenge the status quo.
How can we accomplish wellbeing for all employees?
Wellbeing can mean different things for different people; it is important that we understand what it means and what is important to each individual team member, as well as what a work-life balance means to them.
What works for one might not work for someone else. Since the COVID pandemic, we’ve all been working more from home and we still operate with more flexibility, so the need for more attention on mental wellbeing is more prevalent than ever before.
One of the effective ways to accomplish mental wellbeing could be partnering with a specialised company that provides mental coaches to employees, where employees can make appointments with them whenever they need advice, or when they just want to soundboard with someone outside of the team or the company.
Secondly, it’s about having an open dialogue between a manager and an employee. Maybe we need to spend more time on that than ever before, because the world has changed, and remote and flexible working is now an established part of business.
You don’t see each other in person that often anymore, so you risk loss of connectivity and the social element of work, which I think is really important for people’s engagement levels.
What advice would you give to yourself five years into your career?
A couple of things come to my mind. The first one is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, because - when I look back - when I was stepping out of my comfort zone, I was taking on stretch assignments and going all in without a fear to fail.
From my perspective, complex challenges become an essential opportunity to learn. Make sure you learn from everything and don’t make the same mistakes again - and try to get the best out of it.
The second is, dare to take decisions, even if you don’t have all the answers - even if you don’t have all the data – try to make decisions and utilize the skills and experience of those around you, because you will find out quicker if it was the wrong decision, and then you can course correct, learn and move on.
That also leads to the third thing from my perspective, which is, don’t overthink things too much - it can paralyse you. Just experiment and try to learn along the way.
You have worked in a number of different industries. How do you think it has added to the success of your Finance career so far and what you’ve learnt?
It’s all about context and perspective. You can learn from what works well, but also what doesn’t work well, in one industry versus the other. I think that’s also true for one company versus the other, even if it’s in the same industry.
For example, some industries are more progressive and innovative when it comes to technology differences and support processes compared to others.
So, if you have experience and go into another industry, you can take that knowledge and your experience with you to challenge the status quo, and think more about what could be, instead of accepting what is.
That has aided my experience and my progression, because I’ve been fortunate enough to work in different industries, and I’ve always been able to take learnings from them - the good things and the bad things - through just asking some critical questions and challenging the status quo.
That is the beauty of having been in multiple industries, but also different types of companies, even within the same industry.
How do you feel Finance can help accelerate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives?
Finance can lead the charts, because we are the experts in processes, systems and understanding how transactions turn into numbers.
Similar to Finance, ESG initiatives will also be included in annual reports. We look at the recently published CSRD has ever done.
Through the training and coaching amongst Finance departments, they can also help build the governing process and the controls that will support the reliable reporting of non-financial information.
Most Finance teams are used to such processes, so they can be the ultimate gatekeeper in a sense; even if there’s an overlapping process or there are overlapping tools that cover both aspects.
Finance can make sure that both aspects are covered for the financial reporting and the non-financial reporting. At the end of the day, it’s all in the same annual report, it’s going to the same stakeholder group, and then Finance can be the ultimate gatekeeper in reviewing that data based on their understanding of processes.
Finance can play quite a big role in this - it can possibly become the leader, and I think that’s what most companies actually do. There are a couple of ways to accelerate these initiatives, just by leveraging the available knowledge, process, systems, and controls.
Antonio Calco’ Labruzzo is the Global Head of Human Resources, GREFP and TBS at Takeda in Zurich. Antonio started his HR career in Italy, and prior to his current role at Takeda was a CHRO at Colosseum Group/Jacobs Holding.
What is your purpose and what does it mean to you?
Purpose is like the North Star that guides me throughout my journey, igniting a fire within me to make a meaningful impact.
Let me take you back to the early days of my career. I was fresh-faced and eager, but I had doubts about the significance of my role. I believed that only those in senior positions had the power to shape an organization's purpose. How wrong I was!
It was during my time as a recruiter, responsible for hiring interns, that I realized the profound impact that positions of all levels can have. I was the linchpin in an organization where 80% of new roles were filled through internships. Can you imagine the weight of that responsibility? It was a humbling realization that my work had far-reaching consequences.
