Andrew Wigram, Finance Director & Head HR, Burson-Marsteller

What advice would you offer to someone moving to Switzerland?
The main thing for me is that Switzerland is a different market to other international markets, it’s a little more formal, companies tend to be slower in their processes but that is often because they take quality seriously. They really vet their candidates well for roles and have low employment.  Although the job market is good – with very low unemployment for instance – lots of people in jobs are looking for new challenges. This means that the number of applications for new positions is high.
I also think that it’s important to have some form of understanding of the local language, I do believe it’s worth taking at least a basic German course. The Swiss are very good at speaking English and they really appreciate the effort. Many businesses have their international head offices based here so having more than one language is attractive.


How attractive do you feel that Switzerland remains as a location for international businesses?
Switzerland is very attractive, as it is a very flexible labour market. Taxes in Switzerland, for companies and individuals are very low, and this makes the market quite attractive. However, there is also a clamp down (worldwide) on companies having domiciles purely for tax reasons. It’s also attractive in that the country holds many skilled workers compared to other countries.
Where Switzerland still has an advantage is in its reputation for Quality, for innovation and for research. What’s clear to me is that a company must be able to show the value added for being in Switzerland.


What excites you about working for Burson Marsteller?
It’s all about the people, Burson Marsteller is a big international company with offices in over 150 countries, so a wide network of shareholders to work with. Our clients are many well-known household names and it's rewarding the services and assistance we offer them. PR is a fascinating industry, and our projects have many aspects.
I enjoy the fact that locally, we can manage the company like a start-up and yet in the background we have the machinery of a bigger group. The international element, with HQ in London and New York makes the company very interesting.
This of course brings some regulatory and compliance issues, such as Sarbanes Oxley and complex audit requirements – but these things are good to keep control of the business.


What does your organisation currently do to contribute towards the corporate social responsibility?
We have a number of small initiatives in Switzerland, such as recycling programmes and a “one week for kids” initiative where we either undertake pro-bono work for charity clients or organisations dedicated to helping children.  We also had a member of staff effected by Cancer, so we like to give back to organisations supporting cancer sufferers.
As a business we are shortening our air miles by encouraging more virtual meetings, lessening our carbon footprint.


When interviewing candidates at an earlier stage in their career, what common mistakes do you see and what advice would you give?
The two main things for me is, one, a candidate needs to do research on the company and it really is essential they have one or two prepared questions.
Candidates also need to be confident. I know it’s not always easy, but having to prise answers out of candidates is very difficult. I’m amazed that people are often unprepared with examples of work they have done, situations they have been in etc.


In what circumstances do you think an external recruiter can add value?
I think the main thing is that companies under-estimate the time put into a recruitment process and what the cost is of making the wrong decision. A recruiter is more inclined to ask the right questions on the role and ensure through the process that the recruitment needs haven’t changed or indeed need to change.
We, as with most companies, also go through at least 3 interview rounds. If a recruiter is used – then one of these interview rounds can usually be done by the recruiter.
The true value added is when trying to pick out the candidates who match well to a profile (which of course needs to be defined well in advance). If this is not done, then the company is no better off.


When did you decide to explore a career in this area and why?
I always wanted to be involved in the business world, this has always fascinated me, and I have always been interested in how businesses are run. I find the whole aspect of personality, company culture, having the right people etc. very interesting.
I have an affinity for understanding business issues quickly, and for this reason, I chose a chartered accountancy degree. However, my passion lies more with the commercial side of a business, compared to the technical reporting.  


How did you plan out your career development path?
I did have a plan, I completed my studies full time, so that I could really concentrate on my career once finished with them. I then took the decision to move out of audit, and over to the “other side of the desk”.
At the same time, I decided that I wanted international experience, hence my move to the UK.
Once working internationally, I picked each job with the idea to improve an element of my skills – M&A, Corporate Development, Financial Management, Languages and HR management skills.
I’ve always believed in being hands on, and have taken on roles that have required this – that makes life interesting, and lets you really get to understand a company.


What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?
I enjoy two aspects, I enjoy training and developing teams and feel lucky so far in my career to have people reporting into me and being able to educate and help them understand the business and future career goals. Being able to influence business decisions, and act as the voice of sanity.
The second aspect is the numbers. Many finance jobs are quite process orientated, and if these processes can be run smoothly, then there is something quite rewarding about being able, for instance, to report quickly and accurately each month.


If you could change one thing in your career what would it be?
I’d like to have been at the helm of a company doing well. There is a very different dynamic behind an organisation that is growing, meeting its targets, rewarding its staff etc.
I have, in most of my controller or FD roles, looked after companies that have in some ways been struggling.
Working for big companies, with head office functions, often means you cannot influence things as much as I would like to. I’d like to work at some stage for a middle size, private company (or one with its own listing), where there isn’t a group dictating things in the background.


What would be your advice to someone aspiring to be where you are now?
Qualifications are important, a business degree and a good understanding of finance is key for any role. The most important thing for me is not to be “only a numbers person”. To get to where I am, you need to understand all aspects of the business, and how the people you work with tick.
Be prepared to roll your sleeves up, and become involved in plenty of aspects of the business that are not over-exciting or stimulating.
Also, be prepared for disagreements within teams and with superiors – these are fights you must be prepared to have, to ensure that your standpoint is heard.
It’s really important that we, as finance, are involved with setting business strategy and are involved in helping determine the commercial direction of the business.


Who is your most inspirational person in business and why?
It’s a fellow South African, Elon Musk. I feel he is an inspirational leader, and he sees innovation as important. He tries to be different – not just one of the crowd. Good examples of his businesses are Space X and Tesla. Its inspiring that at the age of 17, he left South Africa and worked incredibly hard becoming a self-made billionaire after co-founding PayPal. He is not worried about being outspoken, and he really “thinks out of the box”.


If you could choose an Artistic/Musical/Sporting career, who would it be and why?
My dream role would have been a musician, I think music can be many things, it can be inspiring, it can be soothing, and it can be useful to play really loud during stressful situations!
So, I think that a musical career would be fantastic. The only problem is…. I can’t sing!


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

 
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