We spoke with Nevena Nikolova, from our office in Bulgaria, to hear her Friisberg story.

You have been a Partner in Friisberg since 2009. What was the career path you took to get to where you are today?

It all started with my curiosity for understanding people - my willingness to understand what we are made of.

I graduated with Master's degree in Consulting Psychology, exploring for a while a career as psychotherapist, before I realised that I was more interested in exploring the nature of talent and how it could be identified, harnessed and further developed.

My career in the field of HR began when I joined the TGS team at the establishment of its HR consultancy practice, holding consecutively the positions of consultant, senior consultant, Search & Training Department Manager and Executive Director.

From April 2006 - 2008 I was elected as a Management Board Member of the international HR consulting organization PSI (People Solutions International), registered in London with Headquarters in Brussels. From 2009, following the merge between PSI and Friisberg, I became a Partner in Friisberg Bulgaria and was elected as a Management Board Member of the international Executive Search organization FPI (Friisberg & Partners International). I am glad to be part of a great international group that is more and more able to show its unique face and have its special voice heard.

What has been the biggest change in Executive Search over the last years? 

The use of technologies is changing the modus operandi of the Search companies, but the very essence of the service and its value proposition remains the same. Executive Search is less and less transactional and more and more a transformational service and the headhunters are growing towards becoming trusted advisors of the client companies.

What qualities do you look for in a new consultant when joining Friisberg in Bulgaria?

What do you enjoy most about being part of Friisberg? 

Friisberg is constantly evolving and the enthusiasm of my colleagues is inspiring.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you are not working hard?

I love theatre and I enjoy performing monthly scene performances.

Creative writing is the other activity that makes me feel great – I create poetry, short stories, plays, and scripts. Maybe one day I will dare to share those with the world…

Nevena Nikolova, Partner

A Pineapple?

It is what first came to mind, probably because the sun is shining and I am hoping for summer. There is probably an extended metaphor in there somewhere (not judging on appearances / digging beneath the surface…), but here I am actually referring to 3 ways you can find the right Search firm with whom to work.

We know that, due to the pandemic, many companies have been forced to reduce staff and freeze recruitment in an attempt to cut costs, but advertising and crossing your fingers hoping that the right candidate will apply, simply does not work for executive level hiring.

It’s not just about tapping into existing networks either – i.e.. who the exec team or the board might already know – they know who they know, but have no idea who they don’t know.

That's why for companies looking to change or add to their existing leadership team, engaging with a reputable Search consultant really matters.

But who can you trust?

Successful hiring is the most important thing you will do in growing your business, so invest in outside professional help, but make sure you invest in the right professional help.

Lorri Lowe,
Partner, UK

When you think about sustainability, you don't think of the financial sector first. This is a mistake.

Meltem Ay spoke with  Reinhard Pfingsten, CIO Bethmann Bank & Global Head Asset Allocation ABN AMRO Private Banking, about sustainability in the financial world, sustainable banks, regulations and the potential returns on sustainable investments.

What influence does the financial sector have on sustainability?

The range is huge. Money makes the world go round! The financial sector is an intermediary between money and companies and to that extent it plays a very important role.

How long have you been dealing with this topic?

For a long time, because sustainability is not a new topic and sustainable products have been around for decades. What is new, is that it used to be the niche product of a large supplier, but it is now the core product. In the past few years there has been gigantic growth in the institutional sector. Sustainable criteria are moving more and more into focus. What is also new is that private investors have discovered the topic for themselves and are also being steered in this direction by providers. The supply creates the demand. The growth among private investors is now also very strong, but of course it comes from a very low level. On the one hand, this is due to social change, which is certainly also related to generational change, and the political change that is causing companies to set sustainability goals. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change plays a major role here, but also a regulatory change.

What is a sustainable bank?

The EU has recognized that the financial industry is important to move sustainability forward. It takes companies and the financial sector to close ranks. The regulatory pressure ensures that our industry is moving. The first question is whether the institute also offers sustainable products, among other things. If there are only niche products or one product among many, then it is not a sustainable bank. It has to sell First Choice sustainable products and it has to deal adequately with sustainable issues such as corporate social responsibility and being a social employer. Topics such as ecological building management and the company car regulation are just as much a part of this as a corresponding product range.

Can maximum profits be achieved with sustainable funds / stocks?

