Getting to the Top in a Global Business

Following our latest Next Generation CFO event with Jos van der Burg, CFO of HEINEKEN, Billy McCarthy shares insight into Jos’ career journey and advice on getting to the top.

During our most recent Next Generation CFO event, Jos van der Burg shared his own approach to developing his career, and what he has learned along the way.

Jos’ career with Heineken has spanned an impressive 26 years. Joining the business as Financial Controller, Jos developed his skills and capabilities through stints as Finance Director of Heineken operations across Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia, before moving to Scotland to become Finance Director of Heineken UK in 2012.

Take Total Ownership of Your Career and Be Prepared to take Risks

Jos has committed fully to his own development, taking the view that you must take ownership of your own career and be open to all opportunities in order to gain the roles you aspire to. Flexibility in your approach and an open mind are essential.  Jos is and has always been prepared to take risks, step into the unknown, and accept daunting challenges. You must be someone who people feel can solve problems, bringing a different perspective. He believes this to be key to developing his problem solving abilities – a crucial skill when operating at a senior level.  Each step of your career should add something new to your capabilities.

Consider Relocation

To develop his career in Heineken, Jos has always been willing to accept new challenges, which has quite often involved relocating both himself and his family. Jos talked about the different cultures he has experienced which at times was daunting, but the commonality he found was that there are great people everywhere, and taking this global approach has afforded his family fantastic experiences and the opportunities to make friends all over the world. Integrating into new cultures has been extremely enriching, and the personal development they have experienced has been far more valuable than career successes alone.

Face Your Challenges

The biggest challenges Jos has faced in his career have not always been finance related. Political challenges can be much tougher to overcome, requiring a very different approach. Jos advises being smart, pragmatic, and in control at all times. There is a distinct difference between peoples ‘positions’ and ‘interests’, and understanding that difference is crucial. In political situations within business, people often take positions that don’t necessarily reflect their interests.  Understanding this, and finding a way forward that helps to meet their interests is crucial to success in business.

Jos has also experienced the cultural challenges of working in different locations around the globe.  Whilst the business challenge will remain the same, the cultural sensitivities will change and you must be sensitive to that if you wish to work successfully within a global business.

The Role of the ‘Modern CFO’

The modern CFO is involved in all aspects of running a business, with nothing falling outside of their remit. Previously, the CFO was the person with access to the numbers, guaranteeing their seat at the table.  Now everyone has access to MI, so a successful CFO must add value operationally and strategically.

It is important for the CFO to drive a business agenda, underpinned by clear execution. Jos is a firm believer in blue line management, having a vision that supports the long-term health and well-being of the organisation where value creation is the corporate objective.

Some of Jos’ most significant learnings in his career have been that; you don’t always get what you ask for from people, and that you have to be able to let things go. Past experiences can be the biggest obstacle going forward.

To achieve success, Jos advises flexibility and creativity rather than replicating an approach you’ve used before. Nine out of ten times it won’t work in the same way again. He also advocates the importance of focussing on the development needs of your team, preferring to develop an individual’s strengths rather than training people to overcome their weaknesses.

To find out more about our Next Generation CFO programme, or to discuss your recruitment needs, contact [email protected].