1. Can you talk briefly about your work, the team, and your main challenges within Rituals?
Within my current position, I am responsible for Finance Operations (Accounts Payable, Cash & Credit Control, Procurement Operations), Global Payroll, Tax & Treasury, Financial Control, Internal Control & Risk, and Projects/Process Improvement. The team of almost sixty colleagues is the most diverse department in Rituals. We have colleagues from Sweden, Poland, Slovakia, Guatemala, Romania, etc. The group is also diverse in terms of age, from people in their twenties to some over-sixties. The male-female ratio is fifty-fifty. The entire Finance team works at Rituals' headquarters on Keizersgracht in Amsterdam.
My goal is to make this department run as smoothly as possible. I want to be fully 'compliant', of course, but in addition I want to 'support' the business as much as possible. As a department, we should never be a 'showstopper' for the business. When there are new initiatives – which often happens at Rituals – or when new contracts are signed, we want to be involved as early as possible. This is to promote efficiency; efficiency and compliance are hugely important to me. Having strong, collaborative relationships with your colleagues is essential in this regard. I also find it important that the atmosphere within the team is positive, and that everyone enjoys coming to work. That has worked out well for us – we do lots of activities within the team, from running together to volunteer work, boating on the canals and fun get-togethers.
Rituals is a fast-growing company. When I started in 2015, we had a revenue of €280 million. By 2021, it will be €1.1 billion – an insane level of growth. And this is mainly because Rituals is very entrepreneurial. All the people working here have a passion for the brand and the philosophy – that is really the strength of Rituals. Take, for example, the House of Rituals concept, which launched during COVID-19. This represented a completely new way of shopping, including surprising new ranges, a Mind Spa and more. A complete experience of the Rituals brand and its products.
We also want to enter China. So therein lies the immediate challenge for me: how do you keep up with the growth of the business while running an efficient department?
2. Can you tell us a bit more about developments within Rituals?
We opened our first shop in 2000, opposite the current House of Rituals on Kalverstraat. Since the start, our ambition was to become an omnichannel business. Over the past decade, the development of our e-commerce channel has been extremely fast. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were already integrating these channels. When the pandemic broke out, this forced us to switch to click-and-collect very quickly. As a result, everything gained momentum. We were also thinking along with all the processes from the Finance side. How could we ensure that sales were processed in the right way? Where could we reinvest to keep improving? Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, online sales have increased tremendously.
We are also currently in the process of gaining a foothold in China. We will start with e-commerce first and then we want to open physical shops. So, where we used to start with pure retail to capture the market, we are now using online channels first to test how the brand is received in a new market. By the way, the shops remain our most important marketing asset. Customers experience the brand here and fall in love with the philosophy. We will therefore never become solely an online company. It is precisely this combination of direct customer service and the in-store experience that we find very important. A nice side effect of e-commerce is that it also enables you to build great communities. Via our website and app, for instance, we also offer all kinds of meditations and masterclasses.
3. A much-discussed topic is ESG. How do you deal with this within Rituals?
As a global wellbeing brand where, among other things, sustainability is a major focus, we choose to communicate transparently about this. In the recently published Sustainability Report, we therefore share our goals and vision on this in detail. Among other things, you can read all about the three pillars: Clean, Conscious and Caring.
For instance, our products do not contain microplastics, we encourage refills to save plastic, and our goal is to produce only zero-waste packaging by 2025. We want to reduce our carbon footprint and our ambition is to extend this further towards our suppliers. Here we are quite ambitious. Finally, together with Tiny Miracles, we have designed bags, which are produced by women in India. This initiative enables them to generate an income and improves equality of opportunity overall.
And what I am really super proud of is that we have also been B Corp certified since the beginning of this year.
4. Are there any lessons learned from your time at KPMG that still influence the way you work and lead your team today?
A lot, actually. Within KPMG, you receive excellent training and KPMG facilitates and encourages this enormously. You can really develop yourself well. One of the most important things I learned is to have a really critical eye. Always thinking about 'how are the processes running?', 'why are we actually doing this and why in this way?', 'is this really such a good idea?', and 'what is the purpose of this process now?'. By the way, you have to bring that critical view in a fun way, preferably with humour. Staying connected with your colleagues is important here.
I also learned how to manage stakeholders. Especially in auditing, you have to be able to move and communicate on many levels. That's something you really need in business too. You have to know who your stakeholders are, and you have to be able to approach them in such a way that they involve you in their decisions. In this way, you can really exert influence.
In terms of leadership, I think it's important that my team members can take responsibility themselves and feel the freedom to try and learn by themselves. At KPMG, I was also given responsibility early on, as well as the freedom and opportunity to shape and market the Travel, Leisure & Tourism department at the time. This opportunity to try new things also taught me a lot outside the standard audit work. I want the same for my team.
5. Do you have another tip for our KPMG colleagues and KPMG alumni?
Stay curious and critical, with a little humour thrown in. That's the golden tip.
Ilse de Graaff lives in Amsterdam with her husband and two children. In her spare time, she enjoys running and cycling. Ilse joined KPMG in 2001 and after becoming a partner in 2014, she made the move to Rituals in 2015, where she is now Director Accounting, Tax & Compliance.
> Check out Ilse de Graaff's LinkedIn profile.