I am not saying that sustainability can generate additional returns, because there is no reason to do so. Results vary from year to year. It is the same with sustainable products as with all others. But in any case, so much money is now flowing into sustainability that companies take the topic very seriously and better performance can be derived from it. On the other hand, there are studies that suggest that unsustainable investments can generate additional returns. From my point of view, one should not assume a systematic excess or reduced return on sustainable investments. Over the year, however, things can look very different, but for me it is the wrong question because this is about non-financial returns. If you want to be part of the change and help companies reduce CO2 emissions, then invest in sustainable products!

How much do you have to convince the customer to invest here?

In fact, we offer sustainable products as 'First Choice'. It is important to explain the advantages, but also the challenges, of sustainable investing to the customer. But the discussions have changed. In the past, we had to have a lot more fundamental discussions at this point.

When is an investment really sustainable?

The necessary orientation is at least provided by the classification of a product in accordance with Article 8 of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) of the European Commission. It is important to have a policy that highlights the sustainability risks. That means: which exclusions do I see? What am I not responsible for if a company is active in an area that does not meet the requirements? At Bethmann Bank we also have an advisory board that can anchor sustainability in line with current discussions - they can make policy decisions and impose restrictions.

Do you personally invest your money in sustainable funds?

Partly. Since I only invest in funds, I can answer the question in the affirmative for active funds; for ETFs, these do not yet meet all the requirements of Article 8 of the new regulation.

What investment goals can be pursued with an ESG portfolio?

We offer sustainability reporting for mutual fund customers and asset management customers. There are three blocks of sustainability in which the effects of sustainable products are discussed. We manage best-in-class products and show the best and worst values.

  1. ESG risk rating in the portfolio
  2. CO2 footprint of the portfolio (measured in tons)
  3. Impact on the UN Development Goals (17 UN Sustainable Development Goals).

Sustainable products have to be made much more transparent and the purpose of these systems has to be brought closer to people.

Meltem Ay, Principal Consultant

The big 'WHY?'

Why do you want to change your job?

Many candidates primarily consider what they know against the job description. Having the right expertise is an important requirement, but it is not enough. In addition, we must look more closely at what might motivate a candidate. Many of the requirements specified for a candidate can be nuanced in order to provide room for a new employee to grow into a role.

As advisers, we do not force a job opportunity onto candidates. We ask open questions and listen carefully when discussing a possible job change. We listen for answers about why the candidate wants this job. What are their ambitions? Is the candidate driven by 'push' or 'pull' factors?

The right motivation is an important requirement for thriving and making a difference. If you have anything to gain from a change of job, it is easier if you have a commitment, make an extra effort and contribute to good internal collaboration.

Pay is seldom a sufficient motivational factor by itself.

Cultural match is both crucial and under-appreciated.

What can you do yourself?

Enterprises have different purposes and ownership. Organisations vary in culture, size and structure. Some companies have a totally commercial DNA, while other workplaces are more balanced, driven by new insight, or contribute directly to social progress. Being conscious of your own motivation and taking ownership of the process are important success factors when changing jobs. Awareness of 'what triggers and what drives me', combined with an ability to explain why exactly this role could be right for you, will be important. By obtaining information about relevant employers, the candidate also takes personal responsibility for testing their match with a new workplace. This is particularly critical if you have been with the same employer for a long time, because it can then be difficult to assess what you take for granted in today’s job – and which could be lost.

Choose an adviser who understands the significance of motivation.

Where an enterprise is concerned, the value of making the right appointments is considerable. And the choice of employer will be crucial for an employee’s career development. That makes it vital to have good advisers who both understand and can provide input to both sides. Our job is to search out environments and candidates who possess a good baseline for both wanting and contributing to a new role. The ability to think openly around motivation together with relevant candidates is an absolutely central part of the adviser role, and crucial in ensuring that the right choice is made – for both clients and candidates.

Hild Kinder, Partner
Benedikte Stiff, Partner

We spoke with Dorota Serwińska and Anna Rudzinska, our Partners in Poland, to hear their Friisberg story.

You have both been Partners in Friisberg for a few years. What was the career path you took to get to where you are today?

We have been partners in Friisberg since 2018 - although we first started working with the organisation in 2016. Together we bring over 20 years of experience in Executive Search gained from our time with Korn/Ferry, Kienbaum, and Spencer Stuart.

What do you enjoy most about being part of Friisberg?

