We spoke with Neil Greco, one of our Partners in the U.S., to ask about his upcoming Thanksgiving holiday plans…

I had the good fortune of attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a child and to this day still flash back to those memorable moments.

On Thanksgiving morning we still have the parade on the TV, but I have to admit, it’s more on in the background and we glance at it from time to time. It’s not as prominent as it used to be, but still present. Same is true for the football game - it's on in the background.

I think in these days, we find time is precious, so parking ourselves in front of the TV for a day doesn’t fit our lifestyle.

How do you usually spend Thanksgiving?

We have scaled back in recent years - perhaps because of COVID, but also because as our children get a little older we tend to spend time with them. It used to be a big extended family gathering, but less so in recent years.

We like to find a family in our community that is less fortunate than we are and bring them dinner for their family.

We spend the balance of the day in our kitchen - turkey is optional, but good food is a must.

What’s your favourite (or most unusual) Thanksgiving tradition?

Breakfast. We start with something fresh baked - it makes the house smell good and sets the tone for the day. My wife makes killer cinnamon rolls!

But not all Thanksgiving traditions are quite so mainstream...

For example, in 1947, the tradition known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation was founded under the Truman administration.  Ronald Reagan was actually the first present to formally "pardon" one of the turkeys given to him whereas Truman, Eisenhower, and several other presidents actually ate the turkeys presented to them! It wasn't until 1988, that George H.W. Bush instituted the turkey pardon as a national tradition while he was in office.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year? 

Ironically yes - it was a good year. I spent an inordinate amount of time with our kids which was great, but also a challenge. Think back about home schooling, juggling Zoom calls between two working parents, masks, InstaCart and home food delivery...it was a mess for a while, but all-in-all, it’s hard to complain. We were fortunate to have been able to stitch things together.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022? 

Health. As long as we’re all healthy, we can make anything work.

Neil Greco
Partner, Boston MA

Climate Change is our Global Responsibility

Last week, global leaders met in Glasgow, Scotland to discuss action required to curtail climate change (COP26).

Many have differing views on the effectiveness of UN directives how best to combat climate change – from carbon sequestration to energy efficiency measures to the accelerated growth of renewable energy sources and an increasing interest in EVs.

This is not a new phenomenon.

In 1992, the United Nations established their Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Largely driven by Green House Gas (GHG) emission of industrialized nations, this initiative was reinforced by the Accord de Paris in 2015 (COP21). For years, coal fired (electric) generation has been the culprit followed closely by the refinement of oil and the harvesting of natural gas. Certainly, the mining and automotive industries have their fair share as well. Then of course there’s...the cows!

In 2019, investment heavyweight Goldman-Sachs made a statement by pledging $750B US for investment in sustainable finance. This not only increased visibility for “sustainability”, but it also accelerated the need to attract talented individuals to lead this charge – whether a Chief Sustainability Officer for a global industrial or a Chief Executive Officer for an early-stage disruptive technology provider or a Chief Technology Officer needed to spearhead a new automotive platform that (over time) will completely pivot an industry – leadership is required.

As a firm we have been working in this space on a global basis.

While many believe Green House Gas is the focal point, our experience suggests emission curtailment comes in many ways and extends well beyond (direct) carbon management.

For over a decade, we have been working on both sides of the emissions challenge – along-side of major industrials and Utilities helping them recruit “corporate sustainability” executives to navigate new business models and sustainability measures:

For those organizations responsible for ensuring there is power, we have been working to implement new ways of doing business – from carbon capture to modifying their generation fleets.

On the other side of the equation, we have been actively recruiting for companies delivering “new” forms of energy technology – from digital energy networks to solar and wind to battery energy storage to electric vehicle infrastructure – some of which has been instrumental in electrifying parts of the world where electricity is a luxury.

One thing remains constant, as industry continues to pivot and address climate change, organizations need a fresh perspective: new leadership. Whether evaluating supply chains to ensure they are “climate conscious” or attracting expertise from adjacent industries to propel advancements in technology, we have been at the forefront of this change. Why does this matter?

Now that Sustainability as come of age, the competition for leadership has accelerated.

The difficulty in attracting A-Players to your business has increased exponentially. Knowing where to look and how to recruit talent has become increasingly important.

This is where we thrive.

Leveraging years of experience, understanding the industry shift and being able to not only attract - but also assess- top talent is a key differentiator for Friisberg & Partners.

