Appointed as Knauf Insulation’s new Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in June 2022, Kristen Barthel tells us about her experience in her role so far.
How have you found your first months with Knauf Insulation?
“I'm enjoying it very much. It’s a nice situation for a CFO because Knauf Insulation is already such a tremendously successful company. I'm personally so excited to work for a company that creates products to help achieve a better future for us all. The For A Better World sustainability strategy gives me purpose and makes me feel like I am contributing something to this world. And that makes me feel proud to be part of the team.
Obviously, most of my time so far has been taken up by the aftermath of the cyber attack, which occurred just three weeks after I started – as you can imagine, this was an unbelievable onboarding experience for me! However, I am used to having to deal with crisis situations and this was an early opportunity for me to show who I am and what I can bring to the table. It was also an amazing opportunity to see how much the team came together to help each other.”
What has been the impact of the challenges of 2022 on Knauf Insulation and its customers?
“This year there’s been a lot of uncertainty given the volatility of energy prices and the availability of our resources. Fortunately, we were in the lucky position to have a large portion of our gas and electricity prices fixed throughout the year which limited our exposure during this volatility, as they were essential to run our production processes. However, what was quite a substantial impact for us was the increase in coke price. Coke is what we need to heat and melt Rock Mineral Wool. As it’s an alternative source of heating if no gas is available, it has multiplied in price. This has been one of our most expensive increases in terms of materials.
“We are in the lucky position though that there is great demand for our product. Although the final quarter of 2022 has slowed down a little, we are convinced that governments will push for investment into energy efficiency, mainly via renovation, over the next couple of years. I am confident that after a couple of months of settlement during the winter, we will find things pick up again in the summer and renovation will have a positive impact on our business.”
How is Knauf Insulation incorporating innovation in its working processes?
“We are rather innovative in the way we're working. It is system based and work is structured and organised through our headquarter function in Belgium.
“However, I think there's lots of potential for improvement in the way we do our financial planning and long-term strategic planning. For instance, a big topic after the cyber attack was data protection, including the way we manage our data, data lifecycles and how we report on our employees. We’re also introducing databases to help us with succession planning, identifying talent and providing feedback to employees.
"I think we also have improvements to be made in my field of finance and I’m looking forward to collaborating with the Knauf Group to help make these improvements.”
What are your thoughts on how safety is progressing across the company?
“The message of safety first is everywhere. At every meeting, we open with safety concerns and discussions about safety. As a leader, I go to the plant and I go through operational safety sessions. I appreciate this because I come from an operational background and I’m very aware of what it means to make sure nobody gets hurt and all employees get to return home safely.
“However, I’m also aware that like with any internal initiative, sometimes things can be compromised because people are pushed for performance and output. And we must pay attention that there cannot be any compromise on safety. I think what we are sometimes lacking is people speaking out – if we observe an unsafe situation, we need to speak up. It’s the responsibility of everyone to contribute towards an improvement. Everyone should share the overall improvement journey.”
How is Knauf Insulation helping to promote a positive working environment?
“Since joining the company, it’s clear how people-oriented it is. What I do like is that our HR Department is now pushing strongly for a couple of new initiatives, namely the diversity and inclusion topic, which has been received positively. And it means a different thing for every country, depending on the national or cultural setting; everywhere it’ll mean something a little bit different but it’s a topic we can all be united on.
“I also really appreciate that HR is pushing the feedback cycle to make performance measurable. And I see that people are not yet comfortable and at ease with feedback. But it’s important and I appreciate that this is going to become more structured. Feedback will only help to grow and develop our people to their fullest potential.”
How has employee engagement been improved within Knauf Insulation?
“While it’s difficult for me to assess improvement, what I’ve witnessed is an unbelievable level of engagement over the past few months. And that’s specifically contributed to getting things in order quickly after the cyber attack. People were so hands on, they were available day and night, everyone offered to help wherever and whenever it was needed. That showed me that people really care.
“It's been a tiring couple of years for our people. We’ve experienced COVID, the floods in Belgium, the war in Ukraine and then the cyber attack. It’s felt like we’re constantly in crisis mode and I’m aware that people might not be getting the rest they need. This is where as leaders, we need to take care. We also need to make sure that we are recognising, praising and valuing our people because across all countries, they have been exceptional.”
Picture in the header: Knauf Insulation Executive Committee members, from left – Dominique Bossan, Kristin Barthel, David Ducarme