An interview with Sandra Forster

Ms Forster, you joined V-ZUG at the end of 2020 as Head of Human Resources (HR). What are you looking forward to in particular in this new role?

A traditional company with a strong brand represents an essential foundation but promises great potential. I’m delighted to be joining the team and playing my part in shaping a future where employees are happy to come to work and remain committed to contributing to the company’s success. 

By appointing you as head of the team, HR now also has its own member of the Executive Board. What kind of opportunities and challenges does this restructuring present?

Various studies have indisputably shown the positive impact employee-based initiatives can have on business results. Having its own member of the Executive Board helps HR to influence both operational and strategic decisions and to contribute relevant perspectives on important issues.  HR experts need to demonstrate the concrete benefits of our diverse areas of responsibility; for example, with pertinent key figures or surveys. This ensures that we are working together as equals with the other Executive Board members and boosts our credibility when it comes to dealing with issues in the future. 

What do you stand for, both personally and in your role as member of the Executive Board? In other words, what are your core values?

In my opinion, teamwork, fairness and authenticity are particularly important values and are essential for establishing a strong culture of trust. Regardless of the situation, I try to treat each and every person I encounter with respect and genuine interest. This goes hand in hand with acting responsibly, which involves getting feedback from others in order to learn and improve on a regular basis.

How would your best friends describe you?

They would describe me as an approachable, dedicated and empathetic person with a sharp focus on results. They would also say that I am a woman who is very committed and assertive when it comes to pursuing the issues she cares about. Last but not least, they’d say that experience has taught me to accept my weaknesses with humour and instead to focus on my strengths. 

As Head of Human Resources, you also represent an important part of our sustainability strategy. Employees form one of the four target visions in our materiality matrix. What ambitions in terms of sustainable development fall into this target vision?

An essential issue in this context revolves around providing lifelong learning opportunities in a world that is constantly changing. How can we design an ideal working environment that promotes curiosity, new approaches as well as professional and personal development by learning new skills? To this end, we need to create the right conditions so that we can mutually benefit from the diversity that exists within our company.

Is our company fit for the future of our employees?

We are certainly on the right path. As to the question of which opportunities will open up as a result of increasing digitalisation, and where we will see these, I think that our employees will be given new opportunities but will also face new challenges. We need to take our employees with us on this journey, but we also have to create new ways for us all to work together. Interdisciplinary and innovative approaches are crucial factors – and where I see the greatest potential.

What about new talent? As a Swiss industrial company, will we be able to attract both today’s and tomorrow’s generations of professionals?

In recent years, there has been a clear demographic trend indicating that we will see fewer younger workers and an increasing number of older employees in the future job market. This means that we need to focus even more on offering long-term, attractive jobs to skilled experts in our company. At the same time, we need to keep sight of another goal, which is creating an environment in which we can train apprentices or enhance our employees’ professional development while retaining the valuable experience of long-standing employees for the company in the long term. 

At 22 %, female representation at V-ZUG is relatively low. Although the proportion of women at executive level has grown to 18 %, they are still clearly under-represented. How does the company plan to increase the proportion of women in the long term?

Our first priority is to create a culture in which women and men, older and younger employees as well as employees of different nationalities and from different cultural backgrounds feel comfortable in developing to their full potential. It is important to be an attractive employer for all potential candidates, and to promote talent and ensure succession planning based on skills. However, we cannot ignore the fact that our industry tends to be dominated by technical professions, which still attract less interest from female employees. As a company with a strong brand image, we can work together with our female colleagues to help reduce this prejudice by breaking down social images and stereotypes.

V-ZUG boasts many long-standing employees. We could say that there is «blue blood» flowing through our company’s veins. Surely that counts as a sustainable success story, right?

There’s nothing better than knowing that your own employees stand behind their work and what the company manufactures or provides in terms of services. It symbolises a strong sense of corporate identity and I think that’s an important driver for future success. I look forward to doing my part to uphold this tradition – whether it is here in Switzerland or in our international markets. At the same time, our increasingly international presence enriches our DNA – our roots right here in Switzerland. If we succeed in preserving our essence while being open to new ideas, then we’ll succeed in offering a promising future to our employees.

About Sandra Forster

Sandra Forster studied law and political science at the University of Zurich and holds an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen (HSG) and a Master of Advanced Studies in HR Management. As well as this, she has undertaken training in coaching, intervision and value creation. She has headed up the Human Resources department at V-ZUG Ltd since December 2020. She draws on extensive experience in various leading HR functions and as a Member of the Executive Board. Among other roles, she worked for 6 years as Head of Human Resources at both Hilti Switzerland and Rail Gourmet Holding AG.