Lucas Faase, CFO at CH Robinson Europe

You have been working as CFO at C.H. Robinson in Europe since Sep 2017. What are the main differences between the responsibilities of this role and your previous role as Director Corporate Controlling at FrieslandCampina?

The largest differences are that, in my previous role at FrieslandCampina, my team and I worked often with a longer-term vision - we were dealing with strategic planning and projects that were driving the longer-term finance and the reporting functions to higher standards. We could only be successful if we managed well the broad range of stakeholders, which you naturally have in corporate environments, to come to solutions that could work for all. This means that bringing new ways of working to implementation took longer. Furthermore, we were responsible for complex planning processes and monitoring the overall company performances versus the targets that were set and were challenging senior management to continuously improve their results. Most of the time we were not dealing directly with the responsible managers in the commercial or supply chain businesses.  It is a big multinational company with a lot of operating companies and divisions with different dynamics; you have to find common ground and have good stakeholder management but because of the number of stakeholders, decision making can be delayed. It was a great place to learn about strategy, direction and dealing with senior leadership on a daily basis.

However, I get the most energy from working with teams close to the business – this is what I was looking for after 4 years working in headquarters.

In my role here at C.H. Robinson, I oversee accounting and reporting, tax, treasury, shared services (AP/AR) in Poland (80 people) and business controlling – I am also involved in strategic planning and M&A. Being part of the European leadership team I can directly influence management, so I am also close to the business again. And actually that is what gives me energy in my role to work with management and to drive business performances towards our strategic targets. I saw this as a nice opportunity to bring together the experience I gained at both Sara Lee and FrieslandCampina, to then deploy it here.

The organisation is very hands-on, success driven, young, and diverse. At C.H. Robinson, as a non-asset based company, we provide supply chain services and solutions to thousands of customers across Europe. We organise these services through thousands of carriers and service providers. We have a clear strategy for organic growth, acquisitions and to further digitalise our business model. I believe that with the entrepreneurial mind-set, and the internally developed, single global technology platform that we have, we are well positioned to increase added value to our customers, meaning competitive prices, with good service levels. Through our model we increase the utilisation of logistical capacity in Europe. As a consequence, we grow faster than the markets we operate within in Europe. The logistics services industry is big and globally growing, highly competitive and therefor very dynamic. Here we are challenged to think strategically and translate this to the right targets and live up to them, use the data and insights, leverage and make use of it; to set the right KPIs, data sets, and predictive analytics – this is an area we are currently developing. The environment is fast-paced with many decisions to make on a daily basis - regarding deals, volume and prices/margins. It is interesting for me as a finance person to influence the team to make the right decisions every minute of the day.

What differences have you noticed between working for a Dutch company and a US company?

The first 15 years of my career I worked for Sara Lee. The international divisions I worked for were managed out of Utrecht in the Netherlands, with the overall head office in the US. It was a good mix of Dutch, Europeans and Americans - similar to here, at C.H. Robinson Europe. What I like about these US companies, and as both are stock-listed, there is a cycle of quarters and delivering results. The environments are fast-paced, results driven and fast in decision making. If you make mistakes you learn from them, but you have to deliver.

In US companies they have a leader who ultimately makes the decision. In Dutch culture every individual is challenged and opinions count. The power of teams is that you can share and build on each other’s ideas, capabilities and knowledge – it can be very powerful.

A combination of Dutch environment and a focus on delivery of results and action suits me well. That’s what I liked at Sara Lee, where I grew up, in a way.

What do you see as the current challenges for finance departments in multinational businesses?

We’ve recently set up our finance strategy for our finance organisation in Europe. What is crucial is having robust and standardised financial processes (transactional activity) and to run them as efficiently as possible at the lowest cost - this is a prerequisite. It’s our challenge to standardise, simplify the financial processes and as an organisation stick to that. The second thing is compliancy – with statutory accounts, tax regulations, how to deal with optimised funding (banks, loans, etc) and internal control. All of these areas are changing so we need to be up to date to ensure we do the right things for the company.

Efficient and effective reporting needs to be in place – to review business results on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and take actions accordingly to drive continuously business performances.

Also, more data analytics and data science. Here we work closely with the Business Analytics team. C.H. Robinson invest substantial amounts per year in IT, as technology is at the heart of our business model. We are aiming to get the right insights daily, weekly and monthly to the relevant people in the organisation. A forward-looking attitude is needed, with good forecasting in place which is used in management meetings to look at trends and how they translate to weeks and months to come. All insights, forecasting, reports, etc should lead to better decisions. This is where finance can, and does, add value and contributes to the overall strategy.

What changes have you seen in the employment market in the Netherlands over the years?