We are lucky to have observed a significant shift within Friisberg during recent years, not in terms of people because we always considered our colleagues from different countries to be the greatest assets of this Partnership, but the fact that we now cover such a range of different markets.

Our company is growing quickly with increased online visibility for clients and candidates.

The investment in Friisberg's AI diagnostic tool (FNA), is great!

It is a genuine pleasure to work with our Friisberg colleagues - to exchange knowledge and share best practice with those in different geographies.

It is also very refreshing that we cooperate so effectively - we do not suffer from a competitive approach which is all too often observed in other global  firms. Our strategy is to be transparent and fair so we are always happy to benefit from each other's experiences.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in Management Consultancy and or Executive Search?

Although the consulting/executive search industry has changed a lot over recent years, there are always unchangeable factors necessary for success. We operate in a very sensitive marketplace, so to become successful you must have an in-depth knowledge of the market, maturity/gravitas to position yourself as an equal partner while talking to your clients and you must be trustworthy. Besides that, the most important competence in consulting is the ability to convince your client that you can do the job, so one must have the ability to sell projects. Many people who try to succeed in this field forget about selling skills.

What qualities do you look for in a new consultant when joining Friisberg in Poland?

You must be trustworthy, a good communicator (as well as being able to actively listen), a good negotiator, resilient and have great sense of humour.

What has been the biggest change in Management Consultancy and Executive Search over the last 10 years?

The 4.0 revolution has been the most significant impact. The development of social media (e.g. LinkedIn) has made potential candidates available to almost everybody. Also, AI is a more and more significant part of the recruitment processes, but we still believe our human touch is irreplaceable, and we hope it always remains that way.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you are not working hard?

We both have great families and friends. We love our country cottages and enjoy outdoor activities and sport.

Dorota Serwińska, Partner
Anna Rudzinska, Partner

We spoke with Nijole Kelpsaite, Managing Partner, Lithuania, to hear her Friisberg story.

You have been a Partner in Friisberg since 1994. What was the career path you took to get to where you are today?

Initially I was approached by Kurt Kaariainen, a Partner from Finland, because we were selected as the best among eight consulting companies. I started as an assistant/ researcher cooperating with the highly experienced Partners from Denmark and Finland.

In 2000 we became a Partner firm, and I became the first female Partner – and the youngest!

It has been a long journey and even today, the Lithuanian market is not as mature as others. Eastern Europe has a complicated history and while even 25 years ago we were at the forefront of our industry, there is still more educating to do regarding clients understanding the services we can offer. We have undoubtedly gained a great reputation and the future looks good.

What do you enjoy most about being part of Friisberg?

Like any business that grows from a small business to a global firm over a few short decades, Friisberg has seen its share of organizational changes. We now have defined practice areas and they are undoubtedly one of the keys to our success. Working closely with other Friisberg offices on cross border assignments over the years has certainly helped us promote Lithuania as an up and coming economic business centre.

Everyone in Friisberg loves the challenge involved in finding the right candidate for a company, taking into account not only their knowledge and experience, but also the strategic visions of the client. Getting “the cultural fit” right is absolutely crucial and we genuinely understand why this is so important because in Friisberg we all share the same values and ethos. Our shared philosophy is to have consultants in our local markets, but with the ability to serve global clients as necessary. As a result, local office culture is vibrant but all consultants feel connected with their peers.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in management consultancy and or executive search?

Before turning to executive search, I suggest gaining experience in different sectors and in different corporate positions. Accumulating experience, getting to know people and building good contacts is vital to creating a credible network. Knowing yourself is important too - you will spend a lot of time communicating with people from all walks of life and you need to feel confident in your own skin.

What qualities do you look for in a new consultant when joining Friisberg in Lithuania?

You must be resilient, so positivity is essential; never giving up is such a great attribute. I also admire openness and curiosity – you must always be interested in and enjoy meeting new people as well as having the intellectual rigour to learn about new businesses and sectors. We are a people business, so emotional competence is essential; being sensitive to candidates and clients makes a great consultant.

What has been the biggest change in Management Consultancy and Executive Search over the last 10 years?

The biggest change is the impact of the Internet and social media. I started working in executive search at the same time as the internet’s early development so I had to work much more with the sourcing of candidates through contacts. The evolution of the Internet, LinkedIn, and other search process tools have significantly speeded up the search process, especially for sourcing diverse candidates, and our clients expect results quickly, and without any compromise in quality. Of course human contact is essential from start to end and will always remain the most valuable part of any Search process.

