7 Questions with Elena Jasvoin
Name: Elena Jasvoin
Current title: Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Management Board Member
Current organisation: Ringier Axel Springer Media AG
I am a professional CFO with operational and program/project management experience with deep knowledge of CEE & CIS markets as well as of the markets in Switzerland and Germany, with strong financial management background in different industries, different companies (including both big established companies and start ups) and in different business environments (including rapid growth and crisis times). I am originally from Russia, Moscow and have spent the last almost 8 years living with my family in Switzerland. I am a big fan of constant learning and development and I am sure, I should always learn new things to open new horizons, including through testing my limits. Privately I love travelling, nature and being outdoor trekking, cycling, swimming, skiing, I am absolutely fond of organising special events and experiences for my family and friends. I think one could tell, that I like to plan and control things, but I am adjusting more and more to the current VUCA and unpredictable environment.
1. What have you found most challenging as a board member of a large enterprise?
As I have a combination of working in a very dynamic and constantly transforming industry and as I am a big fan of testing my limits and pushing myself out of the comfort zone, challenging topics appear constantly and they change over time. For the last year during COVID time the most challenging was to absorb the highest level of uncertainty in spring, which nobody has ever experienced. I have experienced different crisis situations in my life, but it was always another part of the world, which was doing good and then you think "Ok, it's tough now, but somebody else already got through this and we will do it, too". But this time nobody on the Earth knew anything. In this situation you as a Leader need to stop reflecting on this uncertainty, but simply absorb it and start to live with it. Critical was, that it was not actually fully about me as an employee, but very much about me as a Leader - I needed to find a proper balance of being humble and accepting the uncertainty and being strong and positive to energise my team to fight no matter what and event to find positive sides of the situation to get to positive mood (at least to the extend it was possible), as positive thoughts lead to positive changes and positive energy lead to positive results. This was very tough and very new, but it was an unbelievably great experience! Such situations show the best and the worse in all of us and we need to be prepared for that. I am lucky to say that this extreme test showed that I have a great team of great people!
2. How did you become a board member of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was always trying to stay myself. I am very passionate about work - I treat it as an inseparable part of my life and that is why being at my place, where I could develop myself and be of the most value to the company was always very important to me. I am and was always working hard not to get another title, but because I really love it and because I am so motivated by the feeling of making a difference and bringing more value to the company and to the world. I need to feel the bigger purpose of what I am doing and to feel passionate about it. Being a fan of constant learning I was always in parallel with work studying and this helped me a lot not only to get more knowledge together with a lot of practice in parallel, but also gave me a possibility to get different viewpoints, to start looking at things from different angles. Another point which worked good for me is that I try never to give up and always test my limits and learn new things proactively and to be brave to stand up. And may be also very important to say, that I have values, which are critical for me in all situations and I always test myself against them and I need to feel good and proud of myself firstly as a human being, as I strongly believe, that what you send to the world, you receive in return. I think this creates an atmosphere of trust and accountability.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
First of all I try my best to sleep 7 hours per day and to go to sleep before 12pm. If I manage to do it, I feel much more energised in the morning. I stand up around 7am and firstly take care about my son to get him ready for school. Then I try my best to do at least 30 min of sport exercises and at least 15 min of meditation in the morning. Sport gives me an important energy boost for the whole day and meditation helps me to stay more focused and calm during the day, even in challenging situations. My working day starts between 8:30 and 9am. I have a huge amount of meetings one after another almost without a break and it is very exhausting. Now all meetings have been transformed into the video calls, which makes them even more exhausting. Now I try to incorporate at least 10-15 min breaks between the meetings and at least 1 hour of a lunch break. Unfortunately I still usually use them to check my emails, but already am trying to use them properly for some rest for my brain. I have also started to turn some meetings back into conference calls and make walking calls, going out, moving and getting fresh air while talking. That's very powerful as a source of energy and relaxation even despite the call. What is also important for me - at the beginning of each day I make a list of points to do for this day. This helps me to prioritise and focus better and also to better proactively manage my schedule. Another important topic for me is mindful eating. I used to always eat in parallel with work and now I deliberately do not do it - at least 10-15 min in the lunch break, but taking meals being fully focused on this process. This allows me to relax from work, feel the taste of what I eat and really enjoy it and not eat too much or too unhealthy. I am still not really there, but I am on the way to mindful and healthy nutrition. When my son comes back from school, I try to be always there for him till he goes to sleep. For me family is always Priority 1 and only then comes work. And for me it is critical that my family feels that I am there for them, whenever they need me. I am sharing my time and our activities with them together. I can feel good with anything else only, if I feel, that my family also feels good. When my kid goes to sleep around 8-8:30 pm, I continue with my emails, educational stuff, family tasks. My husband has the same working passion and attitude and this helps us a lot to be aligned. I try my best to stop doing serious stuff 30 min before going to sleep and then I read or watch something easy in order to get positive emotions and to reload my mind a bit from too many thoughts. I have recently opened for myself breathing exercises: during the day to boost energy and in the evening for deep relaxation. It's a couple of minutes, but works very well for me.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
You can plan so much you want and even have many possible scenarios, but life has its own plans and sometimes they come very unexpectedly and absolutely out of the blue. You as a Leader need to manage yourself in a very good way, as you are being looked at. This for me means firstly to be humble and feel your people to accept the uncertainty and help your people to deal with it, but on the other hand to be strong and full of positive energy to lead by example and motivate your people to go further and beyond even in this extraordinary environment.
5. What are some of the keys to doing governance well in a large enterprise?
First of all humility and compassion: you are as good, as your people are and all and each of them is a unique personality. It is very important to feel them and to support them in difficult situations. Your trust and support creates trust in return. I think this is a very important milestone to motivate your team to go an extra mile for what we are passionate about at work. Another important topic is communication-communication-communication. It's about quantity and quality of communications and also about explaining "why" for people to understand better the underlying reasons. And what I feel important also to name in this context is curiosity and perspective taking. Once I heard a phrase, which I like a lot: "Do not resist, do not judge, be curious why". If you hear another point of view, try to ask and understand firstly, why this person thinks like this. Maybe it would change the whole perspective for you. There are no wrong answers or points - there are different perspectives and the best is to see all of them in order to make the right decision. It's far from being easy, but it is for sure worth doing it.
6. How do you differentiate between the role of board member and the roles of CEO or executive team member of a large enterprise?
I would say that Board Members are less operationally involved in the day-to-day business and through that could have a broader view and even see more of strategic topics with a more fresh view, then those people, who are deeply involved into the day-to-day management of the company. Also a Board Member has a big experience from other companies, industries and situations and could bring in very important knowledge and expertise. Very often Board Members are people with a big experience, which they could leverage for the best of the company and share interesting ideas and lessons from the previous working situations.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a board member of a large enterprise so far?
I am a Management Board Member, being actively involved in the operational activity of the company as a CFO. One of the recent topics very important for 2020 COVID year was keeping focus on strategic initiatives, which will allow us to grow with a long-term perspective and not being de-focused fully by the challenges of the COVID time. Definitely, these challenges were and are very critical and we should have proper action plans to fight with them, but at the same time we should also focus on what strategic potentials this transformative time is bringing us and how we could grasp them and turn into our strategic drivers for the future growth.