I know your schedule is full, thank you for taking the time for this interview. This year you took over a role desired by many, People Director at HEINEKEN Romania. Why did you choose HEINEKEN?

I think a more difficult question would be the other way around because for me it was quite simple. I still remember the first call I got to gauge my interest. I was in a good place with my career, so they said, I am happy for you, but this is the one you have been waiting for! They were right. The brand, the business model, the level of autonomy, the chance to drive success across the entire value chain - it was all too magnetic for me. And that was all before I met the people. The sheer excellence of HEINEKEN people is the company’s true competitive advantage, and I feel together we can really amplify the value we create in our entire ecosystem.

What do you enjoy about working at HEINEKEN and what are your biggest challenges?

Let me start with the sense of joy. First and foremost, I get that from my team. The insights they teach me, the laughs we share, the passion and effort they put into our work; the sense of belonging in this team is simply amazing. I get my energy from having people around me and working with others towards ambitious goals. HEINEKEN provides ample opportunity for that. There is a level of transparency and authenticity that is quite unparalleled, and that creates the perfect environment for people to come together and really solve problems.

In terms of challenges, I would say most of the things that keep me up at night are also the things that give me energy in the morning. Biggest one would be maintaining the growth path HEINEKEN is on, even through an increasingly difficult business and labour context. Luckily, I found a solid organization, with motivated and engaged people, which is unquestionably due to the Management Team and my predecessor.

How would you describe the HEINEKEN culture? What makes HEINEKEN different?

Ever since day one, I acknowledged that I had not met another organization where people use such terms as psychological safety, autonomy of decisions, or accountability so much, so naturally, and so freely. These are key cultural elements for delivering in such a fierce business environment, and at HEINEKEN, they can be summed up in one word: TOGETHER.

I also bow to the natural generosity of my colleagues. Starting with my team, who gave me all their time to help me integrate as quickly as possible, all the way to the managers, whose obvious interest is developing their teams. I am happy to see the premium brand we produce translates into the premium people we have. Or is it the other way around?

Can you take us back to your early life and how did you find the path to a career in HR?

HR was a surprise. I often say I stumbled into HR, because in the beginning of my working life, I had no idea what it was. I had not studied it, and I had not really encountered an HR person in real life, so I was not even considering something I was unaware existed.

And then, about 13 years ago, I applied for a Sales role with an FMCG company. I went through all the interviews and the tests, and was actually offered the role. And just I was accepting it, the manager said , You know, we probably have something else you might be good at, but you’re probably not interested, because it’s in Poland. I basically said I will do it without even knowing what the job was (I assumed it had to do with Sales, but did not really ask). Mostly because at that point in my life I was really craving an international experience. Long story short, I started my HR career in Employee Service Delivery and Compensation & Benefits, which worked out great because they played into my analytical side. From there, I just kept finding new ways to develop myself, and the organization, through a function that has a lot of untapped value to give.

It is said that Beverages is one of the most challenging sectors from the HR perspective. Would you agree?

I think this is my fourth sector as an HR person, fifth overall. This day and age, I do not know any industry that is not challenging for HR. What I believe works “in our favour” is the speed and complexity of the market, consumer behaviour, legislation, and sustainability developments. They all challenge HR to really flex our creative muscle, and ensure we are building a winning organization. But then again, this is exactly what I signed up for.

You have a successful, international career, but you are also a dedicated father & husband. How do you manage your professional and your personal life?

Thank you! With all the professional milestones I’ve hit, my family is still my biggest accomplishment. I often share that as a kid I was changing my idea of a dream job quite often, but I’ve always known I wanted to be a father.

I guess I was lucky to work for organizations that supported me in my search for balance, and that helped me be more engaged and deliver more heartily at my job. HEINEKEN is one for the books from this perspective. With clear priorities and accountability, and even clearer rules of engagement with one another, it not only allows, but promotes people’s wellbeing. For me and my family, this is extremely important, and it works the other way as well. When the pressure is on at work, I get the support I need to strap in and be there for the organization.

Do you have any secret advice?

