It was clear from the start of SCF Briefing’s conversation with Alex Diamantopoulos that he is definitely not afraid of hard work. In fact, it is something he embraces – and often enjoys – in his role as procurement finance business partner at healthcare technology firm Philips, at the multinational’s Eindhoven offices in the Netherlands.
Armed with two Masters’ degrees, Diamantopoulos joined Philips as an intern in late 2015. Roll on just a couple of years, and by 2018 he had spearheaded the implementation of an award-winning supply chain finance programme – a dynamic discounting solution that won in the telecoms and technology category of the 2018 SCF Awards.
Diamantopoulos’s drive seems to come from a genuine enjoyment in his work. “Work needs to be a meaningful activity. I love my job – it is not an exaggeration. It is enjoyable for me to use my talent to make a difference,” he told SCF Briefing.
Back in 2015, when Diamantopoulos first stepped through the door at Philips as an intern, he was still completing his second Masters degree in the management of information technology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands – it was a qualification that exposed him to many different environments and cultures that would help him integrate into Philips. He studied finance for his first Masters degree – also completed at Tilburg, having moved to the Netherlands from his home country of Greece.
“It gave me the opportunity to obtain international experience,’ says. “I spent three semesters in different business schools at different European countries; France, Finland and then back to the Netherlands.
“Reflecting on it, my education choices played an important role in creating my career path. The international exposure opened the door to entering a multinational organisation,” he adds.
He was particularly keen to put into practice his interest in finance at Philips. “I liked the idea of being part of the transformation journey Philips Procurement embarked on a few years ago. Finance has been instrumental in making the transition from just buying materials towards more strategic sourcing and business partnering,” he says.
Yet at the early stages of his Philips career, Alex decided he hadn’t quite finished his studies yet and completed a MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management between 2017 and 2018 – a course that represents the equivalent of one term’s worth of coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The task of juggling his new day job with studying in the evening for the additional qualification didn’t seem to faze him. “I saw the course as a platform for growth. When you are expanding your mind, the extra work wasn’t a burden – it was actually fun.” He has already moved on to the next challenge and currently studying to become a certified management accountant (CMA) on a Philips-sponsored programme.
He was able to put all this knowledge into practice when given the task of setting up the new dynamic discounting platform at Philips.
While Philips had previously set up a reverse factoring scheme in 2009, it was felt that it was only able to support a specific group of suppliers. The company now needed a solution to address the liquidity issues faced by a wider group of suppliers.
Fintech firm C2FO was brought on board to set up the dynamic discounting platform – a programme that allows suppliers to select what kind of discount they wanted for early payment rather than having a fixed rate in place.
Last year, the SCF Community judges said they were impressed that 1509 suppliers were onboarded onto the platform across 60 countries, with seven per cent of spend accelerated in the first 60 days of the establishment of the programme.
It was an endeavour that required a lot of collaboration between departments to ensure everyone understood the varying goals of the project, Diamantopoulos explains.
“These kinds of programmes may sound quite straightforward conceptually – but they are easier said than done. The final result came by purely teaming up with other teams and doing it together.
“I had strong sponsorship and support from my manager and we both believed it was a great idea and it needed to happen for Philips and for the suppliers. We also received endorsement from the chief procurement officer and chief financial officer. This was important to have and with that strong leadership, we then teamed up with treasury. Our goal was to create something innovative and a flexible way to inject cash into the supply chain.”
“My role was critical in coordinating different teams outside of the boundaries of procurement and finance to create value for Philips,” he adds.
With the programme up and running, Diamantopoulos is already looking at how the platform can be expanded. There is an on-going large-scale standardization program of IT systems at Philips and, once completed, the early payment programme will be ramped up to bring on even more suppliers over the next two years, Diamantopoulos explains.
Diamantopoulos puts his success down to developing the ability to persuade or win over colleagues to your concept. “It is useful to have strong influencing skills, securing buy-in and support for your ideas and initiatives and see them materialise,” he says.
Such skills should serve him well as he looks to take the next step in his career. His international experience at business school has given him the appetite to travel further afield and he hopes to work in other locations both in and outside of Europe.
He is keen to get to grips with how each stage of the company’s various supply chains work and get on-the-ground experience of how the business works from the sourcing of materials to the moment they are sold to consumers.
“I would like to move towards an operations controlling role in the short-term in one of our multiple sites around the world,” he says.
“As a senior leader in finance, you need a good understanding of the primary processes to challenge the business – and steer the discussions towards the right direction. You need this bottom-up experience to be successful in the future.”
While ambitious and hard-working, Diamantopoulos tells SCF Briefing life isn’t all about work, and that maintaining a life away from the desk is an essential part of performing to the best of your ability at work.
Exercise and seeing friends and family can help you build ‘resilience’ in your mind and body, he says, noting that he tries to catch up with friends for dinner during the week as well as playing football, running or even taking part in a swimming bootcamp.
“I believe resilience is a direct derivative of having a balance between home and work. I see friends outside of my direct work environment that forget about that balance during the week and try to make up for it only at weekends or vacations. I am active in the week. You need this well-rounded approach to be resilient,” he reflects.
Being based in the Netherlands has been particularly beneficial to his sense of wellbeing.
“I am quite lucky that I started working in a corporate environment in the Netherlands. It is a country that promotes the well-being of work-life balance. We are given many days of vacation a year and the organisation is flexible in terms of the days you can work from home or work from different locations. I would advise young people starting their corporate careers to look at opportunities in the Netherlands,” he says.
Ensuring that work is ‘meaningful’ while maintaining that elusive work-life balance has proved to be an effective strategy for Diamantopoulos at this stage of his career. It is perhaps a useful example for others in the industry to learn from too.
“On Monday morning I wake up and I look forward to the week. You can only have that if your work is meaningful and see yourself growing in the organisation,” he says.