Neil Greco
Partner, Boston MA

We spoke with Paulina Romaniszyn, General Manager at Stada Poland.

The role of medical consultants is evolving, and many organizations focus on and develop digital methods of reaching doctors and patients. How will the role of field workers change in the coming years?  Is F2F contact still important and necessary?

I joined Stada at the most difficult moment – during the pandemic. The organization was not growing and my goal was to achieve growth. We needed to appreciate that the market was changing in terms of therapeutic areas that are growing and those that aren't. Also, we needed to increase the role of pharmacies and the evolving competences of representatives and managers to determine our approach to promotion which was strongly focused on solution.

We also redefined the approach to market segmentation and who expected what. Importantly, the organization and our people had to change. When I joined the firm, I initiated a mental shift among employees towards, “I would like to develop myself and grow with our organization and proactively change to generate double digit growth.”

Stada specialises in pain management, prescription medications as well as OTCs and supplements. Due to the pandemic and changing demographic, there are more and more young doctors, and this forced us to revise our strategy. We also started to revisit our specialists. We were so determined and motivated that the business started to grow. Even now, after the pandemic, the team wants to be in the field where possible. Also, the beginning of this year marked a launch of the program aimed at re-establishing relations with our clients – we started to organise F2F meetings with them.

Following the acquisition of Wallmark, Stada now reaches the consumer through Amazon, online pharmacies, e-commerce, conferences, webinars and in the mass market through advertising and direct communication with the patient.

Coming back to the topic, we shouldn’t generalize and say that the world is only digital now and you do not have to visit doctors F2F -  in my opinion the middle ground is the best solution. The key to this is the product that is sold and the segmentation of doctors into those who want visits and those who do not. A lot depends on the therapeutic area and the age of the patients. In the specialist field, without f2f meetings, we will not be as recognisable as we would like.

Both pharmacy and chain markets grow and the role of the chain sector increases. Certainly, professionals connect digitally, but representatives still visit their partners. It's a myth that there are no direct visits.

Do the communication expectations shift along with the generational change in the medical community? What trends do you currently notice and which are you happy about?

The generational change is very beneficial for the community. It encourages young doctors to learn, to develop. They are focused on cooperation, through applications and webinars. They are patient- and new technology-oriented much more than the older doctors, who mostly see value in direct visits. Young people are “in the same team” as pharmaceutical company. They are a generation that wants to learn medicine -  they are not only guided by routine.

To meet this need, we have built the Stada med portal. Through webinars we share knowledge about new aspects of pain treatment. Stada.med creates a space where doctors discuss patients and their needs. Young doctors are eager to learn how to help the patient and go off the beaten track.

My observation is that this is also happening in the pharmacists' community where they are closer to the patient. Mass market, on the other hand, is guided by acting on the emotions of the consumer through advertising, based on certain atavisms of people and their reflexes.

How will the patient benefit from digital communication?

The patient has already gained and will gain even more. We have two groups of patients:

How can advisory partners such as Friisberg help and what, in your opinion, should be their role in supporting the digital transformation?

I can see two areas here. The first one is the marketing, market research, patient / consumer research. How do patients feel about the digital age? Is it a good direction, is it helping or bothering them? What is good, what is irritating? Those partners can substantively contribute to this discussion.

The second is, of course, recruitment. During the process to focus on the analysis of the "digital" generation of candidates - the world is changing. We have a variety of people in the organization and we try to choose those who are open to new technologies and are eager to learn. If we want to keep up with trends and work in a pharmaceutical company, we have to learn all the time. The second thing is reliable feedback and making the candidates aware of their shortcomings in order to help them develop. Even though it is often difficult information, it is worth building candidate experience in this way.

Lukasz Dominiak

"Intelligent decision-making entails knowing what tool to use for what problem." 

Gerd Gigerenzer

There is no such thing as the best decision-making strategy or approach that can be used in every situation.
Every decision-making strategy needs to be adapted to the environment in which it is used.

So, what to do?

Context matters.

First of all, we should identify what kind of environment we are in. If we know all the possible alternatives, their probabilities and possible consequences, we are in the world of risk and can determine the optimal strategy.

If individual components are unknown, we are in the world of uncertainty (i.e., 90% of the time). Calculating the best strategy is impossible. We must find individual solutions to the problem.