Would not necessarily call it advice, but lessons I’ve learned along to way. One would be that I only assume two things about the person in front of me: positive intent, and that they are smarter than me in (at least) some things. It is hard not to come out of any conversation richer than before. And the second one is a personal KPI of mine: number of smiles in meetings. I don’t actually count them, but I try to make sure they are there, even through tough times. Smiles are an extremely powerful retention tool, and a brilliant catalyst for problem solving.

I’ve heard you are passionate about chess and football. Do you still have time for your hobbies?

That is a tough question, because the answer is still not what I would like it to be. Although I am getting better at carving some time for myself as well. Adapting to the new reality is key. With three kids on my back, I rarely have time for a standard chess game, but I’ve come to love speed chess games, where I would play anything between 2-to-10-minute games. I also try to join a friendly football game every couple of weeks, usually after the children’s bedtime.

Which are your core values?

Oh, I actually know the answer to this one ! About five and a half years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our eldest daughter, we moved into a bigger place. And as the landlord gave us the keys and left us in the empty apartment, we took a minute to cherish the way our lives were changing. And we did something that will always stay with me. We decided then and there what our core values were, so that as parents, we would live by them, and try and instill them in our children. So we took a bit of chalk and scribbled these four words on the kitchen walls: TRUST, COURAGE, KINDNESS, FUN.

I won’t go into details on any of them, only say I found them in plenty supply here at HEINEKEN. The company’s mission of brewing the joy of true togetherness strings all of them together perfectly.

What advice would you give to youngsters, in the beginning of their career?

Be kind. Be brave. Be patient.

Ovell Barbee is a highly accomplished, visionary Human Resources Executive who has been a client, a subject matter expert, and a friend of our firm for over 20 years.

He has a Masters of Human Resources from Michigan State University and has been recognized as a Top-50 HR Professional, Top-100 Chief Diversity Officer and Most Influential Minority.

We wanted to offer our congratulations on the successful publication of his first book, The Big House: A Human-Centered & Progressive Approach to DEI and Positive Workforce Engagement. It became a #1 Amazon bestseller of new releases.

When we asked Ovell about the impetus behind writing this book, he said, "Most companies invest money, time and energy in diversity equity and inclusion without creating and cultivating a human-centered environment.

"This How To book delivers essential advice to company leaders on how to stop the silence, have difficult conversations addressing race and diversity and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable to achieve an environment where everyone can flourish."

We know that many companies fail when trying to create and cultivate an environment that truly embraces diversity and its benefits .

Can you please give us a brief Introduction to Akara and your journey so far?

I am co-founder and Chief Robotics Officer at Akara. Akara is a spin-out from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Our goal is to help hospitals make more efficient use of space and staff through the use of robots and AI. We’ve developed robots that can decontaminate rooms faster than is possible using current methods and using a fraction of the staff effort that is currently needed. Before Akara, I worked as a data science consultant and held engineering roles at an AI start-up and at a digital marketplace. 

What is your typical day?

My typical day can differ drastically depending on which phase of development we are going through. For example, all this week I am on-site at a partner NHS hospital in the UK preparing for a deployment. Here, my day could range from speaking with hospital staff and figuring out the best way it can fit around current workflows, to writing software that allows our robot to autonomously navigate and disinfect target areas of the hospital. When I am working from the Akara office, a lot of my time is spent writing code and managing our software team.  

Could you also tell us about Stevie?

Stevie was a robot we worked on before we set up the company. It was a social robot that we built to act as an aid to care workers in retirement communities where staffing levels are often very low. Stevie could take care of basic tasks while also being a friendly companion to older adults, which would free healthcare workers to spend more time with residents and in areas where they are needed most. 

You spent some time living with the clients of a retirement home in the US - what were your main take aways’?

In the Summer of 2019, we deployed the Stevie robot in a retirement community in Washington DC. We learned a lot about the adoption of robotics within the older adult population during this time. While we were initially unsure about how the robot would be received, we found the community to be generally very open to embracing new technology. We were particularly pleased to see that a number of people within the community living with dementia or some form of cognitive decline found interacting with a robot to be a comforting experience. Other residents in the community took part in games (like bingo or quizzes) that Stevie ran, or reading groups, where Stevie would read to residents or ask them questions about themselves and their day. Since they no longer needed to personally manage these activities, staff were able to spend more time delivering individualized support to the residents that needed it most. 

