Wired for change
It’s always fascinating to follow the careers of high achieving candidates – not to mention former colleagues. HEADWAY caught up with former AHEAD consultant Aleksandra Ljubinkovic, after her diverse international experiences at INSEAD, Mars, Dell and in banking. Swedish born and an engineer by training, Aleks spent her early years in the Swedish industrial company ESAB before joining AHEAD. Dublin-based now, she is currently Head of Revenue Development at Google…

head_w10_1At the moment, the closest I can describe my role is like an internal consultant - some strategy, planning, finance and other operational responsibilities. It’s a very fluid role, and each week, month, quarter feels like a completely new position as I move between teams and projects to execute and drive the business forward in some way. 

So when you hire people into your own team, what attributes are you particularly looking for?
Drive, energy, passion, real results. I always look at what a person has actually delivered - a CV which shows details here stands out. Plus creativity: how they came up with creative solutions, and how they managed to implement them. And leadership: be that the ability to lead a project or the ability to lead people. Generally I look for candidates who have the ability to present an idea then bring others along to execute this idea.

‘Working for AHEAD  was priceless learning.’

It’s over ten years since you were an AHEAD consultant. How useful was this stint career-wise?
I think that everyone should really spend at least a year of their life working in recruitment. Apart from learning interviewing skills, one learns the real art of hiring good candidates, which I think is crucial as one moves into more senior roles in any organisation, as the ability to hire the right people for the right position will make a real difference in driving the business and delivering business results.

Overall, I would say that working for AHEAD was priceless learning which I have used in so many ways throughout my career so far and I am sure I will continue to use as long as I am active working.

During your time at AHEAD you were on a path to INSEAD. What impact did it have on you and your development?
INSEAD was a real high point in my life in general. There are many excellent business schools, but INSEAD has a special edge to it. Students come from every corner of the world which creates a really interesting melting pot of experiences globally, and this is invaluable experience today when companies operate across countries and cultures. INSEAD also has slightly older students, better equipped to jump into more senior or broader roles as they graduate as the learning curve is quicker from theory to application. Having an INSEAD MBA opens doors and the alumni are powerful. We INSEAD-ians always find each other and there is quickly mutual respect and cooperation.

Your time in banking must have been pretty full-on... especially in senior roles in strategy and e-commerce.
When I came into banking it was almost at the peak of the cycle, so everything was fun and rosy and there seemed to be a never ending surplus of cash. Yet what hit me first was the slow speed of banking. Having worked for a tech company like Dell I was used to a very fast paced environment, where a quarter was like a year in terms of speed anywhere else. In general banking is a pretty conservative industry which changes very slowly, which is also probably part of the reason why all the banking troubles have been such a big shock to bankers in general; they’re just not prepared to handle and deal with big changes facing them. One of my last missions was to move the online business in the Australian bank forward - a real tough mission in this conservative environment. But, in the space of 3 months, I had secured millions of dollars of investment to build up the online channel and had a new, but experienced online team in place to deliver. At this point however everything changed as the banking crisis hit full on.

The peak of the banking crisis and its fallout, was probably the most change I have ever seen in my life in such a short period, and the trauma that it caused colleagues around me was quite an experience to see as well. I don’t know if I am just wired differently for change, but I was probably the least impacted. I never felt stressed out but figured that sooner or later once the boat stops rolling it will all be fine and something new will come out of this. 

As a bystander now, do you think the banking sector has changed at all since the financial crisis?
My personal opinion is that nothing has really changed in banking - the same people who caused the problem in the first place are still around, and they are not the kind that will change any time soon, so I don’t think much will change in real terms. Yes, there will be cosmetic changes of course, and regulation might change somewhat (but to date nothing big has really changed in terms of regulation either... so we can’t really expect banks to change practices without that as a driving incentive), but overall I think it will be baby steps compared to what most people would believe is really necessary to reform that industry. Just like the old crash in the 20ies Americas, many books were written, but no real lessons learned. 

Looking ahead, wouldn’t you like to run a business as No 1?
The question of what next is always something I think about. My passion definitely lies in online, so in the medium term I can see myself running a smaller business which uses online as its main business medium, alternatively an online channel which is a true business unit of a larger corporation. 

What life experience so far has been the most fun?
I always have fun, so it is hard to pick any specific one. I am generally a fun loving person, so as long as there is a challenge, there is fun!

 
AHEAD is a leading search firm specialising in high achievers. Headquartered in Brussels, we were formerly YESS International Brussels, created in 1990 by Egon Zehnder International.  Today AHEAD forms part of the extensive network covering Europe and beyond.
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