In doing so, let us be guided by this trinity of steps to take in uncertain situations:

Making good decisions, knowing what the future holds:

Making good decisions, not knowing what the future holds:

Structures and processes to consciously deal with uncertainty:

Innovation requires a constructive risk-taking culture:

Marvin Siebert
Partner, Germany

In CEE, leaders tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

With so many diversity and inclusion activities underway it is easy to assume that progress is being made. Then why are there so few women in executive positions?

The new McKinsey report “Win-win: How empowering women can benefit Central and Eastern Europe” examines the potential benefits of greater gender equality for businesses and society, identifies barriers to progress, and suggests actions that could unlock as much as €146 billion in annual GDP by 2030—an 8 % increase over a business-as-usual scenario.

In the seven CEE countries analysed (Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine):

To find out why there are so few women in executive positions in CEE, the survey of approximately 3,000 employees in the region uncovered the following insights:

Ambition is not a challenge: Women are as ambitious as men, but they perceive more barriers to promotion. Men and women showed almost the same level of interest in getting promoted (57 % of women versus 56 % of men). However, 28 % of women said that their gender made it harder for them to secure a raise or a promotion.

Women blame themselves; men blame others: Women who thought they were unlikely to make it to the top said that it was because they lacked the necessary skills (43 %) or the right leadership style (38 %), or that promotions to top executive positions were not based on merit (33 %). A far smaller proportion of men said that they lacked the necessary skills for the job (8 % less than for women), and a much larger share said that it was because promotions were not based on merit (10 % more than for women). In other words, women are more likely to blame their own shortcomings for their failure to become executives, while men are more likely to blame the shortcomings of their company.

Unpaid work is a major barrier: Nearly 40% women provide daily unpaid care work (looking after children, the elderly, or people with disabilities). This is twice as many as men. Essentially, female employees are still working a “double shift”.

The COVID-19 crisis has created additional burdens on women: The increased burden has fallen disproportionately on women. 54% of women with children under the age of ten said the pandemic has made them more likely to consider scaling back on their paid work, compared to only 25 % of men.

Correcting this imbalance would tremendously benefit not only women in their careers and personal lives, it could have a potentially transformative effect on the economies of CEE.

Despite abundant evidence that gender equality in leadership is good for business, for an overwhelming majority of organizations advancing women into leadership roles is not a formal business priority.

One of the major and most complex challenges is to shift the underlying cultural factors. The McKinsey research highlights the need of the leaders of companies and public institutions to be visibly engaged in efforts to reduce the gender imbalance, rather than delegating this work to Diversity Officers.

But including men (holding 98% of CEO positions in CEE) in diversity efforts is not as simple as inviting them to a gender-equity event. Worldwide data from BCG shows that 96 % of companies with men actively involved in gender diversity initiatives report progress at all levels, compared to only 30 % of companies without men engaged. It seems intuitive that involving men would lead to greater results. Yet part of the challenge of getting men to join the efforts, according to BCG data, is that they tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

To remove the barriers that hold women back at work, we have to acknowledge that the barriers exist. We need to realise that gender equality is not a “women  issue”, it is a “leadership issue”.

The last thing that women need is men “rescuing” them or assuming the role of the workplace knight in shining armor.

Because men are in so many leadership roles, they have an enormous opportunity to accelerate progress. Men's voices are critical because of, not in spite of, their gender. When men speak up against gender disparities, they not only become visible as allies, they also raise awareness and acceptance about gender inequity as a shared problem, not a special interest.


German coalition clears the way for women's quota and family time off for board members.

In the future, board members with four or more members will have to have at least one woman.

In addition, in certain life situations, such as maternity leave, parental leave, caring for family members, etc., members of the Board of Management can take liability-free time off.

In order for this strong signal for more equality and for a cultural change in Germany to be implemented quickly, the law has to be passed by the Bundestag before the summer break.

I look forward to when companies discover that more diversity is not a chore, but an essential key to growth!

Meltem Ay, Principal

How do you maintain culture, loyalty, and relationships when communication takes place primarily at a distance and via online meetings – and often with fluctuating technical quality?

Several of our clients have embarked on completely new managerial challenges which require them to find new and innovative ways of creating, and maintaining, a dynamic and motivating workplace.

In the world after Corona, the pressure on management is rising.