How do you see the development of robotics in healthcare?

I believe that robotics will fundamentally change how we provide healthcare. The World Health Organization estimates that there will be a shortage of 15 million health workers by 2030. It's clear we need ways to enhance this workforce, and harnessing new technologies, including robots, offers a scalable and cost-effective way to do this. 

What are the obstacles or challenges?

Technology adoption can be especially slow in healthcare, especially in applications that involve multiple stakeholders and have implications for patient safety. To overcome these challenges, we’ve adopted a user-centered approach from the beginning, working closely with clinicians and environmental services staff to ensure that the technology is easy to use and can be integrated easily within daily workflow. Additionally, we’ve worked in collaboration with several universities to validate the efficacy of the technology, which gives us critical data necessary to validate our claims. 

What is the common characteristic of the team at Akara?

Working at a startup can be challenging, and being successful requires resilience and teamwork. I’m thankful to say that these are two characteristics that our founding team have in abundance.  

What are a few different key values held by the team at Akara ?

One of the key philosophies we hold at Akara is that achieving our vision will require all hands on deck. We understand that what we are trying to build and implement is difficult and requires everyone to chip in and help. There is no place for egos.

What are you most proud of?

I'm really proud of what we are building, I know that's a cliché but it's true. When I see how beneficial our decontamination robots and technologies are to hospitals, and how they could help make hospitals treat more patients, it makes me very proud.

We caught up with Nevena Nikolova, from our office in Sofia, who is a prize-winning film maker and a hugely successful head-hunter. Clearly there are parallels between casting the lead and supporting roles for a film and identifying the best possible hires for a corporate client.

Both professions are all about recognizing talent and making the best use of it, making the talent really shine to its fullest potential.  The job of a Head-hunter and Management Consultant helps develop transferable skills like influential communication (capacity to convince and inspire) as well project management capability that are very useful for me as a filmmaker.

On the other hand the Directing boosts my creativity, helps me build out-of-the box solutions and support clients and candidates in finding new perspectives and changing their way of thinking or acting. What I experience is a kind of a cross-pollination between the two professions and I find it very enriching. I discover a certain Work-Art balance as the one activity is helping me recover from the other and vice-versa.

My artistic journey started as an actress with stage performances of various fringe shows, but I felt I needed more so the second step was a smooth transition to stage directing and afterwards I jumped into film directing. 

My mind naturally produces multiple ideas, images, stories, small pieces of the universe, so writing and directing a movie is a way to share my internal world with thousands of people all over the globe. To feel 'seen' from inside, to experience other people`s reactions, to be able to touch so many souls and minds - this is really powerful and exciting; it makes me feel complete and fulfilled.

Movie Directing is great for upgrading my own leadership skills and style. It requires vision, determination and capacity to balance, align and synchronize the ideas and the input of very diverse professionals, who are often quite opinionated, very emotional and expressive - sometimes ego-driven. When you are an aspiring director, you are full of doubts and it is a huge challenge to keep your authenticity and allow yourself to show vulnerability while nurturing the faith in the project among the crew members. What I discovered while film-making is that it is not necessary to have all the answers and the full picture in order to lead the team, it is enough to be just a couple of steps in front of them.

My first movie MORNING won multiple awards for Best Debut, Best Student Short, Best Silent Film, Best Dance (dedicated to Dance) Film, Best choreography in a Short film, Best actor, Best aspiring filmmaker etc. from international festivals in Cannes, Italy, UK, Mexico, Israel, Chile among others.

The second movie ROOFTOP was recognized for Best Dark comedy, Best lead actor, Best young actress, Best female director ect. Couple of months ago the movie won the Best Independent Short Film award in Silk Road Film Festival Cannes.

Some of my favourite directors are Yorgos Lanthimos, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Daren Aronofsky, Krzusztof Kieslowski, Jane Campion, Wong Kar-Wai and many others. All of them have inspired my love of cinema but I`m still searching for my very own style as a director.

