Karim Hajjar (CFO Solvay): ‘Setbacks build muscle’ – Companies

Ilham Kadri took over the management of the chemical and materials group Solvay from Jean-Pierre Clamadieu in early 2019. Both CEOs have been supported by CFO Karim Hajjar for the past nine years. “The CFO must have the facts, the conviction and the courage to say what needs to be said.” Karim Hajjar is the second nominee for CFO of the Year.

With more than fifty deals, Jean-Pierre Clamadieu transformed Solvay into a global player in high-tech materials. His successor, Ilham Kadri, guided the company through the pandemic and other crises of early 2019 thanks to a comprehensive focus on cash. Meanwhile, she is working hard to streamline the group, which should result in a split next year. The 59-year-old Briton Karim Hajjar stood with both CEOs on the barricades and is also the undisputed veteran of the executive committee during many years of service. “Even though I have by far the youngest children” ( laughs

Hajjar’s finance department employs 672 people worldwide. “I’m very proud of them,” he says. “Having built such a strong team is what really inspires me, not the numbers. I get feedback that I am a demanding person to work with, which does not mean I am direct. I expect a lot, but also try to lead by example and to care for my people. We also have a culture where it is safe to speak out and have an opinion that others may not agree with. ”

Changed role

Hajjar extends that culture to the Executive Committee. He describes himself as the CEO’s supportive partner in creating value. “The CFO must have the facts, the conviction and the courage to say what needs to be said. I appreciate Ilham for the freedom to challenge each other. It ensures that we make the best decisions.”

Hajjar admits that his role has changed a lot since Kadri’s arrival. “I’m not talking about good or bad. I’m proud to have been able to work with Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, who thought very strategically and perhaps was less operational. Solvay was very decentralized at the time, which means that there was sometimes untouched value on the table If you make more than fifty mergers and acquisitions, you can not continuously optimize them all. Under Ilham, the strategic focus has been maintained, but the focus has evolved from the business units to a tight cost and cash discipline. less afraid that I have to admit that I have really enjoyed the last three years because the approach is closer to my Anglo-Saxon roots. ” Hajjar and Kadri are also in contact at least three times a day. “We can harness the power of our partnership. It is now much more operational and I love it

Hajjar sees the protection of cash flow as one of the major challenges, especially now that inflation is rising. For example, one of the KPIs at Solvay is the strict approach to late payments. “We follow that like a hawk. We do not want to bully the customer, but ask what is going on and offer help.” Another challenge is maintaining investor confidence. “But challenges are part of the new normal. So came with it“Setbacks build muscle,” said Hajjar, who advises CFOs to be themselves all the time. “Have the courage to speak out and believe in yourself without being arrogant. Remain humble and true to your own personal values. The rest will follow. “

With more than fifty deals, Jean-Pierre Clamadieu transformed Solvay into a global player in high-tech materials. His successor, Ilham Kadri, guided the company through the pandemic and other crises of early 2019 thanks to a comprehensive focus on cash. Meanwhile, she is working hard to streamline the group, which should result in a split next year. The 59-year-old Briton Karim Hajjar stood with both CEOs on the barricades and is also the undisputed veteran of the executive committee during many years of service. “Even though I have by far the youngest children” (laughs). Hajjar’s finance department employs 672 people worldwide. “I’m very proud of them,” he says. “Having built such a strong team is what really inspires me, not the numbers. I get feedback that I am a demanding person to work with, which does not mean I am direct. I expect a lot, but also try to lead by example and to care for my people. We also have a culture where it is safe to speak out and have an opinion that others may not agree with. ” Hajjar extends that culture to the Executive Committee, describing himself as the CEO’s supportive partner for creating value. “The CFO must have the facts, the conviction and the courage to say what needs to be said. I appreciate Ilham for the freedom to challenge each other. It ensures that we make the best decisions. “Hajjar admits that his role has changed a lot since Kadri’s arrival.” I’m not talking about good or bad. I am proud to have been able to work with Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, who thought very strategically and perhaps was less operational. Solvay was very decentralized at the time, which means that there was sometimes untouched value on the table. If you make more than fifty mergers and acquisitions, you can not continuously optimize them all. Under Ilham, the strategic focus is maintained, but the focus has from the business units to a tight cost and cash discipline We are less afraid that I must admit that I have really enjoyed the last three years because the approach is closer to my Anglo-Saxon roots. “Hajjar and Kadri are also in contact at least three times a day. “We can harness the power of our partnership. It’s much more operational now, and I love it! “Hajjar sees cash flow protection as one of the major challenges, especially now that inflation is rising. For example, one of Solvay’s KPIs is the tight approach to late payments. “We follow that like a hawk. We do not want to bully the customer, but ask what is going on and offer help. “Another challenge is to maintain investor confidence.” But challenges are part of the new normal. So come on in! Setbacks build muscle, “said Hajjar, who advises CFOs to be themselves all the time.” Have the courage to say your opinion and believe in yourself without being arrogant. Remain humble and true to your own personal values. The rest will follow. ”

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