Ajay Sirohi - Group CFO - Steiner AG

As someone with nearly 5 years’ experience living and working in Switzerland, how have you found the Swiss market & working environment have changed, and what, in your opinion, have been the drivers for these changes?

The Swiss real estate market is changing along the same lines as the German market – clients want everything detailed in the contract.  Changes in banking regulations have been a huge driver and there is an increased focus on the client.  In the past things were more relaxed and we shook hands on a deal.  These days there is less trust; matters are formal with every detail specified.  This becomes very challenging when we have to deviate from the original plan.  Every little change requested by the client has to be documented and contracts amended etc. which of course adds to the cost.  Our Contract Manager has to be very rigorous. 

What does your organisation currently do to contribute towards corporate social responsibility?

ACC is our parent company and our company policy at Steiner AG is to contribute towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a group.  Together we are far more effective and able to contribute too many projects. Several of our projects are focussed on India.  We have a water mandate in India where we reduce water wastage on site and increase the water supply to nearby villages thereby helping the local community where we are working.  We also provide free education in some cities. 

Here, in Switzerland we clearly abide by legislation in relation to building, energy consumption and recycling.  We strive to construct buildings of the highest quality, using sustainable materials, with the lowest possible energy usage and highest compliance with Swiss regulations. They have on average 30% lower operating costs than other buildings.  Our producing socially responsible and energy efficient buildings naturally impacts on CSR.

We have socially sustainable building projects here in Switzerland too.  There is an ageing population and a very high divorce rate (nearly 60%) meaning different and adapted living arrangements are required.  We have building projects to meet these changing needs with complexes with one bedroom apartments and shared communal kitchen and living spaces.  This set up makes better use of space, is economical and encourages social interaction.

How does Steiner AG stand out in the market against their competitors?

Steiner is well known and synonymous with quality; people will know a building is a quality building if it is built by Steiner.  We have a very strong presence, having been in the market for 100 years.  We are renowned for our premium projects, in terms of their quality, size and complexity.  Additionally, our corporate social responsibility projects make us stand out from our competitors. 

What challenges await your business and how do you plan to overcome them?

We work in a very competitive market – that is the greatest challenge.  Growth has also slowed down in the real estate market.  Uncertainty in the global economy has meant fewer exports from Switzerland.  This together with the strong Swiss franc has made it difficult for our clients.

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

A very long time ago. I enjoy working with numbers and it comes to me naturally.  I studied Mathematics and worked as an analyst in a venture capital environment and later at ITT.  I finished my MBA in 1994 specialising in finance.

How important was it for you to develop relationships outside of your department for career development?

Over the years things have changed; cross functional relationships are now essential to achieve company goals.  Financial people have realised they need to get business people on board with their ideas.  If we don’t work together, then it’s not going to work.  Developing cross functional alliances is key to successful business.  Systems like SAP are more business focussed; they drive finance to be more involved with the business side.  More time is spent analysing and reporting rather than just number crunching.

What do you enjoy the most about your current role?

I love my current role.  I find the building industry fascinating and our projects are fantastic, both visually and physically.  Long after I’m gone, our buildings will live on.  Future generations will enjoy the SkyKey building, Prime Tower and Suhl City.  I also enjoy liaising with the banks and investors and the risk management element.

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

Have clear goals, for yourself and your employees.  Build a strong team; never hire a weak person.  A weak manager increases your own workload.  My aim is to develop strong managers; I coach them, communicate clear expectations of what they need to deliver and then delegate.  Some CFOs are fearful of developing their team for fear of being usurped. That is not how it works.  You are developing strong leaders to work for you.  Whilst focusing on leading others, do not forget yourself.  Remember your own goals and aspirations.  You need a good work/life balance to prevent burn out.

Who do you find most inspirational in business and why?

An interesting question, as I have worked with so many different people.  Jack Welch (the head of GE) impressed me greatly; he has a great clarity in terms of expectations and what he can deliver.  I’ve not met anyone else with the ability to simplify a complex problem and break it down with a very short explanation.  If you can simplify a problem, it follows that you will be able to solve it fairly easily.  Of course other people have impressed me, but Jack is really memorable.

 

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

 

 

 
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