My business understanding and thinking was influenced by David Ogilvy, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ray Dalio, Patric Lencioni, and Simon Sinek.

Lovely question! For the younger me I would cast Anna Tayor Joy and Juliette Binoche would be my first choice for the middle aged me.

Árpád Németh is named amongst the leading Human Resource professionals in Hungary.

The Top HR Business Executives in Hungary magazine is a special annual publication of the Budapest Business Journal. It focuses on outstanding achievements and how the Hungarian HR market is developing. It looks at leading HR organizations, the challenges of a tight labour market and the trends shaping the market in Hungary today. The selection is unashamedly subjective, having been made by the editorial team of the Book of Lists and the BBJ, and draws on a 30-year-history of providing unparalleled business news and analysis. The readership of Top HR Business Executives mirrors much of that of the BBJ, including many of the country’s leading business executives, diplomats, and decision-makers.

Read Árpád's full interview in the BBJ:

Árpád Németh interview in BBJ Top50 HR ExecutivesDownload

We have worked together for more than 10 years, and last year you made a career change. What is Sun Wave Pharma?

Sun Wave Pharma is the No. 1 Nutraceutical company in Romania, with nature-based products in the portfolio which help to increase the patients’ quality of life and support a healthy life - regardless of age. We have 420 employees and 9 strategic divisions, and we are already present in Bulgaria and Serbia and developing in other CEE markets.

Can you share some thoughts about your professional experience?

My experience in HR is over 20 years. I  started my career in an engineering business in 2001 and later I moved to the IT industry as part of the HR department of IBM Romania. In 2010 I joined an FMCG business as their HR Manager for Beiersdorf Romania & Bulgaria. Last year I joined Sun Wave Pharma taking on the challenge of leading a complex HR department at a moment of internal transformation, both from the leadership point of view and also from the cultural perspective. Our efforts in the Management Team are about transforming the company from a local one, a private equity with private ownership, to a modern, upskilled regional business, with processes and procedures, with Digital infrastructure, with transparent and fair decisions and responsible and compliant practices towards the market and laws. We are also working to redirect the company’s culture towards more collaboration between teams, promoting more empowerment and a personal growth mindset. We invest a lot in people development and in adopting new modern working tools and benefits, as well as shifting the employee’s perception from ‘What’s in it for me?” to “How can I contribute?”.

Could you name some projects you are proud of?

With employees all over the country, and often their manager in another city, the integration of new colleagues came as a challenge. My team has initiated a very well-structured onboarding process for our newly joined  Medical Reps. We have implemented, together with the Area Sales Managers, a clear process and tasks that are to be done in each week for the first 3 months, including Welcome Box, Induction, learning materials, meeting the colleagues in the headquarters, feedback, discussions, buddies – all meant to create smooth integration and a great Employee experience and journey. The first months are the most difficult ones for the new employees – often they think that they don’t understand anything, they will never be able to do it, maybe this was a mistake and so on. When the leadership and the organization are close to that employee, helping and supporting them, integrating them into the team, those challenges are more easily overcome, and you end up having a positive, long collaboration.

What do you value when recruiting?

When I am involved, I look for honest people, full of energy and ideas with the ability to implement them. I’m a big believer that anything can be taught/learned, but personality is an aspect that can’t be changed. And personality can build or break a team. Depending on the position, of course, then also know-how and experience matter. For my team, for example, I have tried to bring in people with different skills and capabilities so we can learn from each other. I believe the key is to find people with the same values and to be very honest with them from the beginning about all the positives and negatives in the organisation or role. There is no point selling the position and speaking only about the good things to convince someone to join you, because if they don’t find the same things you’ve talked about in the interview, later on when they are hired, they will just leave, and you start all over again. So, I always insist that the leadership and my team detail all our expectations and all the issues the the employee might encounter in the role.

What motivates you?

I take my motivation from the people I work with. If I work with smart, energetic, passionate people, who don’t accept “it can’t be done” for an answer and come up with ideas and drive to move things forward, I can be the best version of myself as well. Also, I’m striving for that enormous satisfaction one has when my work contributes to a better work environment as a whole, to a good culture and to the achievement of good business results.