Over time, I understood that purpose isn't limited to specific roles or ranks; it flows through every individual, regardless of their position. It’s about stepping out of the spotlight at the centre of the stage and directing our focus towards the greater good, and creating lasting, sustainable impacts.
In my current role, I'm passionate about instilling this belief in everyone, ensuring that they recognize their immense impact on our shared purpose. It's in the pharma industry, where patients are the priority, that purpose becomes even more vital.
Whether you're developing life-saving drugs or optimizing processes to save time for those on the front lines, purpose infuses every action with meaning. Purpose is the driving force that propels us forward on both sunny and cloudy days, reminding us why we do what we do.
Why are you so passionate about the People strategy?
The People strategy is a passion rooted in my personal journey. Picture this: I started my career in HR while completing my master’s in business management. At that time, most of my classmates were flocking to Finance or Marketing roles. They questioned my decision, wondering why I didn't choose the conventional path.
But I had a different perspective. I saw HR as a gateway to understanding organizations at their core, a springboard to make a lasting impact. Little did I know that HR would capture my heart in ways I couldn't have imagined. It wasn't just about the social interactions; it was the ever-changing nature of HR that captivated me.
Each day, I wore multiple hats - a lawyer, a psychologist, an economist, a personal coach. The dynamic nature of HR kept me engaged and eager to learn. Over time, I witnessed the transformation of HR from being viewed as a mere administrative function to a strategic powerhouse.
In today's fast-paced, ever-evolving world, HR plays a pivotal role in shaping organizational success amidst digital disruption. But what truly drives my passion for the People strategy is the realization that people are the beating heart of any organization, regardless of the industry. From mergers and acquisitions to start-ups seeking investments, it's the people, their culture, and their leadership that determine success.
In HR, I have the privilege of guiding and nurturing the right individuals, helping them find their place in the organization and contribute to something greater than themselves.
How do you see digitalization coming into HR?
The winds of digitalization are reshaping the landscape of HR, bringing both excitement and challenges. “Think of digital transformation less as a technology project to be finished than as a state of perpetual agility, always ready to evolve,” said Amit Zavery, VP and Head of Platform at Google Cloud.
Imagine stepping into a world where HR embraces digital practices, leveraging technology to empower organizations and individuals alike. This digital revolution has two fascinating facets.
Firstly, HR professionals themselves must adapt, embracing digital acumen and expanding their skillset to keep pace with the changing times. We need to challenge ourselves to be at the forefront of digital innovation.
Secondly, HR plays a crucial role in guiding organizations through their digital journey. We have an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate the right match between people and roles using advanced algorithms and data-driven insights. The potential of talent marketplaces, where skills seamlessly align with organizational needs, is awe-inspiring. Digitalization unlocks vast reserves of data, enabling us to make faster and more informed decisions.
I am thrilled to be at the forefront of this transformation, working towards a future where technology amplifies human potential and facilitates our collective success. That's why initiatives where we invest in future talent and equip them with digital skills resonate deeply with me.
It's about lifelong learning for those with longer experience and preparing the next generation to thrive in this digital era, and ensuring our organizations remain agile and future ready.
Did you always have a passion for keynote speaking, and did you have to overcome any fears?
Keynote speaking has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. From a young age, I relished the thrill of captivating an audience and sharing insights that could inspire and resonate with others. Family gatherings were not complete without my spirited performances, entertaining everyone with my enthusiastic presence.
However, as I progressed in my career, I realized that passion alone wasn't enough. I needed to develop my skills and learn how to harness my talent more intentionally.
Over the years, I dedicated myself to constantly refining my keynote speaking abilities and I’m still doing it. I focused on becoming crisper, more concise, and more impactful in delivering messages. I understood that it's not just about the stories we tell, but also how we tell them – with clarity, authenticity, and a deep understanding of the audience's needs.
Keynote speeches hold great importance to me for several reasons. Firstly, they provide an avenue to give back and share experiences with others. It's a way to pass on the knowledge and insights I've gained throughout my career, with the hope that it will benefit and inspire those who listen.
