Oliver Hagemann ex Director of Finance & Strategy - Sunrise Communications

What do you enjoy about living in Switzerland and why?

I grew up in Munich and Berlin. Having worked for an international Management Consulting firm for 10 years, I travelled and lived in many countries in Europe, and also in the USA. This experience provided me with great insight into the way people live - their approach to business and leisure. With this in mind, I think that Switzerland, and Zurich in particular, is an excellent place to live and work. It is an international destination attracting a significant number of expats from around the world. Amid a beautiful, natural landscape the picture-perfect setting facilitates a great work-life balance. In fact, I often biked to and from work, and sometimes in the summer, after a long week in the office, I joined the family at the Badi on a Friday evening. Switzerland offers a comparably stable, safe and predictable environment, making it a good place to live with a family and to do business.

 What advice would you give to people relocating?

You must be open to learn and accept the idiosyncrasies of the Swiss culture because it is not that obvious, particularly for Germans. There is a common language, but aside from that, the way people interact is very different. When you come to Switzerland and want to pursue opportunities here proactively learn about these differences and then act accordingly. Once you have understood the Swiss mentality, you will find the people friendly and open to life-long friendships.

As someone who has had over 8 years’ experience within the Swiss marketplace, how have you found the Swiss market & working environment has changed over these years?

I have not found that the Swiss market or the working environment here has changed that much over the last 8 years. Compared with other European markets, the Swiss market is still a stable and affluent market.

This is due in part to the comparable high wealth of the Swiss consumer, and the fact that he/she is still willing to pay a price premium for good service and high quality products. In the telecoms industry in Switzerland, for example, there are only a small proportion of people willing to change their contract for the price advantage of a few Swiss Francs. In Germany a provider could alter the market with price changes of this nature. Switzerland currently does not have a bargain hunting mentality.

The state of the market is also attributable to low corporate tax rates and a framework favouring innovation and invest, although the strength of the Swiss Franken is currently presenting a risk for the export driven growth.

Another contributing factor to the market`s stability is that the working environment is increasingly becoming more international, and in turn competitive, due to the still favourable conditions offered to high qualified expats.

Finally, the Swiss labour market is favourable to both employer and employee. If a company needs to tighten its purse strings, it can reduce its workforce more easily and flexibly than in other countries. On the flip side, people can move with ease from one job to another more easily than in other countries. Additionally, the work environment itself is still very international and remains favourable for highly qualified immigrants despite the Swiss immigration referendums.

What were the major challenges in preparing Sunrise Communications for flotation?

Sunrise faced two key challenges in preparing the company to float.

The first challenge arose from the re-positioning of the Sunrise brand in 2013 which encompassed: a strong focus on customer relevant product and tariff innovations, a multi-brand strategy targeting clearly defined segments and a commitment to service quality and customer experience. To deliver this positioning, a substantial invest in the wireline and mobile network, as well as customer service, was needed. Supported by both a favourable development of the financial results and the underlying key performance indicators we managed successfully to convince the investors about the sustainability of this equity story.

The second challenge during the preparation phase of the IPO involved the market environment. The financial markets showed a high volatility in the 2nd half of 2014. Additionally, one of our competitors in the mobile market, Orange (now Salt) announced the change of ownership just before Christmas. And, the SNB made an unexpected decision mid-January 2015 to scrap its policy of capping the Swiss franc against the euro. This all created some “dynamics” in the IPO preparation process.

Despite these challenges, the IPO on February 6, 2015 was very successful.

What three pieces of advice would you provide to Financial Directors of companies who are preparing to do the same?

First: Do your homework regarding the stability and quality of your financial processes and reporting. If you struggle at the start, it will only get worse down the line.

Second: For the IPO, select the best team you can - a small and highly focussed preparation team and a highly committed management team. This will have a major impact on the success of the IPO.

Third: Be sure of the robustness of your equity story and ensure it is supported by underlying key performance indicators.

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

With 15 years of experience under my belt, the key thing I have learned is that from the start you should have a career path in mind and you should continually review that path to see if you are still on track and enjoying what you are doing. Ask yourself if you are still motivated and excited to get up in the morning and go to work. If not, be brave and adjust your career path.

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

When you enjoy what you do, pressure isn`t such an issue. For example, I really enjoyed the preparation of the IPO - even though it entailed incredible attention to detail and long hours in a very fast moving environment. However, that being said, when I want to reduce pressure on the job, I focus on what is important, take action and plan ahead. Biking to work gives me time to both unwind and exercise. Furthermore, to decompress after a pressure-filled week, I allocate a few hours over the weekend to enjoy mountain biking and I try to spend some quality time with my family without the distraction of emails or phone calls.

What are your personal motivators?

Challenging topics, positive energy and a team with a shared vision are my personal motivators. The IPO presented me with lots of challenges that in turn motivated and excited me. I enjoyed the fast-moving environment and positive energy of the team. Every day brought a new challenge that I eagerly met head-on.

For me, the positive energy of a team cannot be underestimated. As Director of Strategy at Sunrise, I always began our team meetings giving everyone a chance to share any problems they were facing, so we as a team could help solve them. Then, we could move forward with a positive attitude, focussing on upcoming projects.

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

Pursuing a career in corporate development and finance necessitates a strong interest in complex strategic and financial topics, as well as an un-dying drive to make things happen.

My passion for these topics developed when I was working in management consulting and exposed to a broad range of challenges where I had to support strategic and financial investors. After nearly 10 years in management consulting, I decided to take the next natural step and increase my operational/executional experience, so I moved to Sunrise Communications.

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

There have been many highlights in my career, including my experience in management consulting, financial transactions, corporate strategy and value creation program management. However, I think the high-point in my career was helping to take Sunrise public. It utilized many of the skills I had developed throughout my career.

What was the best interview experience you have had?

Recently I enjoyed an interview that was quite different from any I have had in the past. Instead of the common Q&A scenario I found myself in the middle of a discussion on how to solve a key strategic challenge for the company – it felt less like an interview and more like the kind of discussion you would have with a colleague, driving a decision-making process. I found the conversation to be quite refreshing.

What was the worst interview experience you have had?

This occurred to me when I was interviewing candidates for a position. I realised after only 5 minutes that a candidate was not suited for the job and we had to go through the motions for the next hour. My learning has been to invest more time in the screening process and have a brief telephone screening conversation prior to the face-to-face interview.

How would you advise a jobseeker to approach the current market?

First, have patience and remain confident whilst looking for the right opportunity don’t rush the process. Second, be persistent and approach companies speculatively. Lastly, look at industry trends and ensure that you are willing to adapt to meet new requirements; look at self-development to keep ahead of the game.

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

Have a strong, clear vision of what the company you are working for wants to achieve and how you can help make that a reality. Be passionate about the work you do and be ambitious to make a difference. Invest time in building and developing your team and building a positive, inspiring environment.

But most importantly: Enjoy what you are doing and move on, when the timing and situation is right.

 

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

 
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