'The greatest challenge of all is driving the organizational willingness to make the changes necessary'

Interview with Jesse Y Yao, Former CFO of the Sauces and Frozen Business Unit at Kraft Heinz


Jesse Yao joined Heinz in 2013 shortly after the company was taken private by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway. While at Heinz and subsequently KraftHeinz, Mr. Yao was intricately involved in the transformation of Heinz into what KraftHeinz is today. With leadership experience ranging from Zero Based Budgeting and Supply Chain Transformation to Commercial Performance and being a key member of the Kraft Heinz merger integration team, Mr. Yao eventually became the Head of Finance of the Sauces and Frozen Business Unit, the largest business unit at KraftHeinz. Prior to Kraft Heinz, Mr. Yao worked in Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan.

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at CFO Rising West, taking place in San Francisco this October 19-20.

How did you get started in Finance?

Starting originally in investment banking, I gained my operating experience in using finance to effect business transformation at Heinz and subsequently at KraftHeinz working broadly in all areas related to the sweeping changes we were making

How has the role of the finance function changed over the last decade? What do you see as having been the main drivers behind this?

From my experience - specifically in packaged food - we are facing a paradigm shift into a low growth environment. Unable to rely on a top line for growth, companies must manage costs effectively. Combined with the age of big data, finance has changed to an entity that can use data to step into the business and make informed decisions to drive growth.

What do you think presents the greatest challenges for finance leaders over the next year? Do you have strategies in place to overcome these?

With respect to business transformation and managing costs to drive growth, the greatest challenge of all is driving the organizational willingness to make the changes necessary. Creative destruction, in the sense of reevaluating how things are done, can be painful and by definition could potentially change the foundation of how a finance organization is run.

Do you think executives' perceptions of finance leaders as accountants still prevent them taking up a role as a strategic partner in their organizations? If so, how can they overcome this?

Absolutely. In addition to perception, there is sometimes also a real skill gap. Depending on the situation, leaders must keep an open mind for all the potential options that may help them reach their vision for the company.

How important do you see measuring employee’s health and productivity? What do you see the finance function’s role in this to be?

Employee health, productivity, growth, and development are central to a living & breathing company’s success. Typically not a finance concern, analytics and measurements controlled by finance can be used to make informed decisions on how best to make informed decisions about people. Similar to Google’s People Analytics, gathering and evaluating data (whether or not it is housed in finance) is important to making the most effective people decisions possible.

What will be the focus of your presentation?

An introduction into Zero Based Budgeting, its implementation and how it can and has been used as a platform for change.

You can hear more from Jesse, as well as other industry leaders, at CFO Rising West this October. Register here to receive your pass today.


Image courtesy of GlennV/Shutterstock.com

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