Andreas Lindner-Muller - CFO - Ricola Group

When did you decide to explore a career in this area and why?

I studied at Basel University and most of my colleagues were applying for roles in marketing and HR, but I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. I was interested in finance and not many of my colleagues were choosing this career path. It also gave me the opportunity to move abroad sooner in a finance function as there was less competition. I took a role in pharma with Roche and was able to move with the company to Buenos Aires and spent 5 years there as an expat.

What attributes do you think make a good leader in finance?

Gaining a broad experience, seeing different countries and companies and working with a diverse range of people. Many companies today have a strong international profile and this helps to understand the people and culture. It is also important to be open minded for change.

What would be your advice to someone aspiring to be where you are now?

Take opportunities, be open minded and don’t plan too far ahead. I never knew when I started with Roche that I would go to Buenos Aires and I never thought I would end up working back in Basel. You can leave University and plan your next steps, but new opportunities arise that you did not expect. I do not know what I will be doing in another 5 years. When I was with Roche I was ready to go to Brussels following my rotation in Buenos Aires, it was all planned, but then the opportunity with Mövenpick Fine Foods came up.  Many people told me that it was a bad choice as they had heard the business was chaotic and everyone told me to stay at Roche. However, I decided I would take the move and it turned out to be a great opportunity to gain experience in a business restructuring.

When interviewing candidates at an earlier stage in their career what are the common mistakes you see and what advice would you give?

I focus on the soft skills at interview, as all CV’s look good at this stage otherwise they would not have made the shortlist. I look for people who are open minded, dynamic and can pull off a project. Candidates need to show positivity at interview and not to appear too serious. Many positions develop and need flexibility so you need to show a readiness for change. There is a saying that you ‘hire for hard skills and fire for soft skills’ and that’s why I focus on the soft skills at interview I have often hired a more junior employee because I felt they showed more potential than someone who had all the right experience.

What excites you about working for Ricola?

When I was first approached by a headhunter about my current role I was not interested, as I was happy in my role and not looking to move, however, I do not like to say ‘no’ so I went to meet the headhunter for a coffee. At this stage I found out the role would be working for Ricola and as I knew and was interested in the brand I was convinced to go and meet with them. The more people I met within the business the more I became interested in the opportunity. I have a broad role, covering finance, IT and HR and everyday there is something different. This year a lot of my work has been focused on HR projects, but next year there could be a completely different focus. I am not a typical finance person.

Ricola Ag set up the Ricola Foundation, how important is Corporate Social Responsibility for the business?

Herbs are at the heart of the Ricola brand, these are all Swiss herbs and this links the business to nature and local farmers. There is a responsibility to support projects that help nature and currently there is a particular focus on bee conservation. Currently Ricola is supporting the COLOSS project, which is researching why there are large deaths of bee popoulations and how to counter the bug that is killing bees. They have focused on this project for a number of years, but in a few years they will get involved in new projects.  For the last 40 years Ricola have also supported contemporary Swiss art.

Ricola Ag has been operating for over 80 years, what challenges await your business for the future and how do you hope to overcome them?

Ricola will celebrate its 85th birthday next year and the company has shown 3-4% growth / year, which has continued through globalisation and is now in 58 countries. We are not looking for diversification, but we hope to expand further with Asia as they key target market. We are already doing well here with 9% of totals sales and particularly strong markets in China and Indonesia. In France we are big, but the trade structure is very competitive and in the UK we were delisted in Tesco, but we are now back in after meeting a number of criteria. All markets are tough and we are always fighting for space.

We saw Switzerland's economy fail to grow in the second quarter of the year (2014), what do you think are the major challenges that lie ahead for Switzerland’s growth?

Some political initiatives are hurting the countries image and international businesses are considering other countries. The legal and tax frameworks are important and Switzerland needs to be careful not to loose these advantages, there is a big risk. Companies are moving to Ireland and some back to the US as the labour force here is expensive. Five years ago you always heard about companies moving to Switzerland, never leaving, but in the last 6 months the trend has being going in the other direction.

What were your personal thoughts on the referendum "Save our Swiss gold"?

Very populist, to tell the national bank they must have 20% of their balance sheet in gold and not be able to sell is nonsense. If you actually read through the proposal it did not make sense. The national bank should have more gold, but the absolute definition of the proposal when you actually read through it did not make sense. It should be more variable with greater flexibility to sell gold.

Looking back through your established career, what would you identify as a personal highlight?

One highlight was the opportunity to go to Buenos Aires with Roche, everything was new and I learned a lot professionally and personally.  Another highlight was the M&A deal of the sale of the ice cream business of Mövenpick Fine Foods to Nestle. I was one of a team of 3 from Mövenpick and there were 5-6 from the Nestle side. The deal was top secret so we had to meet once / week in a conference room at the airport, but the deal was a great success.

 

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

 
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