I think that education, particularly post graduate qualifications, have improved. We have quite a talented workforce in Europe within finance. In the area of business partnering/business controlling I believe we can further improve and we are investing in this. It requires good communication skills, understanding of how businesses make money and how they set strategic directions and targets and to be an active player in realising these; review what works well and what doesn’t, hold a mirror to the management and challenge them. You need to be self-confident, to know the numbers and translate in the right way, forcing managers to take the rights action. I see that younger generations in finance are seeing this as well, they want to use technology and data, create insights and have interaction with management. This is a good development.

The fight for talent is huge and the economy is booming, so a lot of companies are looking for the best people. Leadership and general capabilities that finance can develop within a business are really important and people who are effective in this way are sparse.

Something else I noticed is that years ago most people wanted to work for large multi-nationals, but now talented people also like to work for a start-up/tech-driven/entrepreneurial growing business, to make an impact. They sometimes need to be convinced that working for a multinational can be great for them as well; multinationals where standards are high, a lot of effort and investment on leadership development is provided and where talents are given nice opportunities. It’s interesting because I actually wonder if they have influenced me, as I’m now in a tech-driven, young, more entrepreneurial company with a flatter structure, where people can make a difference, and everyone can have an impact every day.

International experience is also really important so that you learn to adapt, have a broader outlook and be open minded. It’s important to approach things from a different angle – this is really a prerequisite in business today, as we operate in very international environment in which versatile approaches are required.

C.H. Robinson has consistently been recognized for it’s workplace and employee benefits – why is this?

For us to be successful it’s all about people, process and technology. We’re a non-asset-based business in logistical services, so all these three things are crucial. It’s a great place to work as we have a relatively young workforce of highly energetic, well-educated people. To be successful and to deliver, makes it a great place to work. Also, we are very diverse in backgrounds and have good investment in people, learning, development and ongoing opportunities for people. If good employees leave after 5 good years, that’s also fine. We hire new people every year, train them and bring them up to speed as soon as possible and put them in the workplace where they take full ownership and contribute to the overall company goals. People are really the core of our business.

What challenges does your business face and how do you hope to overcome them?

Hope is not enough! We’re in a highly competitive market with high volume and relatively low margin – service level is crucial and will become more and more important in a market that grows rapidly, not only because of the economic cycle, but because of increasing internet sales, customers and consumers expect to get their products delivered in time and fast; the need for logistical services is getting bigger.

The technology is crucial, so that our system can communicate with the systems of both our customers and carriers, lots of data needs to be processed in an automated way. It enables us to manage data, take fast and better decisions and to coordinate the value chain better. Our strategic plan is looking at all these areas. We’re doing a good job and growing faster than the market in Europe, experiencing sound growth and, through acquisition, we will accelerate our growth and become a very relevant player in Europe in the coming years.

What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and can you tell us about any risks you had to take?

I always enjoyed my roles working with Sara Lee and with FrieslandCampina. Being in the FMCG business that long has brought me broad experience but I have always wanted to make a decision for myself to make a move into a new industry and/or a new role when the time was right – I enjoy working every day now with new energy and enthusiasm. Obviously, there is risk in these moves, but I have never been afraid to take some risks, I strongly believe by taking the opportunity you will learn. And experiencing new environments and people is great anyway.

How do you relax from such a senior role?

Quite often when I’m driving home from work (where I have a wife, three children and two dogs!) it’s a good time to put things in perspective and reflect, to see the bigger picture. It’s also good to have fun with colleagues at work, even in meetings. In my own time, I like sailing, running, being outdoors and enjoying time with friends and family. I started sailing when I was 6 and now sail every week in a Catamaran - it’s a great way to forget about everything, and relax.

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

For me, the highlight is being in the right team where something special is going to happen; a good mix of people with energy and ambition and you know something good will be achieved – to be part of that and be able to contribute - that’s a highlight.

In terms of achievements I’m proud of, in my second role at Douwe Egberts I was managing a bigger finance team and we were in the process of closing factories – I was relatively young and in-experienced, so this was a big challenge and to come through it a big achievement. I also ran a SAP implementation, which is a real team effort - through blood, sweat and tears you achieve your goals. Great experience as well.

You will have interviewed a lot of Accountants in your career! What interview advice would you give?

What I like about people is if they have clear view of their strengths and their areas of development and how they deal with that – be honest & open; it shows good self-knowledge and confidence and shows you have ability to learn and to be relevant in an organisation. Be open, but have clear view on where you stand, what you want; your energy, drive and ambition.

Who was your most admired person when you were in your childhood and why?

In hindsight I don’t think as a kid I realised I was admiring people but looking back it has been people very close to me – showing me values and the importance of having ambition and joy in life. Family such as my father, grandfather and close family friends, who had great energy and ambition.

Others like President Macron, Margaret Thatcher – people who have a clear view of what is needed for their country. I think they are right to have a clear view on what needs to change, they have strong belief in possibilities – it’s almost a mission impossible, but they still get it done as they keep going and don’t give up, they stick to their goals and can bring it back to what is relevant to their country; having a clear vision and keeping it simple; be true to your convictions.

 

 
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