Bart Geraads, Head of Total Rewards at the Volvo Group, embraces the dynamism of the changing world and identifies the areas for progress to build an effective future of reward.
‘The world is changing’ would surely be Bart Geraads’ mantra if he needed a motivational quote to get him to work in the morning, so often does it pepper his conversation around reward. Fortunately, he doesn’t need any such encouragement: “There is no better job than mine,” he declares, “and there is so much fun stuff coming along that I am not going to want to stop, even at 70!”.
His current role is Head of Total Rewards at the Volvo Group, his third position as a global leader in the reward space for a multinational company after consultancy work, and he clearly couldn’t be happier.
Bart is fortunate to have found his way to the role that satisfies both his intellectual capacity for financial and legal matters, and his interest and passion for people, their psychology and motivations. It was the former he studied with plans to follow his father into tax law (which he worked within, for a while), but the latter is what he now wishes he had studied.
“I chose the wrong subject really,” he says, “There is so much choice today and I meet people with interesting degrees that it makes me think I would have gone towards behavioural and economic psychology, or perhaps branding and marketing. I find that area interesting; understanding what drives and how best to help people.”
Like many of his peers, he spotted the role he truly wanted while working with consultants and used his tax law expertise to work his way towards it. “The interesting jobs were in HR and compensation and benefits and my tax experience was useful there. Then I knew I wanted to work for a multi-national company.”
Considering his interest in human behaviours, it’s understandable that working in a global environment, with people from various countries and cultures, would present job satisfaction for Bart. It’s an aspect of the role his still relishes today, and one that is becoming more important as employee engagement becomes far more central to the reward offering.
Relationships and pace
The rise in importance of employee engagement is just one of the many changes he has experienced in recent years within reward. Bart echoes many of his contemporaries in mentioning that “the speed of change has picked up and some of the issues that have been around for a long time are suddenly starting to change fast.”
He mentions gender equality, which has become an ever-urgent issue in line with the increase in transparency and greater societal urging for equal pay. He also notes the evolving issue of executive renumeration, which had a huge moment in the early 2000s and from which sprung an increased need for governance and “sense-making to shareholders and investors, no matter how big or small their investment.”
Encouragingly, employers have been showing “more interest in their employees and focused more on that relationship”. This has often been realised in the development of the overall benefits package in preference to the simpler, long-standing approach of base pay and incentives. “This has provided opportunities but also challenges,” says Bart of the broader rewards offerings. “Providing flexible benefits and inclusivity, another issue that has become prominent, is still a struggle, especially when organisations try to work out how to pay labour inside and outside the company and also grapple with things like how to present ‘global values’ without being political.”
The world, as he reminds, is moving on and the systems, structures and organisations themselves need to move on with it.
Pandemic effects and AI dominance
Bart may have started his career in a time when “laptops looked like sewing machines and mobile phones barely existed”, but times are quite different today. Technology is now ubiquitous and a major driver of change, most notably AI, a current preoccupation for many.
“We are yet to see what will become of AI,” says Bart. “Is it truly a blessing? It has the potential for good, but in the wrong hands it can do a lot of damage.”
For the reward function though, he admits, “it can be a real help. We can improve the quality of our data and statistics, we can implement new systems much faster and progress much faster.”
He thinks that “getting to grips with pay transparency and AI” is one of the key challenges his profession faces currently, alongside the need to re-consider the approach to pay for a rapidly changing workforce.
“Pay is no longer the single biggest differentiator when seeking a job. People want career development and opportunities for growth, and some want to work when they want, where they want, while others want security, a mortgage, a pension,” he says. “We need more flexibility in the space. The specifics and dynamics of the future labour workforce are unknowable so we need to be ready for whatever comes along.”
Bart sees the pandemic as playing an outsized role in driving the changes of recent years, and not only in the mechanisms of work or in regards to supply chains. “Since the pandemic, the world is different, although we are still yet to see how many of the changes remain.”
“But the pandemic changed people. They were locked down and realised what they wanted and they now seem to have the bravery to make changes that are good for them. This demands organisations change because everyone wants the best talent.”
Beginnings and the future
Bravery is something that propelled Bart’s own career many years before the pandemic. It must have taken a fair amount of brio for a mid-career law specialist to sidestep towards what was then a fairly unknown and unremarkable profession: compensation and benefits. Was there any consternation from his family?
“I don’t think my dad understands exactly what I do,” concedes Bart, “but I think he appreciates that I’m having a lot of fun and doing well. I did what he wanted to do and didn’t dare. He wanted to make a career switch around 40 but didn’t do it. Seeing me do it hopefully makes him happy.”
While his dad was a tax lawyer, his mother’s bent was more creative and artistic, taking on various roles including painting and book restoration. Clearly their son has the ideal blend of both minds, making him a perfect fit for a role that demands such variety and bears such responsibility.
He takes his position seriously and responsibility is part of the reason he joined TR2050 in its earliest days. “It’s great to be part of something like this, in contact with my peers and working with them on something that is for the greater good,” he explains.
“But it’s more than that – we have the influence of academics, who bring different views and different dynamics to the table. It’s interesting and useful.”
Bart recognises the imperative for change in the reward space – “the world needs to find a new equilibrium” – and sees TR2050 as “being at the forefront of this. We are exploring solutions to the many questions that need to be answered, especially as the world moves towards equality, for example. How equal should we be?”
With his association with one of the world’s leading car manufacturers combined with his years of experience and his clear, undimmed passion for all aspects of his role, Bart is yet another asset of the TR2050 Member community that gathers to unpick the issues and drive towards answers. Hopefully he will also be the one to remind the group that ‘the world is changing’ faster than organisations are ready for. Reward may depend on a number of other functions to operate, including HR, but with pay such a priority for both employers and employees, it’s a profession that can lead the way.