Corporate Insights: Diana Sassu with Whirlpool

In a global business landscape that’s constantly changing, the most valuable skill a person can have is the ability to adapt. CEMS coursework is given real-world application through our close alliance with corporate and social partners — creating invaluable connections, collaborations and experiences. Many CEMS alumni have chosen to build their careers with CEMS Corporate Partners. In this interview series, we explore the diverse career paths CEMS alumni have embarked upon within CEMS Corporate Partners. Today we meet Diana Sassu, Head of Organisational Excellence and Change Management at Whirlpool Corporation.
Diana Sassu

The key skill you need is agility

Imagine encountering a client as a consultant, and being so taken with that client – their corporate culture, dynamism, youth and agility – that you dream of one day working directly for them.

This is the experience of Diana Sassu, Head of Organisational Excellence and Change Management with Whirlpool Corporation. An encounter with Whirlpool while working as a consultant, sparked a chain of events that saw Diana hired into her “dream company” within a space of just four years. And not only that, she landed what she describes as her “dream role.”

"Working for Whirlpool as a client I was just blown away by the culture and when this opening came up, things coalesced beautifully. In between times, I had spent time working within the HR function with Italian insurance group, and I was looking for a new challenge. I was ready to grow and learn, to adapt to new scenarios and to play a role in driving a business forward. This really was a dream role in front of me."

And it is a role that keeps her very close to the core business of the organisation. Diana’s day-to-day is tied to project management; analysing business needs around areas such as production, sales and manufacturing and mapping those needs to human resources capabilities. Day-to-day, however, is a term that scarcely covers the work that she does. No two days are alike working for a company as agile as Whirlpool, she says.

"I am constantly working with different stakeholders – heads of business functions, senior management and key players within my own team – to plan key projects that drive operations and productivity. And during these times of enormous uncertainty, with manufacturing struggling to meet consumer peaks in demand over the pandemic, there’s a real need for agility and the capacity to pivot and respond to new challenges constantly. Every day is different."

A steep career progression

Diana holds key responsibility for analysing what works well – and what doesn’t – and redesigning processes to meet shifting demands. It’s a role that integrates both technical and people needs, she adds.

"Our processes need to be technically effective. And being technically effective is contingent on having your best people on board and aligned. There’s a very important change management aspect to my role that is about ensuring that changes in our processes are sustainable and understood by our people."

Working for Whirlpool is “never boring,” says Diana. The pace is fast and career progression can be very steep.

"I came out of CEMS with the understanding that only consultancy really offered the kind of career trajectory I was looking for – the opportunities for growth and progression. What I have discovered is that companies like Whirlpool which are based on strong meritocracies, also offer steep career progression. If you have drive and ambition, there are plenty of opportunities to change your role, to experience different environments and to get to know the leaders of diverse functions. Young professionals usually don’t spend more than three years in any role at Whirlpool."

The CEMS edge

Success within Whirlpool, like other organisations, is built on hard work – and on having a strong capacity to work within a team. And Diana attributes her time as a CEMS student to giving her “an edge” in terms of teamwork. That, and a “hit-the-ground-running” attitude to work when she graduated.

"CEMS is tough. I remember kicking off my exchange semester in Rotterdam working for a start-up. You are really thrown into the deep end. But the flip side is that you learn the dynamics of teamwork fast. And you gain exposure to the realities of working life early. This really prepares you for work when you graduate. It’s a huge benefit."

For CEMS students and recent graduates, working in a company like Whirlpool is a “great fit,” she adds, because while the company prioritises teamwork, it also offers a hugely international working environment; and one that genuinely models the values of meritocracy and fair play that its mission espouses.

"When you work here, you quickly understand that values such as respect, integrity, inclusion and diversity, as well as a spirit of winning – these things are truly part of our culture. We live by the idea of One Whirlpool across everything that we do. As a CEMS graduate myself, I can see that these values and this kind of culture is a natural fit for other CEMSies. We only hire people who subscribe to the things we believe in as an organisation."

Building the skill of agility

Diana acknowledges the myriad challenges facing young people emerging into the world of work post-Covid. Jobs are difficult, but not impossible, to find. Standing out from the crowd and securing the right opportunity to be successful depends very largely on learning the “skill of agility,” she believes. And that means taking on as many challenges as possible.

"Agility is the one skills that ensures that you can be successful in any company, in any role or any function. And you can only develop agility by working on different projects, with different teams or working on international projects."

She also urges young people not to worry if they have not figured out a vision from day one.

"The journey to me is always more important than the destination. Success is about choosing the best experiences that afford you a chance to learn. Figuring out your ‘why’ matters, but I really believe it comes over time. I’m 30, about to turn 31, and I haven’t figured it all out yet by any means. I’m still figuring it out and it’s fun. I’m enjoying the journey."