With over 1,600 employees and more than £385m turnover worldwide (FY17), Nisbets is considered Europe’s largest supplier of catering equipment. When headhunter Guy Beresford, a former Korn Ferry Partner and founder of Independent Search Partners, decided to post the Nisbets CEO role on Nurole, we knew that it would take someone exceptional to impress him. The Nurole platform generated a range of outstanding candidates but none more so than Klaus Goeldenbot, former president of RS Components.
What is the best professional advice anyone gave you?When I first met Reinhold Wuerth, founder of the Wuerth Group (a c.€12bn revenue, family owned business headquartered about 8 miles from my home), he gave me some advice which has stayed with me ever since. “if you want to build a successful business, treat everyone the same. As CEO I don’t feel any more important than anyone else - not the toilet cleaner or the pick and packer.” So I passed up job opportunities in Paris, despite being desperate to explore the world, and spent the first decade of my career learning from Reinhold, a truly inspirational leader.
Do you have advice for anyone looking for their first NED role?
Networking, networking, networking. I must have spent 2-3 months just talking to people - not just headhunters, but current CEOs, former CEOs, chairs, connections on Linkedin, people I had worked with and anyone I could easily call to get a 360 degree view of what people felt I could bring to the role and what challenges I would face. The consistent advice I got was to keep on networking: not only do you build a network you can rely on but you learn so much. When you think there is nobody left keep going because there are always more people you can talk to than you think.
Advice for anyone preparing for their first CEO interview?
Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be anyone else.
What advice can you give to those who have been rejected for roles?
Don’t give up. I was the internal candidate for the CEO role at Electrocomponents PLC and I really built up my hopes - only to suffer massive disappointment. After getting over that (and it took a couple of months if I’m honest!), I realised it was a good thing in the long term. Up to that point I had always been approached to move into the next role and had never had to fight. It made me think more about what I wanted to do and forced me to better understand who I am, what I can bring to a business, and what my “own brand” stands for. It’s often said but you really do learn as much - or more - from failure as you do from success.
What do you think is the key to being a good CEO?
Being able to relate to and communicate with people. In my new role I’ve already picked and packed in the warehouse, been in the contact centre, met with suppliers and I’m doing a sales pitch to customers today. It’s important that everyone sees me as approachable and a key part of this is listening rather than jumping to conclusions. Most importantly, make sure you have great people.
How do you know whether to keep someone on the bus if they are borderline?
I create clear objectives and see how they progress. How much help do they need, do they take responsibility to deliver tasks and objectives, how do they work and interact with the rest of the organisation? I see my role as providing vision and direction but also to help. A leader’s responsibility is to help, help, help - but if after three times helping it still doesn’t work, you have the wrong person. If they still aren’t up to speed after that time, they probably don’t have the skills or attitude. Your instinct tells you if someone is not right - sometimes you think “give them a chance” but my experience has shown me that 99% of the time this doesn’t help and it’s usually fairer to make the cut sooner.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about whether they should take on a CEO role?
Be clear why you want to do it. Until you are the CEO, it’s hard to know how much you benefit from having people above you but a good indicator is whether you are someone who thrives with responsibility or someone who sees it as a burden. And if you can find a role which overlaps with your passions it’s a massive bonus - I see that in my new role as I love food and cooking.
What is your most effective method for assessing prospective new hires?
Assuming technical skills are a given, my key focus at interview is to check for for cultural fit. I ask questions and push people to give examples to understand how they acted and reacted in different situations. If they give formulaic responses, which lots of people do, I push further to see how they express themselves (do they have a sparkle in their eyes, are they calm…).
When have you got it most wrong professionally and what did you learn?
Earlier in my career I objected to the strategic direction a business I was involved with took - we started rolling out a program globally that had worked well in a single region without thoroughly testing it with international clients. After initially objecting, I kept quiet because I didn’t want people to think I was being difficult. If I had the chance to do it again, I would be much more vocal and go to more senior stakeholders and have more of a go at changing it.
When history looks back on the next 20 years, what do you predict will define the period?
Technology evolution and digitalisation will dominate and if you really understand data and can turn it into insight you will be a winner. However, I still think (or hope!) that there is room for human interaction and creating a great customer experience from it. The moment you see a trend, you know already there is a counter trend around the corner (e.g. when everyone started centralising, you knew it wouldn’t be long before the fashion switched to decentralising). That’s why I believe that, despite the rise of technology and digitalisation, there will continue to be a need for a great customer experience delivered through a human touch.
Your Nurole Experience
How did you hear about Nurole?
Through the founder Susie Cummings when she was just launching the platform. I think I was one of the first members to sign up.
What made you sign up?
I met Susie at a lunch and at the time was considering taking on a NED role. She told me to register so I did!
How have you found the experience as a member?
Very positive. It’s straightforward - you look at roles and decide whether you are suitable. I strongly advise people who ask me for advice to join the platform. Many senior executives are shocked when they first hear about the concept because they are used to the traditional experience and instinctively don’t like the idea of applying for a role online. Until you experience it, you will not know what it is but I can tell you it’s much more efficient!
What advice would you have for other members applying through the platform?
It’s tough. In the traditional process, you get to meet face to face. On paper, it’s hard to get your passion across so you have to really think hard about how you articulate yourself but the advantage is that you don’t just have one opportunity to get it right - I rewrote my application four or five times! Initially it was too long. I could have written 1,000 words but being restricted is a great way to focus you on what matters. It was also great preparation for the interview. My advice is to invest some time in it - once you press the send button it’s gone and out of your control!
How would you explain what Nurole does in one sentence to someone who doesn’t know it?
It brings people looking for a job and people recruiting together using a very straightforward online platform.
About You - 10 Question Quick Fire
3 words the person who has worked most with you would use to characterise you?
Fair, a people and customer person, passionate.
Das Glasperlenspiel, Hermann Hesse
I can’t answer that or all my customers will be upset but if I could only eat one meal again it would be Maultaschen (German Ravioli) cooked by my grandmother.
Spending time with my husband and our chocolate labrador.
Best life hack?
Always keep your keys in the same place.
Professional achievement of which you are most proud?
Prior to becoming CEO of Nisbets, it was the sustainable sales and profit growth I delivered for RS components in Europe.
Role model / mentor?
The person who had the single biggest impact was Reinhold Wuerth in my first job.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
Normally wake at 6am and have 7 hours sleep.
Best idea for a £10,000 investment?
If Nisbets had publicly traded shares, I would say invest. The sector is full of opportunity. Depending on how you define return on investment, there is a strong argument for investing in your passions. I love spending time with my other half and family and I love hiking and skiing - so perhaps a little hut in the mountains. I also love anything to do with dance - in the beginning of my career I was a talk show host and have even written books!
Klaus knew he was an especially great fit for this role, not only because of his relevant experience, but because of his passion for food. This little bit of magic combined with the multiplier effect of scale, quality and our unique, candidate-led platform gave Nisbets not only an amazing choice of candidates but also delivered to them the surprisingly perfect person.