Secondly, engaging with an audience allows for a dynamic and enriching two-way exchange of ideas. The questions, feedback, and perspectives shared provide me with new insights and different viewpoints, broadening my own understanding. It's a reciprocal process of learning and growth.
Lastly, keynote speaking enables me to connect with a broader audience and have a larger impact. It's an opportunity to reach individuals who may not have otherwise encountered my ideas or experiences. By sharing stories, lessons, and valuable insights, I strive to inspire positive change and empower others to pursue their own paths to success.
Keynote speaking, to me, is a vehicle for personal and professional growth, as well as a platform for making a difference. It's a constant journey of self-improvement, driven by the belief that, through the power of storytelling and meaningful connections, we can create a brighter and more impactful future.
How has remote working and digital environments impacted your work?
Remote working and digital environments have brought forth a new chapter in how we approach work and connectivity. They have ushered in unprecedented flexibility, enabling us to navigate unexpected situations with greater ease.
Mutual flexibility is a great opportunity to make the most out of our time and optimize it, recognizing that time is the scarcest resource we have. However, as ways of working change, we also need to re-learn how to manage our time effectively.
In this evolving landscape, it becomes crucial to strike a balance between meaningful interactions when we are physically present in the office, and maintaining focus and concentration when working behind a screen. It's about being intentional in our actions and choices, ensuring that we prioritize deep work and avoid the distractions of multi-tasking. The digital world offers immense possibilities, but it also requires discipline and conscious time management.
While remote working provides additional flexibility to tailor our schedules and focus on priorities, we must not overlook the value of genuine human connections. Face-to-face engagements foster empathy, understanding, and collaboration in ways that virtual interactions cannot fully replicate. There is a distinct energy and inspiration that emerges when we are physically present, immersing ourselves in the organizational culture.
Serendipitous encounters, impromptu conversations, and the observation of others in action spark creativity, learning, and personal growth. It is through these shared experiences that we form lasting connections and forge a strong sense of camaraderie. As leaders, we have the responsibility to create an environment that enables meaningful interactions and cultivates a sense of belonging, whether it's in a physical office or a virtual space.
The key lies in embracing the flexibility that technology provides, while cherishing the power of face-to-face engagements. By being mindful of how we allocate our time, leveraging the benefits of remote working, and nurturing authentic human connections, we can thrive in the digital era, while maintaining a sense of community and purpose.
It is through this delicate balance that we can unlock the full potential of remote working and digital environments, fostering productivity, collaboration, and a fulfilling work experience.
Thank you to Antonio for speaking to Millie Flanagan, Associate Consultant in our Human Resources recruitment team in Switzerland.
Willem Krul has been Global Accounting & Reporting Director at JDE Peet’s since 2012. JDE Peet’s is the world's leading owner of coffee and tea brands, serving around 4,200 cups per second.
Here, Willem reflects on the streamlining of recruitment processes over the course of his career, how taking a risk can pay off in the long run, and that awkward feeling of being the “new guy” in the office after leaving a company you know inside out.
What changes have you seen in the employment market in the Netherlands over the years and what are the key drivers for these changes?
From the point of view of candidates, I don’t see a lot of changes. Generally speaking, people go into an organisation, stay for three to five years, and then move on.
The biggest changes have been to companies’ internal processes. In the past, it would be managers alone who’d interview five or so candidates and make their selections based on those interviews (and probably a degree of gut feel, too).
These days, HR - especially the recruitment departments within HR (if you’re a big enough company to have that luxury!) - has professionalised the whole process and made it a lot more thorough.
For every opening at JDE Peet’s, there’ll be a properly graded, group-approved and externally benchmarked job description, with pre-screening selection criteria that enable our recruitment department to identify the best candidates out of the many applicants before sending their CVs onto managers.
Then, we’ll usually do an assessment to check the person’s competencies, and sometimes the applicant will get an unscheduled call from us with a few questions just to get a feel for how prepared they are without any preparation! It’s a useful way to gauge how motivated a candidate is, how much research they’ve done on the role and the company, and ultimately how much they want to work for us.