We spoke with Marzena Kulis, Managing Director, Johnson & Johnson MedTech, Middle East and MISSA.

You are one of very few women in such a top position, in a rather difficult region, where there are not that many female executives. Can you share with us what helped you, and what led you here?

This is probably due to several factors, first of all: the baggage of ambition, courage, and the right to pursue a professional career, which I have carried with me since childhood – I definitely owe this to my mother. I’ve always been driven to do something interesting, exciting, and rewarding. Also, I learn the most from people who are different to me, who come from other cultures, other business sectors, or differ significantly from me, for example, in age. This enabled me to become convinced that diversity is so very important – I have a deep respect for it and see it as a business fundamental.

It is also important that I work in a company which is very open and supports diversity. The presence of such companies in the Middle East instigates and encourages others to follow best practice in business and leadership imperatives and fundamentals, including diversity. It is still difficult to talk about a trend here, as it still may be in developing stages, but I observe a great desire for a change.

Do you consider yourself to be a part of this change?

Immediately after arriving in Dubai I was elected to the Management Board of the MedTech Companies Association – MECOMED. I also received the Forbes Award for the Most Influential Woman in the Middle East, which gave me significant exposure to both the business world and the wider public sphere. I am now invited to various meetings and I participate in many round-tables, where often I am the only woman at the table, but the message is spreading around the region and I am sure that something is slowly changing.

Can we somehow influence circumstances to make women's careers easier, to enable them to succeed? I am not talking just about the Middle East, but in a more general way.

This is a very important question, and as usual, there is no simple way to address this problem, but it is through embedding a culture of diversity within organizations. It must be processed and consistent. Culture builds powerful organizations.

It is worth noting that at the entry level we have a balance between women and men. We build inspiring development programs, including those focused only on women, but it takes many years for those talents to reach the managerial level, and even more to reach the executive level – unless, of course, it is someone exceptional in terms of performance, leadership, and commitment. Men climb faster, they have time to devote themselves entirely and fully engage. At the managerial level it’s 30% women and 70% men, at executive level the ratio is even worse.  Mobility, courage, and openness are necessary to make a career, and women are not so eager to practice those, or at times feels enabled to do so. Also, and all too often, they can be all discouraged by their managers or partners. As I said, building ambition and courage at a very early age plays a significant role, and you need the enabling and safe space to cultivate it.

Do you think a gender balance quota, regulations and targets in the EU will affect this?

I am not a big fan of regulations which tell us how to run the business, but as you can see, we did not make much progress the other way. So, I think that is an important step and probably necessary, but it is also important to change the mindset at the executive level. It is important is to teach top managers “inclusive & authentic leadership”.

What does that mean?

AUTHENTIC means: “You walk the talk”, you build the trust, you treat your people with respect.

INCLUSIVE means: you are open to different ideas, you learn from your people, you reflect on their point of view, even when and if you do not initially agree, however you still encourage them to be a significant part of important business decisions. It is when you are not biased.

In our company, every VP has a KPI related to increasing diversity as part of their business goals – our assessment of leadership skills depends on it. I have noticed huge progress in this area since this model of appraisal was introduced. At the moment, we are focused on strengthening our talent pool.

I have “exported” a lot of women from my region to the EU and to the USA to develop them further. Having said that, perhaps I didn’t focus enough on acquiring new talents externally – I didn’t close the loop. You have to develop what you have, as well as being proactive and rather aggressive at points, in searching for female talent and inviting them to join your organization.

Some say “the quotas” lead to hiring women who may be "weaker" candidates than their male counterparts?

So what? Our role is to support them to grow even if it is a stretch for them.  We can’t be afraid of mistakes, they will happen just like they do when hiring men. It is the part of the game. I believe that if we want to change something we have to start at home with our children: teaching girls that they have right to be ambitious and teaching boys to appreciate that. We also have to focus on building a culture of openness and inclusiveness. If quotas will accelerate this process, we will all benefit from it, not only women.

On this first anniversary of the Ukrainian war, doubtless we will all pause to reflect on the suffering experienced by the people of Ukraine.

