Joris Dierick - CFO Central & Eastern Europe at Microsoft

You are currently working as CFO Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, having worked in multiple great roles and locations within Microsoft. What have been your career highlights and what would you say has been a key factor to your success?

A key factor to success has been to have a very clear goal and vision of what I wanted to learn and achieve and, consequently, I became focused on Business Economics. I soon realised after my Agricultural study, that it was my ambition to work as Chartered Accountant for one of the Big Four consultancies. I finished a four-year study course in 18 months and then joined PwC.

PwC was a great opportunity to learn about different organizations and business models, as well as to experience a variety of cultures, where you can really learn a lot of invaluable information. You have the unique opportunity to interview stakeholders and really understand their challenges, opportunities, risks, KPI’s, etc. It really is a great opportunity to ask open questions to get the most out of it.

After several years I made the decision to swap seats from PwC advisory, towards business, and joined Microsoft. This was driven by a desire to make decisions and be fully responsible for the implementation and results. My time at Microsoft has been an incredible journey. At the age of 30 I was CFO for the Dutch subsidiary, after which I learned about global business and cultures when working for EMEA and Microsoft International. In my current role as CFO for CEE (Central Eastern Europe) I experience the rich and diverse cultural differences in the region and I’m exposed to many geopolitical challenges including Sanctions, Compliance, Grexit and FX devaluations.

One of my key learnings is that you strive to get the role you claim you want to have. If you are genuinely interested, business-focused and show that passion and interest, people will invite you to be involved and you will continue to be educated.

You spent several years working for PwC and hold the RA Accounting Qualification. What would you say is the best piece of advice you could give someone who is looking to make their initial move outside of a Big 4 Practice?

My advice is to be mindful where you go next for your future position, the culture side is so important as well as the business model and these points of course influence your decision.

My time at PwC was a wonderful experience after university. Being able to learn about different businesses, work in diverse professional teams and experience customers in different sizes and with different cultures, was a career accelerator. Purposefully I wanted to stay and progress to the manager ranks. If you consider leaving the Big 4, then ensure you make a conscious choice in what industry you want to work, but foremost make sure you understand the culture of the company you want to join.

Being able to add value from Strategy to execution is very important - what is the next step you are going to take and will this impact future plans?

Artificial Intelligence features heavily across the Media currently and we have read that Microsoft believe client experience can be fundamentally transformed through the power of AI. How do you envisage AI will improve Finance/Businesses in future?

The opportunities of AI are indeed massive, and you can see business models being challenged and transformed in many industries (e.g. Tesla, Uber, Spotify, Netflix, Adyen). Start up companies become more valuable faster and can show explosive growth. The top 10 companies market-wise are mainly technology companies. Innovation will in many cases be based upon AI which can happen in R&D, in manufacturing processes and in sales and marketing. More devices will be connected, and the amount of data collected and connected (big data) will have massive new opportunities. In this digital world the security and privacy of data is becoming increasingly important for the trust in technology companies.

For the finance function AI is already disrupting the way we work. We actively use machine learning which doubled our FC accuracy (wall street guidance) with far less people involved. Blockchain is used to set up standard letter of credit in 20% of the time that was needed and chatbots in credit and collections are saving us 1800 hours a month with 24/7 visibility for our partners into their credit status. Centralization and outsourcing of operational processes will continue. The CFO of the future is a business leader that uses modern capabilities to actively manage the business and drive shareholder-value.

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

Working with people is one of the things I like most. People are the #1 ingredient for long term success and I spend a lot of time on people-related topics (hiring, coaching, team-building, succession, etc). The best interviews are when candidates can make the interview a conversation rather then an interview, are authentic and specific with examples of their impact. My goal is to try and get to know, and learn about, the candidate as much as possible within the time given. A personal story and talking about what is not written in a CV is important for me.

A common mistake I have seen is when candidates are simply not prepared and then it doesn’t always feel like a conversation. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your research, not only on the company, but on the person you are meeting with and I will always check that when interviewing candidates. Low energy and not making the most out of the conversation also do not make the most out of the interview opportunity.

I like to hear how candidates have really contributed towards the business. What did they do, how did they build it with their team and what were the direct results?

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

Initially it would be to be more flexible geographically and to ask if I am limiting myself by not being mobile, so try and search for the opportunity where ever that may be. Perhaps you can be flexible with travel.

My favorite reflections are: be curious, take risks and master your own destiny. Think about the legacy you leave behind and be one step ahead (e.g. what is success of next meeting).

What challenges do you think are ahead for the Dutch economy over the next 5 years?

The Dutch economy is very much connected with the global economic trends. In my personal view we forget too easily the economic downturns of only few years ago and continue to spend government money while, with the low interest rates, we should be able to reduce the government debt much faster in NL and across the globe.

Fostering a culture and economy that embraces innovation, sustainability, education and risk-taking is the way forward. Protectionism and sanctions are driving short term wins and cause great pain on the long term. Increased volatility in financial markets and surprises in political environment will be part of the new standard.

 

 
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