Over the years, long-term relationships have become more and more stimulating. For example, being able to work with a client for over 15-years has been fantastic, and it is a privilege to share their ups and downs.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you are not working hard?

I think of myself as the child of nature. I grew up in a village, on a forest farm, and I love gardening, canoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking – basically, I love being close to nature.

Nijole Kelpsaite
Managing Partner, Lithuania.

Onboarding Top Management, in a virtual world

An interview with Anders Blom Monberg, Country Manager for Protector Insurance Denmark.

Working from home can be a challenge, even when you know the job, company, and stakeholders very well. When you are new however, you must learn everything in the virtual world.

Many things have changed during this pandemic and onboarding sure is one of them!

At Friisberg & Partners we hear from many CEOs and understand that it has been extraordinarily demanding to get into the new role when the employees and managers work from home. However, many of the CEOs are also finding benefits and new opportunities with getting an online start, instead of a physical presence.

The Country Manager at Protector Insurance Denmark, Anders Blom Monberg shares his thoughts about how he has handled an unusual onboarding when he started his new position on January 1st, 2021.

What considerations did you make before you started, knowing that the offices were empty, and everybody was working from home?

“Before I started this role, many people had already been working at home for a long period of time. I am therefore used to being a leader in a virtual world, and my colleagues are used to the same. It was a big help that we all knew what we were dealing with and had adapted beforehand.”

Did you have an introduction plan?

“Yes. Protector Insurance had given me an introductory plan, and many of my

Andrea Falleni

CEO of Capgemini Italy

Talks with: Guglielmo Sallustio, Partner, Friisberg & Partners Italy

"Imagination is the Key"

The risks and opportunities during this phase of radical change have been the subject of much analysis, but making forecasts on the future structure of the business is not always easy and trying to draw conclusions about what has changed is potentially premature.

Nevertheless, a key concept is that organizations must question themselves. It is time for creation: big and especially small companies need to use their imagination to think about new models of work. Also, we must be conscious that many of the challenges we are dealing with may not be only transitory.

Technology remains the engine of this business transformation, and it is necessary for enterprise resilience.

The use of collaboration tools is a trend that enables new models of interaction within companies. IT and Intelligent Automation, AI and data analytics are for sure the most influential technologies for helping organisations increase operational efficiency and transform existing business processes while cloud technologies enable and power the other emerging technologies.

Organizations in all sectors should really put themselves in the customers’ shoes, in other words they should reinforce a customer centric approach as their first challenge. They should then develop solutions to improve customer experience, offering digital services primarily but without losing the human connection on their virtual channels and therefore their connection with the client.

This is the best time to rethink our leadership model too. Remote working necessitates being authentic and having the courage to experiment in order to create a real “digital world”, in which it is possible to develop the sense of belonging and share team values and goals. In this context, the harder challenge for organizations is probably succeeding at switching to a model in which everyone can be evaluated only by their achievement of goals that have to be clearly identified and shared.

Until a few months ago ideas came mainly from a direct exchange of ideas, but now we need a cultural revolution. To enable this soft skills, flexible reasoning and empathy are crucial to define a right balance in both customer relations and team coordination.

Finally, organizations need to invest in green transition: I believe that sustainability must be the focus of corporate strategies to create greater value in the long term, radically changing the relationship between companies and customers.

Burcin Ressamoglu

CEO of Sodexo Employee & Consumer Engagement

Talks with: Lorri Lowe, Partner, Friisberg & Partners UK

Employee Engagement is now more important than ever. What changes have you seen over the past year and what are your expectations for the future?

The change to remote working has for many companies meant a dynamic acceleration and a rapid embedding of digital ways of working. Without physical interaction and positive reinforcement of an office culture, it is too easy for people to feel isolated and undervalued – this is the challenge for many employers. There is a tendency for some people to work too hard, to burn out - perhaps to over compensate for not being visible on a daily basis and maybe some, who have been hiding behind others, are suddenly exposed.

Employers want different and instant ways of connecting with and rewarding their remote teams to keep productivity and engagement high and not lose the value of a shared work ethic. Increasingly digitised ways of working are undoubtedly the future and similarly access to ways of incentivising teams will be through readily accessible and easily usable digital platforms.

I believe leaders need to find ways to show they care in order to maintain productivity, focus and engagement of their team. Digital Benefit platforms are increasingly important and we have seen more employers turn to these to better take care of employees to ensure their wellbeing.

