Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Cédric Assaouloff

Cédric is French, speaks three languages and lived in multiple European locations (Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich). He worked for multiple well-known companies such as General Electric, Alcatel, Atradius and KPMG. He has a wealth of skills. His European experience allows him to strengthen his entrepreneurship mindset. His passion lies in Innovating Finance. 

He is a strategic leader and played a critical role in setting-up digital network & transformation while establishing a long track record of digital and innovative outcomes in Finance. 

He is currently working as a Lead of Digital and Innovation in R&D Pharma Finance at Roche where his main mission is to set and drive the digital strategy, influence the culture and build up a dedicated Finance and Business R&D Digital and Advanced Analytics Portfolio to support the R&D Finance network with innovative solutions.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

with Cédric Assaouloff

Tell us about youRSELF.

I could share about my technical background and the different European cities that I have been living in, but let me take a different angle and share a personal story.

Indeed, there are a few things in life that have an everlasting impact from a personal point of view and form who you are as a leader today. These moments stick with you. 

I was raised in France in a small village. I grew in a modest environment with 3 sisters and one brother. Every cent was counted. When I was at school, all the kids were dressed up with the latest fashionable brand. You are at this age usually facing the early judgment by other children. I was always observing and listening. My mother understood that I was embarrassed but I never complained. She approached me one day and found in a newspaper a temporary job to distribute ads during the summer. My interpretation of this action was “don’t get discouraged, earn your success!”. 

I took this opportunity together with my older sister. We were waking up at 5 am every day and finished late in the evening. We did that for 3 months. It was my best summer… At the end of the season, I went into a shop and bought myself the latest pair of Nikes! 

In September, I came back to school with this big satisfaction of wearing them. Suddenly, I was making a lot of new friends.

This story of life says a lot about who I am as a leader today and what it has taught me: persistence, resilience, hard work, team work and humility always pay off! Never get discouraged by any judgment or impression you might give, always care about people, coming up with solutions and bringing a collective and positive impact.

What is the main challenge to Innovation?

I would say not only one and this is why it is exciting. 🙂

I will start by:

“Courage is challenging the status-quo”

Transforming is hard, but not impossible! Courage is key! 

Just a few years ago, talking about AI, Machine Learning, Cloud Solutions in the finance landscape would look quite weird in a world where Excel is king.

At Roche Finance, an evolution of the finance function has been started. A clear direction and vision has been established since a few years ago. 

How do we catalyse a digital environment in our organisation? How do we create hybrid functions where Finance Entreprise Partners can focus more of their time on strategic insights rather than manual work? What is the magic equation to solve this?

In fact, there is none. 

Building-up a complex ecosystem for months will result in the need to re-do it after. We need to try and go for it, change & adapt. The environment is changing and evolving fast. What was valid yesterday, can be wrong today.  We need to keep building our future and this takes a lot of resilience.

The second aspect of roadblock to innovation is around clarity of accountability. One size does not fit all. The environment is quite complex, and if you want to innovate fast and efficiently, we need to make sure people understand how they can contribute collectively by having a right framework.

Overcoming these two roadblocks, I believe Innovation can become a virtuous circle by staying simple and pragmatic. 

What makes you the most proud?

Well I would not talk about me, but we. Within R&D Pharma Finance and other organisations, we understood quickly the importance of Digital and this is an important focus for us.  Our goal is to use data to provide insights to support the business quickly, efficiently and with deep, relevant and timelly insights. 

To support this, we built-up an unique and pioneer model – an open innovation:  an incubator based on a full network approach. We designed a very diverse portfolio of digital products by using novel ways of working (Visualisation, AI, chatbot, NLP solutions, etc…). We work in a very agile way and deliver where impact, need & value is. This network grew a lot in the past year. Innovation is not an end point but a journey. We work in a very agile way and deliver where impact, need & value is. 

Everyone feels part of it and contributes with a shared purpose: fun and impact. No hierarchy, no direct lines, just outcomes and this is how people get motivated to join us even if they don’t belong to R&D. 

This is just a great example of modern ways to approach digital and innovation in a corporate world by breaking silos and elevating people in a new space. 

This can only be successful with a strong executive leadership empowerment and trust. 

This is just exciting to be at this cross-road and to be able to influence the future from any seat. 

Where do you see the future evolving for Digital?

No one has a crystal ball, but clearly many industries are moving faster and faster toward higher digitalisation. Is it a threat or an opportunity? I believe for Finance it is a huge opportunity! I am excited about it. Leveraging technology for getting higher quality insights is a true game changer! The topic on capability is also becoming very prominent. How can we adopt a solution if we do not fully understand it? How can we bring new use cases to our work if we do not know the potential of technology? Lots of work still to be done in that space. 

These are incredibly exciting times with a lot of changes ahead.

As a leader, where do you see yourself in the future?

Lately in an off-site, one of my current leaders asked me why did I root my career in Digital and how?

I was not prepared for such a question. I just love what I do and I am grateful to combine a passion with my work. The huge complexity, the impressive number of stakeholders to manage and the high diversity of people are the fuel of my creativity and drive. This is not always easy but I do the best I can to keep the right balance between demands and impact.

Reality is that I started in a tech company that gave me so much in terms of entrepreneurship, we needed to build and scale advanced analytics tools with not much money. This made you grow a lot in the tough way, but also from the begining you learned so much, being outside of your comfort zone constantly. I am used to this start-up mindset. And based on that, I grew in the ‘traditional’ FP&A & controlling positions from local to global roles, taking more accountability and responsibility in my career, but I felt that I needed to catch the next wave: Digital. Also all these prior experiences have helped me so much by putting myself in the customer’s shoes and feel their ‘own pain’. I just felt ready and I keep learning in that space, with humility, surrounding myself with great people, leaders and experts. This is just fascinating and I feel lucky that I met at Roche leaders on both the Diagnostics and Pharmaceutical sides, who have always trusted my ideas and vision and are always ready to support my career path.

So in short: my future? Where my heart will go next…

What are the key success factors for a great digital transformation?

The value of the future is creativity.

People often start with digital transformation by talking about technology. I always start with people first! They are the true asset of digital transformation. I believe humility and a strong growth mindset plays a big part here.

Nothing can be perfect, no one is perfect, no perfect process exists but listening to the needs of others and customers help you to grow and truly transform. Stay inclusive, self-reflect along the way, challenge yourself, share your ideas, but also your doubts. Building a safe space is really key. Digital is a collective effort and can’t be driven by one super hero. It is all together. 

What excited you about your work?

I really love how Roche Finance is evolving and transforming. This offers new possibilities that did not exist before. What I enjoy most in what I do might sound weird but it revolves around relationships. Sharing, exchanging with colleagues, building trust and giving credit & recognition is for me, the most rewarding aspect of my work. I am energised by all interactions that I am having everyday from the top to the bottom of the organisation, a real 360 view: data scientists, IT, Finance, Scientists, Finance Executives, this gives me so much input to process and decision to make on a daily basis and this is what I enjoy most. Finally, when a product is finally rolled-out and you know the team worked so hard for many months collecting failures and successes along the way, with a lot of resilience and you receive a simple thanks, this is how I know we did a good job!

 Any closing remarks/general advice to share.

Usually, I am not the kind of person giving advice to people just for the reason we are all different, have different stories and it will sound judgmental, but what I can say is that never ever give up if you believe in yourself, in your projects, in your dreams. 

You might fail and fall sometimes, and that’s okay, just be authentic, be you, trust your values and instinct! 

This will always pay off at a point.

And also…I am going to buy the latest pair of Nikes again.:-)

Thanks for having me.

Disclaimer: All views expressed are his own.

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