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May 30, 2022

Thank you to Markus Graf, VP HR, Global Head of Talent at Novartis, for joining us as a guest on the EMEA Recruitment podcast.

“Listening, to me, is a superpower.”

Markus spoke to Paul Toms from his home office in Switzerland, where he’s spent more time with his family due to working from home during the pandemic. He feels he’s been “gifted” with a positive attitude, always reflecting on what life offers him and acknowledging any setbacks.

As a teenager, Markus owned a start-up business, but he had dreams of working in a large corporation, to learn how multi-national organisations operate. He completed a rotational programme, before a leader took him under his wing and gave Markus opportunities to grow in the Human Resources function. 

He reveals the one skill that HR leaders need to learn, build trust and make people in the business feel valued. It’s a trait that is important for all our professional lives, as well as personal relationships.

With the rise of business intelligence and data in HR, Markus believes that intuition and empathy must complement market trends. At Novartis, the entire Talent strategy is now built around more transparency and data-driven decisions. 

Markus has witnessed a shift in professional mobility; the willingness of workers to relocate has dropped significantly in major markets, accelerated by the pandemic. 

So, how does Novartis find success in attracting and retaining its people? Markus understands that purpose is becoming more important to job seekers. As Novartis is committed to reimaging medicine, its culture is very appealing. It also offers flexibility in how its people work. The company has seen a 10% increase in employees’ abilities to manage work-related stress as a result.

Markus feels privileged to be in his current role. He summarises it in four Ps: purpose, people, position and place. In fact, Switzerland is top of his list of countries to live and work in (or travel to).

Nevertheless, Markus grew up in a humble environment, only leaving his homeland of Germany when he was 12-years-old. He still remembers his first holiday abroad to Italy, fascinated by the language, food and drinks. It inspired him to look for jobs with exposure to different cultures; his first role after university was a global IT project, bringing new processes to other countries. 

However, Markus still has one regret. His start-up company, selling radio-controlled toys on the internet in the early 2000s, could have been “pretty successful”, he believes. Every once in a while, he wonders why he gave it up for the prospect of working for a large multi-national.

Paul ends the episode by asking about Markus’ many professional accolades, such as Top 100 HR Influencers and Top 50 Leaders Reinventing the World. Markus claims these are reflections of the people he’s learned from, but encourages other professionals to be bold and share their points of view online. 

You can connect with Markus via his LinkedIn profile:


If you’re looking for a particular part of the episode, use the timestamps below:

01:38: The last thing that made Markus smile
03:38: Feeling grateful in life
06:00: Why Markus went into HR
08:51: The most important skill for leaders
11:50: How HR will change through data
17:17: Why flexibility is here to stay
18:54: How Novartis attracts and retains its people
22:24: Implementing flexible working
28:31: What it feels like to be VP HR at Novartis
32:28: Why you should work and live abroad
37:02: Markus’ 1 regret in his professional life
40:53: Markus’ many accolades
45:55: Connecting with Markus


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The EMEA Recruitment podcast is hosted by Paul Toms, our Founder, and Rose Jinks, Senior Marketing Executive.

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