Verena Kantor - DCS Global HR Director - DSM Composite Resins

What do you love about Switzerland and why?

I am a Swiss national, born and raised. I lived in Scotland for a year, which was the best year of my life as I was in a different environment and was pushed out of my comfort zone. I think you should do this at a very early stage of your career as it gives you a lot of insight into yourself. Building a career is about having insight in yourself, and knowing yourself first before wanting to achieve something.

What I love about Switzerland is that it is very safe and clean. People sometimes forget that we live in a bubble. We are so protected through the special status that we have that protects us from the EU. We still have our own mind. There is still a small part of me that thinks it is a good thing to be separate, independent, have our own opinion and rules/regulations. It is very well organised – whether you want to find a flat, register with the authorities, open a bank account or send a letter to Timbuktu! The standard of living is excellent – once you have lived abroad you tend to appreciate it much more. Our system of independence really does work.

I also like the fact that Switzerland is in the centre of Europe as it gives me a really good starting point for business and private travels – it is very convenient.

Over the years many people have asked me if they should move to Switzerland. As a family, it is the best move in your life – it is very safe, and very protected. The children can play outside and walk to school. Others also tell me that they love the fact that Swiss people respect rules and regulations.

What are you aspiring to be?

I want to better myself as a person. This is my biggest aspiration. I want to be a good person. Others want lots of money or a nice big house. I already drive my dream car – a Ford Mustang. I know my place in life and I don’t need more than that. I definitely want to be able to look back on my life and say I have been a good person and a positive influence on those around me. This is also how I approach my relationships with my younger relatives – I want to ensure I am there for them and being a good person, by acting as a role model.

What makes you relaxed from working in such a pressured role?

I have a very good work-life balance. It is extremely important. I do sports, have a personal trainer and play basketball when I can. I am part of a mixed team, but because of my frequent travels it does not always happen. I ensure when I am in the country I meet with my personal trainer twice a week. At work you work your mind so much, you need to work your body as well.

I also like to travel. I think it is important when you travel a lot on business that you also do private travel, so you are still able to enjoy it. I read a lot too – everything I read is in English. I am currently reading Ken Follett’s ‘The Century Trilogy’ as it is a different world to what I do during the day. I also love music – I used to play the piano and I have a classically trained singing voice. I am quite good at switching off anyway, but music always helps me to relax further.

My life experience has also helped me to relax from work – I now don’t get thrown that easily. It is something that comes with years of experience of life and work, and you tend to be more relaxed. I recently spoke with one of my previous employees who I have mentored and coached, and she now uses one of my phrases “think about if something really is urgent - something is really urgent if the roof is on fire or someone is dying, and in both cases I cannot help”. I think we sometimes get so wrapped up in our tasks that we think things are urgent when they are not – thinking in this way allows you to take a step back, assess the situation and tackle it in smaller steps.

What are your personal motivators?

Having a variety of tasks, working under pressure, achieving (this could be anything from the company results,  to solving an employment issue). I like to go home and feel like I have made a difference and achieved. I also like having fun - the rule in my team is if you aren’t having fun you might as well go home! If I am in a slow-paced environment I get bored.

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

I have done studies in a completely different sector first. I went ahead and did four majors! I picked Italian and English, and did literature and linguistics in both – with the plan to then become a teacher. In-between, I spent time in Scotland, and I moved out when I was 20 years old – so I felt I had the responsibility to be self-sufficient. I have always worked and studied, so I applied from Scotland to different language schools to continue getting experience. I applied at a private language school that offers German courses for unemployed people and at the time there was a big project with the Cantons where they were trying to reintegrate people into work due to high unemployment, by giving them the German language. I started as a sub-teacher for a few hours per week, but soon found I was leading the whole German team, I was teaching by myself quite a bit and would even teach English. After a while I ended up on the company’s board, but only ended up going to university 1 or 2 days per week. This is when I decided to put on the brakes and think about what I wanted to do. I visited a career advisor, but didn’t tell her much about my background or what I wanted to do, and she asked what I enjoyed doing – her answer was for me to go into HR! I found that I was already doing many HR tasks. I then went back to university and did my HR degree.

I took a job with an IT company after leaving the school and was required to hire 45 people in 3 months – this was my introduction into an official HR position, and I haven’t regretted it since. I have no regrets in life – all my experiences (private and professional) have made me the person I am and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

What attributes do you look for when choosing a recruitment partner?

The deal-breaker is open and honest communication. I really don’t like to be led on or lied to. I also don’t like to be inundated with CVs. If there is no vacancy to be matched to – don’t waste my time. I really appreciate the personal connection with my recruitment partners, as it tells me a lot about how you work. It is all about trust and the connection, and not so much about the brand name. Other key attributes include: dedication, fast-turnaround, good listening skills and a personal touch.

What advice would you give to future aspiring leaders, and why?

Really think about what you wish for. You want that responsibility but can you deal with it? It is similar to being a parent – you want to be a parent but have you thought about what responsibility comes with it? For example, when you are in a position of responsibility you often have to go on vacation with your cell phone – can you live with this?  I have a favourite Italian phrase: “Volevi la bicicletta? Adesso pedala!” In English this translates to: “You wanted the bicycle? Now pedal!” – whenever I get stressed out about something at work, I tell myself this – “Verena, you wanted this position, now take a step back, relax and think about it”.

I would also advise any aspiring leader to push themselves out of their comfort zone. You are not going to grow if you don’t make mistakes - do things you have never done before. I would also advise to aspire to apply for jobs that you think you may be underqualified for – just go for it and be confident in your own ability. Don’t limit yourself. It isn’t always about being better; it sometimes comes down to seizing the moment and your chance, and having the confidence. Take the leap of faith.

Who was your most admired person when you were in your childhood and why?

Elvis Presley! Music has been a big part of my life. My father played the drums in a band, and this is how he met my mother. Back in the day he would play rock ‘n’ roll, so I grew up with Elvis, The Who, Santana. I remember when Elvis died, I came home for lunch and my mother had to break the news to me – I was devastated

Do you have any hidden talents?

I have a classically trained singing voice – so I sing a lot, but just for myself! I used to be in a choir, and one day I hope to have my own Jazz band! I have grown up with Jazz, it is an acquired taste. 

 

Royal DSM is a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials. By connecting its unique competences in Life Sciences and Materials Sciences DSM is driving economic prosperity, environmental progress and social advances to create sustainable value for all stakeholders simultaneously. DSM delivers innovative solutions that nourish, protect and improve performance in global markets such as food and dietary supplements, personal care, feed, medical devices, automotive, paints, electrical and electronics, life protection, alternative energy and bio-based materials. DSM’s 24,500 employees deliver annual net sales of around €10 billion. The company is listed on NYSE Euronext. More information can be found at www.dsm.com.  

DSM Composite Resins is a business unit of DSM headquartered in Schaffhausen Switzerland, and is the leading global innovator of high performance, sustainable composite solutions. Through their Bright Science and market leadership across a number of industries including transportation, construction, infrastructure and industrial they create value by enhancing performance, improving health & safety, and minimizing environmental footprint. They believe their innovation contributes towards a Brighter Future for people today and generations to come that is beyond the capabilities of traditional material solutions.  For more information, please visit www.dsmcompositeresins.com.

 

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

 
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