Friisberg, as a firm and a multinational family, stands shoulder to shoulder with Elena, our Partner and her team in the Kyiv office.

She has bravely withstood all that Russia can throw at her, and her family.

These are Elena's thoughts, on this day, after 12 months at war:


A year has passed since that terrible moment when I woke up to the sounds of explosions. But the most difficult task, as it turned out, was to wake up my relatives and say the word, 'War'.

Parts of Kyiv look normal on the surface, but daily we hear air raid sirens. There are now few children in the city because so many have been displaced with their mothers or grandparents living elsewhere in Ukraine, or outside the country. The toll of the human suffering has been staggering – thousands have been killed and more than 8 million Ukrainians have left.

People in Ukraine say that your life is divided into 'before' and 'after’ - and it is true.

We have all changed during this year, but we are not broken and we believe in Victory. It keeps us going.

Ukraine will continue to defend the unarguable fact that it belongs within Europe. We uphold the values, rights and freedoms that underpin Western civilization.


One day the war will be over.

The Friisberg family looks forward to holding a Partner Conference in what will again be a free Kyiv, as capital of a sovereign Ukraine.

Mercedes Vasallo, Senior Vice President of Human Resources International, with Paramount, shares her thoughts:

Within a social context that is as thrilling as it is changing, in which constant economic, socio-cultural and health (pandemic) milestones have led us to a labour paradigm where markets value creativity and innovation, flexibility and adaptability, companies are looking for workers who can adapt quickly to changes in business dynamics, technological evolutions and where workers seek companies where they can work in multidisciplinary teams, from anywhere in the world.

Where work-life balance is valued above salary parameters, where diverse and inclusive cultures are organizational drivers, sustainable organizations that extol social and environmental responsibility, foster the ability of employees to find sustainable solutions in their work.

In this context I consider the management of multicultural teams as a challenge, but also a thrilling opportunity to cultivate creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Let's start with the definition of a multicultural team as a group of people with different cultural backgrounds, values, norms, perspectives and competencies working together towards a common goal.

Leadership of such a team can be complex due to cultural and communication differences that can affect team collaboration and performance. Factors such as language, cultural traditions and values, decision-making and conflict management, among others, need to be taken into account to ensure effective team leadership. Therefore, it is important that leaders are informed and adequately prepared to manage these differences and promote an inclusive and respectful work environment.

How can a leader successfully manage multicultural teams?

So far, we have talked about management tools... but what  competencies should a leader have in order to be effective at using these tools with multicultural teams?

  1. Cultural awareness:
    Understand and value cultural differences and how these affect team dynamics.
  2. Effective communication:
    Being able to communicate both clearly and effectively with people from different cultures, including the ability to listen and understand their prospects.
  3. Empathy:
    Having the essential ability to place oneself in others' shoes and understand their unique needs and challenges.
  4. Flexibility:
    Adapting to different situations and working patterns and tailoring its leadership accordingly.
  5. Conflict solving:
    Ability to facilitate inter-cultural conflicts and to enable team members to find solutions together.
  6. Inclusion:
    Promote an inclusive work environment and ensure that all team members feel valued and respected.
  7. Transformational leadership: 
    It is fundamental to be an inspirational leader who motivates and guides team members to achieve their goals and objectives. Nowadays, this competence is becoming increasingly important in talent analysis within organizations. Such a leader has the ability to create a shared vision and work with team members to attain that vision. A transformational leader focuses on the individual and collective development of its team by encouraging them to be better versions of themselves. In addition, this style of leader is a good communicator with an excellent ability to listen, fostering a culture of trust and respect. We are in the age of transformational leadership where there is less and less room for a transactional style of leadership based on rewards and penalties as means of motivation.
  8. Global vision:
    It is essential to have a broad perspective and to understand how cultural differences can strengthen and enrich the team as a whole.

In conclusion, managing multicultural teams requires a conscious approach and a reverent attitude towards diversity underpinned by a number of competencies that are key to helping a multicultural team work together effectively and achieve those common goals.

Lorraine Wrafter is a Supervisory Board Member and Chair of the Nomination & Remuneration Committee with Ignitis Group.