While we are slowly returning to a world that resembles what we knew before Corona, it has become clear to many that it will never be quite the same in terms of ”going to work".

Many of our clients have recognized that the virtual workplace has come to stay. Covid-19 has driven a development leading to major and radical changes in the way we will function in a workplace of the future.

It is the management that is responsible for the strategy and therefore the consequences of their decisions. Management must show the way while also acknowledging that many employees now prefer working from home and enjoy being able to plan their time independently.

It has also become harder to motivate employees to meet physically in the workplace and feel part of a physical work environment.

Some challenges our clients face:

In all the above situations, I must conclude that management has simply not been in close enough contact with the employees. At this time HR departments and management have had to be proactive to ensure that all employees are satisfied and motivated.

Three inspiring solutions where management has been creative and dared to explore new avenues:

  1. A large financial company held social events which were only available to those who have been physically at work.
  2. A larger real estate company delegated to middle managers that they, together with their employees, could decide who and how often employees worked from home
  3. A production company chose to offer 3 optional models regarding how often the employees worked from home and how often they were physically present in the workplace. Employees were allowed to decide for themselves which model they found optimal to enhance their Work-Life-Balance.

Which management skills are in demand?

Corona has forced us to think of other and increasingly digital ways of working. Experts estimate that by 2023, 2/3 of the world's economy will be digital – this is a development that puts future leadership roles under huge pressure.

We have noticed that our clients have started to demand more of these 5 personal competencies:

  1. Innovative leaders who are able to lead others without being physically present
  2. Communicative leaders who can retain a strong personal dialogue
  3. Empathetic leaders with a focus on high employee satisfaction
  4. Enterprising leaders who can go new ways
  5. Leaders who are willing to take risks and can make innovative and proactive decisions.

These observations alone cannot answer my initial question, but maybe they will prompt you to think outside the box in managing your post-Covid business.

Susanne Becker Mikkelsen
Partner Denmark     

The most effective way to grow is to hire diverse executive talent.

Is it better to hire someone who’s a good match for your culture, or someone who can make it better?

Smart organizations are paying lots of attention to their culture, and for a good reason. There is a lot of evidence that  organizational culture is a top driver of employee engagement. But due to human nature, hiring managers are often unintentionally biased and work with a definition culture fit - favouring candidates who would fit in well with the current team based on personal attributes. Feelings of “we can have a beer after work” may play important part in the selection process.

But as more companies strive for diversity and inclusion, the term “culture fit” is falling out of favour.

In contrast to the culture fit mindset and seeking to hire more of what is already working well, "culture add” focuses on gaining what the current culture lacks - it looks for people who value an existing culture, but also bring something different that positively contributes to the company.

Assessing for culture fit works well in small businesses but leads to homogeneous culture and at some point, the company needs people who experienced larger and more complicated systems and team members who look at the same problems in a different light - and with different ways of thinking emerge different interests and personalities.

With that of course comes more discomfort - but in the same way that exercise without discomfort does not lead to growth, a team without cognitive discomfort limits its own potential.

Diversity in viewpoints and ability to take different perspectives allows to debate different strategies and come to better outcomes. It is well documented that:

The most effective way to grow is to hire diverse executive talent.

Adding people with same ideas and approaches can create an environment where everyone thinks and acts in the same way.

Diverse teams may at first feel less comfortable, but that is why they perform better.

Andrea Chladkova, Partner
Mary Keane, Partner
Czech Republic

We spoke with Agata Jach, Group HR Director, who joined InPost in March 2021.

InPost is the largest logistics company in Poland operating in the e-commerce industry, offering courier services and deliveries via the nationwide network of Parcel Lockers. The company plans to become the leading European provider of automated 'out-of-home' e-commerce solutions and counts on significant growth opportunities, both in Poland and in key European markets, where recognition of parcel machines is growing rapidly as the e-commerce market grows significantly. InPost’s debut on Euronext has opened up the next phase of its international development, especially in Great Britain and Italy, and it is also considering expansion in France and Spain.

What makes a passionate HR leader with 18 years of experience in strategic and operational management in global corporation such as Sanofi or AXA join a Polish, privately owned company?

“Honestly, the fact that it was Polish, privately owned with a strong footprint of Private Equity was the biggest hook. After years of being a part of global organisations, mainly involved in reorganisations, optimisations, cost cutting run with accordance to some highest targets, and big not totally revealed plans, I really wanted to try something different. I wanted to be part of something I can truly co-create with my business partners.”

