Anita de Graaf - Director Finance & Operations Benelux - Straumann, Noord Holland

You currently work as Director of Finance and Operations at Straumann and have clearly had a very successful career within the business. What have been your career highlights and what would you say has been a key point to your success?
My career highlights within Straumann have included the successful implementation of a new ERP system (SAP), maintaining a high contribution margin, even in the recession, and after becoming responsible for the Benelux region, the successful restructuring of the Benelux finance function.
In implementing SAP, my task was to harmonise the business process for easy international roll out and to ensure smooth implementation in Benelux. As a result, we were able to easily consolidate financial data and sales reports for multiple countries, which previously needed to be pulled individually from their own standalone systems, and in including end users in the test phase, we saved considerable time and energy after the Go Live.
Reviewing the Benelux finance function allowed more interesting roles for team members to be created with opportunities for personal development and growth and for the business, we saved on overall headcount in Benelux as the combined team improved the profitability of the Belgian organisation.
I think the key point to success is to always take the opportunities that come up, focus on what the best outcome for the business is, continue to develop yourself and do what you like doing because that is so much easier to excel in than when you end up doing something that you do not enjoy doing.
 
What attributes do you think make a good leader in finance?
A good finance leader is able to connect the numbers to the business. Do not just create reports but understand what the numbers mean and be able to explain the meaning to top management and advise on corrective actions if needed. From a team leading perspective, it is essential that you coach a team to be empowered, allow them to make mistakes and help them learn from it. Give them space to develop and grow. I noticed that if you allow them to find their own area of interest they usually go to the area they excel in, focus on that rather than on continuously trying to improve the areas they are not good at.
 
What advice would you give to ambitious women who are aspiring to reach senior leadership roles?

Do not overthink your career, do not plan it too much or it could limit your options. Take the opportunities as they come and try new things, even if you are not totally confident; there are always people to support you. Be pro-active. Take ownership. Celebrate your successes.  If you lead a team, show them trust, delegate and support them where needed because you will only be successful if your team does well. Try to find a company that has a culture that fits to your values, in such an environment it is easy to thrive well.
 
What books/blogs are you currently reading?

I am currently reading “Choosing Change” by Susan Goldsworthy, she was my coach during the IMD High Performance Leadership Training. Also, posts by Harvard Business Review. I am studying Internal Control Systems and Risk Management to refresh my knowhow in that area. I continue to develop my skills and attend several 1-day trainings related to Business Management/Strategy and Productive/Efficient working methods.

 
When you have interviewed candidates in the past, what are the common mistakes/positives you have noticed?

I notice that candidates tend to put a lot of focus on their formal education, this to me is on the theoretical side of things, it is a snapshot of your theoretical knowhow at a certain point in time. I am more interested in your experience and practical skills, what tasks have you performed, what are your achievements, how did you improve yourself.
 
What is the best piece of advice you have been given throughout your career?
Continue to question the status quo and talk to people, ask questions all the time. Stay curious and learn along the journey. And most of all, do not give up.


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

 

 

 
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