It is already more than a year since the new Supervisory Board of Ignitis Group, one of the largest energy companies in the Baltic states, was elected. The collegial body of the Group comprises five independent members with international experience and two representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Group‘s majority shareholder.

Our colleagues in Vilnius talked to Lorraine Wrafter, the independent member of the newly elected Supervisory Board, about the role and value of a collegial body in a listed company with the state as a majority shareholder and what it takes to be successful as a member of such a body.

What is your role in the Supervisory Board of Ignitis Group and as the Chair of the Nomination & Remuneration Committee? How much time did you need to get into the roles and what helped you?

In the Supervisory Board our role is to look after the strategy, key risks (managed risks), ensure business compliance and performance.

My role as the Chair of NRC is to lead the committee and ensure the company is using the right tools and processes to develop the capabilities through succession planning and building the talent pipeline and to engage and reward people.  Our role is also to propose an effective organisation structure for decision making and offer assistance in the hiring for Board positions within the Group companies.

The Supervisory Board's first meeting was online and we continued to work online for six months due to Covid and then start of the war in Ukraine.  One of our first meetings was to get to know each other, who we are outside of the board room. We had weekly/ fortnightly meetings for the first few months to get us all up to speed on the business.  The Supervisory Board and NCR meet monthly.

I was new to the Energy sector and my colleagues were a great help to get me up to speed quickly.  I had one to one online meetings with all the Supervisory members to learn about the industry, state and a publicly listed company. We can also call each other whenever we have questions.

What helped me to prepare for the role was the education I received from the Institute of Directors and two advisory Board positions.  In addition, Ignitis Group invited me to attend, on behalf of the Supervisory Board, a programme run by an external company to understand corporate culture and governance in the Baltics.  They also invested in Sustainability and the Board‘s role.

Could you please briefly introduce the business of Ignitis Group. What were the business expectations when you joined the Supervisory Board? What were the main business challenges/ how were they changing?

It is a Energy business, with a fast growing Renewables business that is competing in global markets. We acknowledge the tensions between being both a local Lithuanian company and growing internationally (in Europe) within a highly competitive market. Ignitis Group is a strictly regulated and listed company that has to manage the demands of the state and private investors. All these factors add to the challenges for the business particularly in finding the right talent to run the business and to reward people.

The complexity of the Group structure and decision making processes was one of the first areas the Supervisory Board identified that needed to change. Ignitis Group is now introducing a new structure to help them make faster decisions across the group while ensuring accountability and controls are in place.

We, in the Supervisory Board, were happy to see the resilience and proactiveness of the Group Management team / Executive Board when facing the challenges related to the war in Ukraine  – ensuring the energy supply to customers and at the same time moving forward with the agreed strategy, not stopping with growth, especially in renewables (the company "Ignitis Renewables" which expanded quickly in terms of people during the last year).

How did the business challenges affected the work of the Supervisory Board and your role/ roles? Has your role/ roles evolved since you started your term in October 2021? If yes – how?

Challenges were more for the Management Board – our concern was for the Management Board and employees' well being.  It has been a very tense year for the business with the war, energy challenges, growing the business and meeting their financial commitments to the state and private investors.  During this period employee engagement remained high confirmed by the recent eNPS results.

The role of the Supervisory Board is evolving and the area of focus is the growth of Renewables from reviewing Renewable Projects, preparation for bids, sourcing talent around the world and paying competitive market rates.

Reflecting on your experience what do you think are the key factors for success as a Supervisory Board Member? The Chair of the Nomination and Remuneration Committee?

Firstly we are a diverse team.  There are seven members with seven different skills sets and six nationalities.  This gives a great balance of perspectives.  We all have an expertise and at the same time we can contribute and challenge each other in their area of expertise.

We are functioning very well as a team.

Being new in the Supervisory Board and also in the Energy market I think it is very useful to get an overview/ knowledge both about the specifics of business, corporate governance and culture at the early stage.

We talk, ask questions, and are open to being challenged and are of course supportive of each other.

Another important area is setting clear accountabilities and boundaries with the Boards of the Group companies so that each collegial body feels accountable, acts within the boundaries and decisions are made on time.