Investing this kind of time and diligence into the recruitment process makes it far less likely that you’ll employ someone, only to have to let them go after a month or two because they’re not quite the right fit. And that’s not just better for companies; it’s better for and more respectful to candidates, as well.
What measures has JDE Peet’s put in place to retain high potential employees?
As part of our annual appraisals, we score members of our team and calibrate those scores by asking colleagues in other departments to do the same. This gives us a broader perspective on the individual and helps avoid the bias that you naturally have with your own team.
We also rank talent using the nine-box model, a tool that helps us categorise and compare employees’ performance and potential. This means that, when a new (senior) role becomes available, we’re able to identify and promote the top talent we already have.
You’ve had an enviable career within a prestigious firm. What risks have you taken to reach the level you’re at today?
I’d have to go back to my KPMG days back in the ‘90s. I wasn’t an auditor; my job was to compile financial statements for small business owners. We had an engagement with an oil company who had some interest rate swaps. They wanted monthly reports on receiving fixed interest rates and paying floating, etc. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about any of it! I just followed the process my predecessor set up and did everything I could to learn on the job.
Suddenly, a large international client, Montell, which was a newly created joint-venture of Shell and an Italian company in the chemical industry, came along and they wanted us to do their accounts.
They invited a KPMG partner to come in and discuss the set-up of the accounting. When the subject of interest rate swaps came up, he said: “Willem knows all about that!” The next thing I knew, I was in front of the customer having been used to work on accounts for small numbers, but now dealing with big numbers - billions and billions. It was mind-boggling. I had to buy a new calculator (remember, we are still in the ‘90s) to fit in all the zeros!
At the end of the day, though, numbers are numbers. And, although I was less experienced in this area, I knew just about enough, I had the backing of a colleague who believed in me, and I loved working in an international environment.
Eventually, an opening came up for a consolidation and reporting role. That was my move out of the Big 4 into Montell (now LyondellBasell Industries), where I went on to grow my career for the next 14 years. So, the risk paid off!
How did you plan your career development path?
It’s simple - I didn’t! Yes, you need to take ownership of your career path, but no one can be sure of what’s around the corner. You must weigh up new opportunities based on what’s happening in the here and now, on what you love doing, and you have to be brave.
When I made the move from LyondellBasell to Provimi after almost a decade-and-a-half, it wasn’t easy. Suddenly, even though I was 40 years old, I was the new guy. I didn’t even know how the coffee machine worked, let alone the financials! But that feeling is only temporary.
When I moved on again to JDE Peet's, the transition was much easier, because I’d already gone through that big change just three years earlier. It was a huge learning curve.
My career path has also been influenced by changes that have happened around me - changes I could never have predicted when I started in each role. For example, Montell merged into Basell, and a few years later Basell merged with Lyondell into LyondellBasell Industries, which at that time was a very centralised, American-style company. I didn’t feel at home and took the decision to leave. History repeated when Provimi was taken over by Cargill.
When I joined JDE Peet’s, revenue was 2.5 billion. Now, it’s over eight billion. So, change is constant, and how I’ve responded to that change has dictated the direction of my career.
I also love what I do, I know my skillset and I know where my dreams lie. For some people, it’s all about diversifying and then aiming for those top CFO roles. My dream is doing the very best job I can in a position that plays to my strengths in a setting I like. And I feel lucky that my role right now with JDE Peet’s allows me to do just that.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
I’d probably repeat the advice my father gave to me and my brother: It doesn’t matter what you study, as long as you study. University-level education gives you a certain mindset, and an approach to problem solving that serves you throughout your life and work, no matter what you end up doing as a career.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges facing you in your role at JDE Peet's over the coming year?
One is retention, keeping hold of the talent in our team, so we don’t have the challenges of recruiting in a very tight market.
The other big challenge from an accounting perspective is the shift we’ve had to make from the financial to the non-financial space, in the form of sustainability reporting - something that’s quite new for us. It’s a good challenge to have, though, the right thing to do for us and for society as a whole. As with any change, we’ll learn, and we’ll adapt, and we’ll become all the stronger for doing so.
Thank you to Willem for speaking to Ali Cawley, Senior Consultant in our Finance & Accountancy recruitment team in the Netherlands.