U.S. Companies Looking for More Experience in Their Finance Chiefs

Date : 08/26/2019 @ 9:16PM
Source : Dow Jones News
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U.S. Companies Looking for More Experience in Their Finance Chiefs

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By Nina Trentmann 

Companies picking new finance chiefs of late appear to be telegraphing a message in their choices: Playtime is over. This is a job for grown-ups.

Big companies are increasingly turning to seasoned veterans for the top finance seat as they face challenges stemming from technological disruption, changing consumer tastes and an uncertain economic outlook, corporate recruiters say.

The latest -- and perhaps starkest -- example: Consumer-goods giant Kraft Heinz Co., which on Monday appointed its former finance chief Paulo Basilio to the role of chief financial officer again. Mr. Basilio, 44 years old, replaces David Knopf, who was the youngest CFO at a Fortune 500 company when he took the job at age 29 in 2017.

The average age of CFOs has increased significantly this year, according to Crist | Kolder Associates. Finance chiefs at Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies averaged 52.8 years in 2019. That's five years older than the average over the previous 10 years, according to the recruiting firm's data. It's also the first time the average has eclipsed 50 in at least 15 years.

"This is not the time for first-time CFOs," said Cathy Logue, a managing director at executive recruiter Stanton Chase. "At a time when an industry and a company is under tremendous pressure, you want a CFO at the helm who has experience and who can help bring the business back on track."

Kraft Heinz is betting that's what will make Mr. Basilio successful. Mr. Basilio served as finance chief of H.J. Heinz Co. from 2013 to 2015, before the company's merger with Kraft Foods Group Inc., and he led the finance function of the merged entities from 2015 to 2017.

Kraft Heinz in recent quarters struggled to increase sales and wrote down the value of its brands, and its share price has fallen about 40% since the beginning of the year. It also faces investigations over its accounting practices, among other issues.

Mr. Basilio will report to Chief Executive Miguel Patricio, a former Anheuser-Busch InBev SA executive who took the reins at Kraft Heinz in June.

"The new CEO is an outsider and needs someone who knows the business," said Laurent Grandet, a senior analyst at Guggenheim Securities. "The departing CFO was not experienced to help him [Mr. Patricio]. Experience comes with age."

Tesla Inc. in January named Zach Kirkhorn as its finance chief. Mr. Kirkhorn was 34 years old at the time of the appointment. But recruiters don't expect a youth movement in the CFO ranks.

"Companies and boards want somebody to come into the finance chair that has CFO experience and that doesn't need training," said Peter Crist, chairman of Crist | Kolder Associates.

Companies including Coca-Cola Co., Chevron Corp. and Tapestry Inc., for instance, recently appointed finance chiefs in their mid-50s with extensive finance experience.

John Murphy was 57 years old when he became Coca-Cola's finance chief in March. He was chosen for the CFO role because of his experience, a spokesman said.

Chevron's new finance chief, Pierre Breber, was 54 years old when he was named and his experience was one of the reasons for the company to name him, according to a spokesman.

"Pierre is uniquely qualified to hold this position, having served in senior finance roles and also in operating roles," the spokesman said.

Tapestry's new finance chief, Joanne Crevoiserat, was 55 years old when she took the job this month. "Joanne is a talented executive with over 30 years of deep finance, operations and strategy experience within established retailers and global brands," Tapestry CEO Victor Luis said in a statement.

Write to Nina Trentmann at nina.trentmann@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 26, 2019 17:01 ET (21:01 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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