Nuno Cunha - HR Director EMEA & Global Specialty Fluids Company - Cabot Corporation

As someone who has had a number of years’ experience within the Swiss market-place, how have you found the Swiss market & working environment has changed over these years?

When I came to Switzerland, I came to a market which was growing fast both in the economy and market levels. The culture in Switzerland is very friendly, embracing and easy to integrate. In my experience I saw however a strong traditional approach especially within the HR community in some particular places. The quick increase of international workers in smaller communities (not just Zurich and Geneva) was emerging fast, bringing new international trends and somehow has allowed the country to also quickly adapt to a much more progressive professional environment. I do believe I was very fortunate to see and witness such a progress. Today I see Switzerland as an example of how well one culture can accommodate and collaborate with others without clashing and still keeping their great unique identity.

What in your opinion, have been the drivers for these changes?

There are several drivers: during the last 10 years, I believe the market has been strong in Switzerland contributing for higher education levels and low unemployment rate.The market has also been strong economically compared to other countries, attracting key foreign players (key talent) which will also accelerate the growth of local talent. The presence of key international companies, also offer international exposure and assignments to young Swiss professionals, developing them outside Switzerland who then return and integrate their knowledge and experience.

What excites you about working for Cabot?

Honestly there is definitely something exciting about Cabot. Every company has something that has its own pros and cons, but in the end it is really “Values” that makes the difference. It is about how you work, more than what you do. If you like the culture and the values, you will usually end up liking the company and the products. It is good to love your work, but it’s not just about your role:- you spend more time at work than at home and you must feel in a positive environment and focus on achieving and making the difference versus managing politics and difficult people. The culture in Cabot is professional, focused on delivering within a positive working environment.

Being a sparring partner is a pre requisite for an HR Division, what do you feel makes an effective sparring partner?

A sparring partner is something that others recognize in you. They are the ones who decide if you have value to add in their businesses. You cannot impose yourself as a sparring partner just because you are entitled as HR, but instead you must make it happen. What makes a sparring partner is something you first build and then afterwards must maintain. First you need to build the platform. In departments like HR and Finance it is easy to become an “office person”, expecting people to come to your office. You need to be disciplined and force yourself to leave the office. By visiting your partners in their workplace you can better understand what motivates them, work with them, thus in turn they also get to know you better and naturally accept you as a sparring partner. Building the platform takes effort, but is crucial – maintaining a consistent partnership is probably twice as difficult as it was to build it; you need to stay in there and be seen as part of the team when in reality that is easier said than done. Be smart and mix the personal with professional, the goal is to be seen as one of them. How to maintain this partnership can be tricky and you have to constantly challenge yourself to learn. Your customers expect you to be an expert in HR but they also expect you to understand their business. You must commit to continuously develop yourself with new trends and ideas, to make sure that you come with new perspectives and valid ideas for the business. It is very important to learn the business and adapt your strategy to the business priorities. That helps make a successful and sustainable partner in my view.

What do you love the most about your current role?

Firstly I love my current role as the HR Director for EMEA, secondly I love being the business partner at global level for the Specialty Fluids Business, and this dual role is very rewarding. I love to interact with different cultures, the Middle East is different. The difference is bigger than we realise. If you compared this region to the US, the difference in languages, how labour law radically changes from one country to another, forces you to constantly evolve. HR is a young discipline that still has a lot of places to go and this is evident specifically in how to measure HR’s performance. We are dealing with very abstract topics and trying to measure success in such an environment is an exciting challenge to me.

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

In choosing a partner I look into mainly two areas: what are the services I will get, and how are those services delivered. Do we have the same understanding of what we want to achieve together, and do we both understand and value similar things? And therefore do we both feel comfortable working together? It implies alignment, there are certain things I expect my partner to intuitively integrate in the service which immediately add value for me. The deliverables are key; how the processes and the candidates are managed is very important, but ultimately, we must consider how a good or a bad hire will impact the company. Besides the professional fit, the cultural aspects and values our partners pay attention to must be very aligned with us. This alignment will create the bond. Also important is how we interact and how effectively we communicate. In sum, “what” is delivered is key for success but the “how” will create the sustainable partnership.

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

I would firstly say that if you are not a leader yet, you are missing opportunities. You cannot just sit and wait to be promoted to manager level to start acting as a leader. You need to take the lead as part of your approach in all you do; you need to show others that you can lead even before you are promoted to a role that requires formal leadership. You can practice this while being in the office or at a dinner with friends. On a day-to-day, we all take lead, on and off in all our interactions with others. We may need to accept that sometimes we lead, sometimes not. It is not permanent and it is not always formal. True leaders don’t wait to formally start practising.

The 2nd point about leading is how our goals should be intrinsically shared by the teams we lead. If our team does not share the same ambition and targets, we will not be successful. Leaders engage and others want to engage with them as well. Leaders listen, understand their teams’ motivations, take advantage of the different strengths and weaknesses, influence when needed and continuously challenge for improvement. Above all, know your story, believe in it and in yourself, be authentic, know who your stakeholders are and make sure to engage with them.

What books / blogs are you currently reading?

My time is limited, so when looking for reading material I try to balance between professional and fun topics. I admit I read a lot about what I do (Strategy, Management, HR, balanced scorecards and KPIs, and how to measure the performance of a department). Measuring performance in HR is a topic I really enjoy because is something with a lot of space to grow in HR. I find myself reading a lot of books from David Ulrich, Robert Kaplan, Paul Nevin or David Norton for example. I like the simple and applicable style. Some books you read, you just know you cannot apply them in the business environment. I am currently reading The Execution Premium from Robert S. Kaplan, David P. Norton. This book brings balance scorecard to a new level; bringing alignment between strategy execution and sustainability.

I am less active in Blogs but many times I just want to read something that takes my mind totally off work.

Often I consider adventure/fantasy but I do not have any special author at this point. There is a good Portuguese writer from Mozambique I would advise which is Mia Couto. He writes great stories that bring you to a magical African influenced story.

 

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

 

 
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