That´s what makes the Group culture grow stronger, states Smollan´s CFO, Jeanette Hern. The very same principles she found in SelPlus and Seldata way of working.
When, how and why did you join ASL/Smollan?
I’ve been with Smollan only for eighteen months now. It’s actually a relatively short time, but I was connected to the Group for twenty years before that because I was the auditor. Now my role at Smollan is CFO in the finance team. What happened was I worked at a company called Grant Thornton and we were the auditor to Smollan.
I worked with them and I then moved out of it into M&A [mergers and acquisitions] and corporate finance but I still had a connection with the Smollan Group. David Smollan (the CEO) and I had a very good working relationship and as he started expanding the business globally, he wanted to increase the global team. About five years ago, he asked me to join them and at that time I wasn’t ready to, but in March last year I joined the Group and I haven’t looked back since. It’s been a very good eighteen months!
Based on your experience, what can you tell us about the Group values, culture, goals?
I think it’s just about the people, the culture and making a difference. Everything we do is about how we can improve things for our clients and through [that] what we can do for our people, the people that work for us. Then, it’s about the community as well. We do a lot of work in the community to make sure we actually touch all three and not just the clients and the staff. So, there is a very strong culture.
Historically, Smollan it´s a eighty-five years old family owned business. It’s very much looking after the people and doing what is right and always trying to do make a difference, a difference for the clients and for the staff. If you can do that, you will have a very engaged workforce.
In South Africa we employ twenty-four thousand people, so it’s also about making a difference. A lot of those people are at a level where they otherwise wouldn’t have employment because they are not educated. Most of those people are merchandisers and it´s very fulfilling to be able to touch the lives of all those families and bring in people straight from school, which is great because a lot of businesses nowadays don’t do that.
In your opinion, what will be Seldata´ and SelPlus´ major contribution to the ASL strategic development and growth?
I think the important thing is the footprint in Europe and to be able to say to our global clients like Unilever and Diageo that we are now a global company.
A very important part of that is the Iberian region which Portugal is a key part of. Then it’s the innovation that comes with it: I think things that are done in SelPlus and Seldata are leading edge and they have got a different way of focusing on problems and I think we have to take some of that and then use it elsewhere. It’s to take little pockets of excellence, you know, we all do different things elsewhere in the world but you bring all together and you make the best of it.
How do you foresee ASL business development across Europe within the next five years?
I think there are a lot of opportunities because the global clients want to work with people that they can work with in all the different countries. They don’t want to have a different provider in one country and another in different country. If we can actually give them a solution that looks and feels the same in the different countries, it’s going to be a huge opportunity. I’m South African so I don’t know Europe very well, but I think Europe is not one country: there are different languages and cultures and everything is different, so I think it’s not as simple as saying we are going to be one European business, but because we are bringing in entrepreneurial businesses it will be easier. You are working with like-minded people and a team and I think that is why it will work.
May the Portuguese team have your advice about how to succeed in business according to the ASL principles?
I think the important thing as you grow is repeatability. You need to be able to have processes, proper processes, and they have to work. There must be some sort of repeatability in everything that we do because that way you will get the control that you need. But we also need to be able to be flexible because the world is changing quickly and so, we constantly need to update what we are doing and change the things that we are doing to make sure that we are world leaders.
It’s important to be flexible, but if you want to be successful you must love what you’re doing and if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful. You need to be honest, you need to give honest advice if you have people working for you that aren’t doing their job, you need to tell them. A lot of us would do the job for them, I think you need to give proper feedback. People are the centre and no matter where you are, whether the finance team or the HR team or the IT team, it’s the people that are doing the work.
Can you describe the Portuguese companies’ “way of working” in just a brief sentence?
I’m not sure I’ve had enough time to be able to do that. I like the energy and the creativity. Look at the formulas on the wall and the formula for success and the way that things are changed every year. I think that shows innovation and it’s what we need in the world today: innovation and creativity.
Is it more or less the same way you would describe Smollan?
It is. I think the Smollan business is probably a bigger business and more complicated. I mean, the bigger the team you have, the more difficult it is to bring people together, so we then have to bring smaller teams together. But the culture is the same, which is what attracted Smollan to the business and from the very beginning we said that it would work because the cultures are the same.