Paul Meeusen - Head of Finance Services - Swiss Re

How have you found the Swiss market & working environment has changed in the time you have worked here?

With the national borders becoming “thinner” the division between the large corporate organisations and the SME companies has become smaller.

I believe that in general the current job market in Switzerland is far more international in particular with more junior roles. Enabling this trend have been the various university programmes, such as Erasmus and new eagerness of “generation Y” to be more open to international employment. This generation no longer waits for an expat offer for international employment. They are far more proactive and open to take the plunge themselves, even straight from university.  

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

Necessity and market pressure. From an economic and political aspect Swiss companies have had to accept the fact that the labour market is far more “free” now than it ever has been. This in turn gives access to a huge global talent base which the Swiss market can most definitely benefit from; it would be foolish to be isolated from this. Increasingly there are more non- Swiss nationals in executive and board positions which may create an impression that Swiss companies are losing their identity, their “Swiss-ness”. I see it more as a natural evolution. You have to also remember that these non- Swiss nationals have taken risks moving out of their natural environment. They have to adjust to a completely different culture, language and way of living.

What do you like about Switzerland?

We are a very proud, but small nation; we manage to keep our identity whilst being open and ready to adjust to world trends. Switzerland as a whole has the ability to think long term and readiness to invest to keep things sustainable.
I like it’s diversity of cultures, languages and cuisines, its openness to welcome every nationality.
The wonderful natural scenery here also, I have to admit, was a part of my decision to move here and enjoy the great skiing.

What are the biggest challenges that await Swiss Re?

A complete new range of risks are emerging that may become opportunities or threats: will self-driving cars for example eliminate motor insurance or allow new innovate products? Will the analytics of medical data make players such as Google our enablers or competitors?
Growth or lack thereof is a challenge: reinsurance tends to correlate to GDP growth and that is stagnating especially in the markets where we expected high growth such as Asia.
Finally we also need to reinvent how we operate and become truly more global: our largest operating costs are not necessarily in the countries where we have our business and therefore we need to continue to truly globalise our operating platform, including tapping into the young talent of growing markets.

You are coming up to your anniversary at Swiss Re in December, what has kept you enthused and motivated about working here?

I have been very fortunate to have worked in many different business functions and countries enriching and challenging my whole work experience, which also has made it feel like I have worked for a several different companies over the four years. It felt like I was discovering all parts of my body but still feeling a common DNA: some jobs where more strategic, some more operational, some more line and people management, some more project orientated, other more technical. 

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

Don’t be overly concerned about which company you initially work for or your job title, focus more on the experience and quality of your direct line manager and learn from them. Thinking back on my first 10 years, I am mostly thankful for the experience of working with an amazing, young start-up company - that was ground breaking in my area of interest: financial modelling and planning and then working in a large corporate organisation with a great, probably one of the best, managers of my whole career.

As one progresses in a career, I would judge opportunities more on the basis of whether they are with a company that you really would love to work for.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?

I love the challenge of working internationally. Also working with young, ambitious and diverse people. My team of about 100 staff is spread between Europe and Asia.
I particularly enjoy the client service aspect of the job, to ensure that Finance globally has a single point of contact. This requires a solution oriented mind set and partnership working style, disregarding reporting lines. I like that.

What recruitment challenges do you face?

Truly understanding the motivations and cultural specifics of different job markets. A professional in India, has different personal motivations than one in Eastern Europe or Switzerland.
Finding good recruiting agencies, the right structure and incentives must be in place for these agents to be effective to work in partnership with us and not just be chasing a commission.
Mobility is also a challenge, both from a cultural readiness of people, as well as some labour law constraints.

What was the worst / best interview experience you have personally had?

In terms of being interviewed myself, one of the best was to do a management presentation on one of my achievements. I find that always a very natural way of putting someone to the test.
One of the more challenging ones, was where a Group CFO led me to believe that I had been hired and as a formality I should go to see one of the local offices, this turned out to be a test and I walked into the lion's den. That was a tough one and a lesson that the deal is only done when you have signed the dotted line. 

 

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

First: take risks when you are young, before you have children and a mortgage. Not that they fully make you risk averse, but they tend to bring more excuses. Second: establish your true family. That may sound strange but leaders get under pressure and if you move internationally, like I have done, your real family, parents or best childhood friend are not always around the corner. So you need to find ways to integrate yourself and find new 'family' proxies that you can truly trust. Third and last: stay true to yourself and find that real trusted partner who keeps you honest. Practically that means simple things for me like, thinking twice about sensitive communications, when unsure about it, sleep on it and get some advice from your trusted advisor, whoever that may be. For me it is often my wife, who happens to be a trained psychologist, experienced HR manager and great mother, so I am lucky.

Who is your most inspirational person in business and why?

Clearly Elon Musk who is a unique combination of a brilliant engineer who also knows how to turn ideas into commercial success, he surrounded himself with great people and repeatedly is ready to put his personal neck and money at risk. You may say that it is easy for him since he has made himself fairly financially independent but that has not always been the case, not at all. He slept on the couch and showered at the YMCA when he built PayPal. He is actually not your classical bullish smooth salesman but actually often comes across as almost a bit shy and carefully looking for the right words. To me that makes him even more genuine and trustworthy.

 

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

 
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