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Q&A with Scott Schiffres, Senior Finance Professional in Consumer Products

1) Can you give me a quick overview of your career exposure to a variety of brands and roles you’ve played within the organizations you’ve worked for?

I gravitated towards consumer products right out of school exactly because I wanted to work for brand-driven, consumer-focused companies. Working at Unilever, Heineken and a food startup were perfect fits.

At Unilever, I supported brands, such as Ragu, Bertolli, Hellmann’s, and Wishbone. My overall responsibilities working in finance were standard – planning and analysis, budgeting, cost management, etc. – but my daily activities varied by brand. As an example, while working on Ragu we focused on margin accretion through production efficiencies, so I worked extensively with supply chain. When working on Hellmann’s, there was a much greater emphasis on marketing mix, so I spent more time with sales and marketing. For new product launches, line extensions, or other projects, the cross-functional team came together with each individual offering their functional expertise.

Following my time at Unilever, I moved on to Heineken. After some regional and corporate roles, I became the CFO of a vertically integrated brewery in Panama which produced, imported, and sold premium imports, local mainstream and value brands. The size, complexity and maturity of the business meant that my responsibilities stretched beyond that of an operator and extended into what could best be characterized as a stewardship role. I was the right hand to the President and a business partner to the leadership team.

After working in large multi-nationals for over 15 years, I joined Unreal Candy, a pre-revenue food start-up, and I immediately put my big business finance playbook on the shelf. Having worked with highly controlled, cyclical, and at times predictable businesses, the biggest challenge for me in a start-up was accepting and embracing the uncertainty that comes with launching and building a brand.

To this day, I am amazed at how much tomato sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressing, beer, and candy have influenced me and how much each brand helped broaden my CPG experience and further my career.

2) What do you consider the biggest challenges for a CFO these days? How do you work with your executive team to get the most out of the finance function?

The number and nature of challenges facing CFOs today are virtually immeasurable, so I look at them in buckets: challenges that arise within an organization and those from the outside. In many instances there is a causal relationship between the two. As these challenges have evolved in the last 10+ years the profile and expectations of CFOs have changed to one of more strategic importance.

Changing consumer buying habits and demographics, increased regulatory requirements, and underlying macro-economic pressures are amongst the many external challenges that CFOs grapple with today. One of the more pronounced challenges I have encountered, one which will be familiar to most CPG professionals, is the significant amount of power that consumers now have to shape and influence how companies market and sell their products, i.e. DTC vs retail. As businesses optimize their go to market strategy, there are direct implications on the fundamentals of the business, including cost structure, pricing, logistics, and how people are hired and mobilized.

While CFO/COO for Unreal Candy, our product launched in traditional retail outlets, but we recognized the potential of e-commerce for scalability. Since our product was susceptible to temperature fluctuations, we needed to assess all of the factors that could make or break a push into e-commerce, including warehousing, distribution, order fulfillment, Amazon vs in-house, pricing strategies, product exclusivity, etc.  To be successful in this dynamic environment, I was forced go beyond the traditional finance responsibilities and demonstrate strategic savvy, an ability to navigate and accelerate change, and an aptitude for driving growth.

In order to meet the heightened expectations of a CFO and transform the finance function, I have found that the starting point should be building cohesive relationships across all areas of the business, which are inherently interconnected. When I have invested the time to fully engage with functional leaders and understand their challenges, I have been able to build trust and credibility as a business partner. When that is achieved, the finance function can be a true strategic enabler, and not just a function-oriented silo.

3) How important is diversity hiring is an issue for you personally?

I passionately believe that having a diverse group of employees is essential for an organization. Diversity comes in many forms, but within the context of hiring, I would point to diversity of perspective as a key ingredient to building successful teams.

Having worked in a multitude of businesses, across different operating models and geographies, I have been exposed to many environments. My philosophies have been shaped over the course of my career, but my perspective on diversity – personally and professionally – was most profoundly influenced just 3 years removed from my undergraduate studies. As a 25-year-old, I joined a team of 12 people, made up of 6 nationalities, representing functions from HR and Supply Chain to Finance and Marketing. The team had individuals with as many as 30 years of experience to as few as 3 years of experience. As corporate auditors, we travelled, worked, and lived away from our homes for months at a time, assessing organizational risk and operational frameworks from China to Chile and many places in-between. During that time, I learned how to assess a business within the context of its socio-economic and geographic conditions, not taking for granted that, coming from a US operating company, the world looks very different. As I walked away from that team, which was diversity personified, I had gained perspective (and learned a second language!) that to this day helps guide my decision-making.

 To bring it full circle, when thinking about hiring others, or showcasing and sharing my own experience, I am always on the lookout for a healthy amount of diversity of thought and perspective, which may or may not be readily apparent on a resume. Past work experience is relevant, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate barometer of whether or not a candidate can be successful.

About Scott Schiffres – LinkedIn

Scott is a proven financial and operational leader offers a track record of achievement in optimizing top and bottom lines of Fortune 500 companies and a private equity startup operating in the US and internationally. A collaborative business partner and strategic thought leader, who works across functions to accelerate value creation for global and local consumer brands. Deep experience building, transforming, and leading high-performing, multi-discipline teams in large matrix organizations and small immature businesses.

If you’d like to learn more about working with Scott, contact Elizabeth Lee – elizabeth@beperpetual.com.