At the end of our meetings we have roundtable time just with the Supervisory Board or Committee members.  At these sessions we reviewed what went well and what could be improved and share this feedback with the Management Board.  There is no defensiveness.

We have an annual self-assessment of the Board and committees done by external company – another opportunity to reflect and improve the effectiveness of the Board.

You mentioned that setting clear accountabilities and boundaries with the boards (Group Board and Boards of the companies) is a very important factor in ensuring an effective corporate governance. Being a member of a Supervisory Board, how could you support the Ignitis Group companies through their Boards?

Our interactions with the Boards of the Group companies are limited – mainly strategy meetings and business updates. Each of the Group companies has its own board to manage the business and controls. The Group Supervisory Board does not need to get involved with them.  They have the controls in place.  Our goal is to ensure the Group organisation structure and decision making processes are in place for transparency and in line with anticorruption policies while supporting a fast changing and growing business.

Another important thing in ensuring effective governance is implementation of the principle "Nose in, Fingers out". We, as the Supervisory Board, are responsible for hiring the right people for the Boards and making them accountable, for guiding them based on overall business perspective ("business lenses") and support in decision making – but not making decisions for them. It is a challenge for all of us – especially in a fast growing business, i.e. Renewables, where we say "We are flying the plane while building it".

The Group Organisational Development Director, Executive Board member, and I have a good working relationship; we are open and direct and we learn from each other.  It is a two-way process. Before each NRC meeting we have a pre-meeting to review the agenda items and the materials. We discuss areas on which to focus, what could be contentious topics and how to manage the discussions.  I play "devil‘s advocate" to pre-empt what questions could be asked by the Board members so that the presenters are prepared.

NRC has varied activities such as agreeing a new Expat Policy, Succession Planning, Female Talent Pipeline, Engagement and Reward programmes. One of the biggest challenges is around Reward where we try and balance the needs and concerns of a state-owned company that is operating in European/Global markets and is publicly listed.

During the last year we did a lot of hiring for the Boards, currently we are also looking for the members of the Committee for Risk Management and Business Ethics Supervision, with the focus on Safety and Health.

I am glad to work with a management team which is very motivated.

The Supervisory Board of Ignitis Group probably could be seen as an example of a real diversity: 4 women and 3 men, people from various international businesses (independent members) and representing the Government (Ministry of Finance), 5 foreigners from different countries and 2 Lithuanians, as well as people representing different generations. How do you see group dynamics in such a diverse Supervisory Board in a regulated energy business?

I am excited to work in such a team and I am excited to talk about it.

We work very well together. We talk very openly, have discussions and debates, looking at things very objectively from the business perspective – actually we do not have many disagreements, and when we do, we manage to find solutions. Always looking through business lenses, and never with any emotional load when discussing the questions – maybe this is why we are working well.

The independent Supervisory Board members are from 5 different countries/ different nationalities, we all worked for private businesses where the things are done differently than in state owned companies (less bureaucracy and faster decision making).

It is good and useful that we can share our different experiences/ ways of working in different cultures. Two of us in the Supervisory Board are not from the Energy sector (myself and Tim Brooks) – so we have all the opportunities to learn about the Energy sector from other team members.

It is also very useful that we have very open minded members representing the state – through them we 'educate‘ the Finance Ministry on international business best practices.

What do you elicit, personally and professionally, from being a member of a Supervisory Board Ignitis Group? What are the key learnings so far?

I really enjoy being a member of a Supervisory Board. I 'have got' everything: state owned, publicly listed, changing and growing business with a truly diverse Supervisory Board. It is a business that can have a big impact on the planet too. I am passionate about the Company and my role in terms of how I can contribute to the business

What would you advise for Organisational Development and HR professionals who would like to join companies or advance their careers at Board level?

Be proactive, use all the opportunities to network and let people know you are interested in obtaining a Board position.  Take on advisory Board roles to gain experience. I would recommend attendance at a Board/Director Programme for collegial body members – to better understand the role and responsibilities of Board members and understand the governance issues.  It also shows potential Boards you are serious about joining them.

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