Leadership teams are focusing less on the long-term strategy of the company, perhaps less overtly on the financials, instead spending more time connecting with their people to ensure they know and understand what is expected of them. If someone feels isolated, knowing what steps can quickly be taken to re-focus them is vital.

What would you encourage CEOs and Boards to do to maximise engagement from remote workers?

This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge - not just in terms of maintaining employee engagement, but also their overall efficiency. I believe that at this time the leadership team must be more visible and accessible than ever.

It is important to celebrate and encourage a better work/life balance. In the past leaders were understandably focused on the best ways of transacting the company strategy, but now it is more about having the right mindset and the right tools to effectively manage their teams remotely. Being mindful of your people’s needs, not expecting everyone to always be available 24/7, ensuring the team has regular breaks, communicating a shared understanding of the KPIs and ensuring everyone feels supported – in summary, looking after your employees’ wellbeing has never been so important.

As leaders we must take care of ourselves too. It is all too easy to be so concerned about the team that it is easy to forget about yourself. Being a role model to promote wellbeing for the Board and leadership team is essential.

Transparency of feelings and open communication are also vital. At Sodexo, we meet formally and informally, virtually of course, to check in and discuss where we are, how we are feeling about home, about the office, and what might we need. This means any action can be taken promptly and everyone feels they have a voice and are heard. Informal communication is very important – e.g. quizzes, late afternoon drinks in smaller teams promote easier conversations, so if there is a problem we can immediately help.

As a CEO, how have you changed how you run your business over the past 6-9 months?

Socially and economically the world has changed. Previously we worked collaboratively in our office and I knew working remotely would not replace the daily physical interactions. Of course, the general principles stay the same in terms of how employees bring potential to the business, how they can best contribute and how we can all engender trust. But I took the time to do lots of research on remote working and I reviewed our communication strategy straight away adjusting my daily focus from addressing the long term goals to being more agile and nimble – we had to evolve and quickly. We introduced a temporary program , we identified targets over 6 months rather than a year, and with shorter term objectives we can be more agile, reactive and proactive in response to change from the impacts of COVID19.

What changes have you seen in consumer behaviours and their relationship with brands and business?

One million business consumers interact and use our products daily, so we genuinely understand consumer behaviours. It was vital that our platform was totally digital and incredibly user friendly. Consumers now demand short lead times – not 3 days anymore, but immediate. They also want more for their money and want to shop with trusted brands. Demands for our discount platform (engagement of consumers is positive where there are good discounts) is high – people are more focused on their earnings and household budgets.

What advice would you give to other CEOs now that would never have crossed your mind a year ago?

Never underestimate what you and your team can achieve. In 120 hours we moved from being office based to 100% remote working. We embraced the technical, adjusted the infrastructure, aligned our collective mindset, and ensured all our processes were in line. I might never have thought that possible - after years of discussions, in just two months we were 100% digital – this as a result of external pressures to adapt to unforeseen change. We achieved this together and now we know we can achieve anything. It is important to share ambition and to look for the potential in people - the real potential. Taking the time to reflect on what you have achieved is paramount and, of course, never underestimating anyone.

Leadership is a combination of example and inspiration. Has recent experience changed your views on what makes a good manager and if so, what do you need from your senior leadership team now?

Being a positive leader means caring for your team, engaging with them openly, finding different ways of communicating and listening to what they need.  This can mean you have to stretch yourself to demonstrate effective leadership skills - and that isn’t always easy. It is vital that those on the leadership team adapt quickly to new technologies and lead on this efficiently to best communicate with teams in the right way. Building and maintaining trust is essential. Finally, never underestimate the importance of a ‘thank you’ - and meaning it. Many people are understandably concerned about their observable performance; they are worried about their perceived contribution to the success of the business. Employee recognition has never been so vital and recognition platforms drive positive culture and best practice.

Friisberg & Partners International is proud to be a preferred supplier of executive search to Sodexo in the UK.

Over the past six months Friisberg & Partners International has interviewed many candidates remotely.

With coronavirus infections rising again, working from home looks likely to continue for a while longer - and so will online interviews.

Recently Mary Keane and Lorri Lowe, both Partners in Friisberg, spoke about this shift.

They discussed the advice we now offer to candidates:

Mary Keane, Partner Friisberg Czech Republic:

Lorri Lowe, Partner Friisberg UK:

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