What do you like the most about InPost?

“Its corporate culture(!) -its speed, decisiveness, innovative approach, and its openness to learn and adjust according to the market changes. With this kind of approach the sky is the limit. The company plans international expansion and wants to become a significant international player, InPost is one of the fastest growing companies in Europe! It is great to be part of it."

Such a fast growth, development must create certain challenges for HR, am I right?

“Oh, yes! Bearing in mind the speed of the changes and need to adapt we have to work constantly on developing our competencies in terms of, for example, change management or leadership but also in terms of our knowledge, technical solutions and tools which are rapidly developing. We have got to be more tech and data savvy, use modern technology, and make decision basing on data analysis. We all, like many other companies these days, have to learn how to improve our action from quality, accuracy but also from a speed point of view. Thinking about international expansion we need to ensure we are a competitive and attractive employer.”

How about the planned expansion - what would be the main driver of it?

“E-commerce is growing, and that is good news for us. We want to grow in the market where e-commerce is well-developed. We still are not sure what the final governance framework for scaling-up our business might look like as we are still working on the details, however we know that well planned internal succession and access to external talent will be a strategic driver in HR. On one hand developing our skills, knowledge sharing, increasing our competencies thus building our potential internally, on the other we have to focus on top talent from outside and so Employer Branding will be extremally important. Fortunately a very important dimension of our business is a sustainability and we do limit our carbon footprint as we have parcel lockers which limits the “last mile”. We genuinely care about ecology and our planet. So, as you can see there are a lot of things which need to be taken care of.”

We would like to thank Agata for a very interesting conversation, and we wish you good luck in your new role.

Dorota Serwińska, Partner

Why would any business engage an Executive Search firm?

Surely there is plenty of information just waiting to be looked up on the internet? Finding the ideal person for a senior appointment should simply be a matter of entering the right keywords into Google and then calling them - shouldn’t it?

The internet has disrupted many things, and done so with such rapidity and to such an extent, that it is only reasonable to ask why Executive Search seems to have been immune. In truth, it hasn’t. If anything, it has changed more fundamentally in the last ten years - and beyond all recognition over the last 25 - than any of the other professional services.

In the 1990s, before the internet (yes, I was in Search then) clients delighted at the detailed sector analysis, market intelligence and candidate profiles that the Researchers of Executive Search firms collated in the initial stages of every Search. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of their world would be compiled as part of our work and land with a thud on the desks of clients eager to know more about their competitors, to be pored over and marvelled at. However, it was the discussions with the Search Consultant that defined the direction of the Search, to focus on those who would be the best fit and bring the greatest experience to the client’s boardroom. Numerous discrete telephone calls, several confidential discussions and often some considerable time later the Search Consultant would recommend a shortlist of just a handful of candidates to the client, and submit reports highlighting issues to cover at interview.

But now, all that data, all those profiles, all that market intelligence, all analysed in every possible way on a plethora of webpages is all free. Accept a few cookies onto your PC and you will know in mere seconds what any diligent Researcher at a reputable Search firm would have previously taken weeks to garner from telephone calls, professional journals, newspaper articles, public records, trade publications, conference papers and confidential references. So, why have Executive Search firms not just winked out of existence? How do they justify their fees, which are just as much as they ever were?

Here's why:

A database cannot ask penetrating questions of a client, cannot challenge misplaced assumptions, nor can it help inform and shape the precise requirements of a client’s need. Later in the process, it cannot make a compelling case to a potential candidate. An algorithm cannot listen carefully and note the nuanced responses, inner hopes and career aspirations of those approached. It certainly could not confidentially and professionally consider and advise on whether there is likely to be a meeting of minds between a candidate and a client. It would be very unlikely to suggest innovative and ‘different’ options. Because, people are not just keywords and data points.

It is noteworthy that consulting-led Search firms are in rising demand, despite all that free access to online data. Interestingly, the stereotypical ‘Headhunters’ with their ‘little black book’ of names and numbers of ‘contacts’ in any given marketplace are noticeably on the wane.

The value of an Executive Search firm is no longer simply ‘who we know’ in our network, but in ‘how we work’ as trusted advisors.

Andrew Guy
Partner, UK

test map
© 2023 – 2024 J. Friisberg International S.A. – All Rights Reserved.