Where to Find Company Growth when Managing Risks in the Current Economy

Wes Saber

EVP & CFO at Haribo of America

Learning Objectives

Please join the EVP & CFO of Haribo of America, Wes Saber in this Executive Interview where he will discuss how to manage the challenges of 2020 and how to plan for success in 2021. Wes discusses how focusing on eCommerce trends helps you stay connected with your consumers and your community.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leadership in modern business during unprecedented times

  • Strategic choices and planning for profitable business results

  • Staying aligned with your team and aligning your goals while adapting your strategy

"We want to be the voice of reason in the business and make sure that we have the right resources to continue success going forward for the business and our people. "

Wes Saber

EVP & CFO at Haribo of America


Hello, everyone and welcome to the Connect virtual CFO Leadership Summit hosted on quartz network. My name is Britt Erler QN Executive correspondent. Please join me in welcoming our guest speaker here with us today Wes Saber SVP and CFO of Haribo as we discuss financial leadership and co piloting growth. Welcome, Wes. Thank you for having me today. Of course, thank you so much. And I’m really eager to dive into this conversation because I think it’s really relevant to not just the finance industry, but a lot of other functions across the board. But before we get started, if you wouldn’t mind giving us a quick background about yourself and your current role.

Hello, everyone. My name is Wes Saber, as Britt introduced me, I’m the Executive Vice President and CFO at Haribo of America. I’m responsible for finance, supply, HR it legal, as head of of America. I’ve been with Heroku for the past five and a half years before that I was with most chocolate globally in different roles around the world. So I have extensive experience in the CPG. Industry. I’m excited to be with you today.

Of course, thank you. And I know you’ve given us several presentations before discussing financial leadership in this idea of CO pilot and growth. And you always mention two pillars of modern business, one being the active custodian, and the other being an inspiring leader. Tell us a little bit more about that and how you ensure that you’re effectively doing both?

Absolutely. I’m excited to be with everyone today, because there is no better time than networking, sharing experiences. And I think quarks never giving us that opportunity. I always find, find it exciting to learn from my colleagues and learn more about the insights which make us actually really resilient about time. First, I think that time of the year, like 2020, which is unprecedented year for all of us as professional as leader and businesses. One challenge that face all of us at the moment is what’s the economic outlook gonna look like, this year next year? What’s the government going to do? Do we? Is there a stimulus? What’s the support going to look like? What’s the consumer sentiment, whatever industries we are in our industry, we sell gummies. But at the end, we are all connected with our customers and retailers and vendors and manufacturing and the transport industry. What’s the labor market looks like? Where growth is gonna come from? We all have an personal basis or professional basis look at ecommerce as a channel as a channel that’s going out how fast everybody can really capture that growth. open question. And the big challenge that we all face today that we turn that into strategies, reflect on our plan, build forecast, put some budget in place, which is I wouldn’t say an easy job. Now for me the job was so absolutely, it’s unprecedented time. And it’s a challenge for everybody and a new industry rule. No department is working in isolation, what’s happening. So when more integrated than before. So I’ll come here and say that immediate at that time being an effective custodian of the business, the business assets of the business knowledge, making sure we’re clear about risks that’s around the business. That’s actually a very important step to help us navigate that challenging times. Being an effective custodian will always help us to make our sure our businesses resilient, continue for the long term, and be more successful, not just the business, but we all of us as professionals and leaders operating that business m&r partners. So began a custodian is even more vital than before ever before that we really need to look one step ahead. Like I said about the environment and the economy and labor market and the consumer sentiment or whatever the forces around us. It’s even very challenging for all of us to do that. So we need more than the traditional way of doing effective being an effective custodian or assessing the control environment or assessing the risk environment profile of our industry, but even going one step further from our business and looking around with our partners and vendors, and we will great

absolutely and obviously no one expected this to happen in 2020. How did your financial planning Your strategy evolved, how are you able to turn it around so quickly and make accurate projections.

I think a very important thing that we started with is how we are connected with our partners with our customer and consumer. And we made sure that that continues, and there is no blank in the relationship and there is no blank in our plans or activities. Because going into a freeze mode of hiring or investing or running the business can be really very dangerous. So but striking the balance as well of what you start with your staff is very important. So we actually were more diligent about the choices that we want to make. Very important as well that we look at the business. Now even we have short term pressure or the medium term sort of pressure, we need to look forward and strategically on the longer term of how we become more successful us and our partners and our consumer longer term, and balanced the actions that we have enhanced today between how we manage 2020, our marriage challenges we have in hand, but at the same time continue to work on initiatives that are important for our success on the medium term for 2021 and 2022. For example, in our business. And, Brett, we were talking about that, that we hopefully celebrate breaking ground in our manufacturing sites. Yeah. And that was a choice with you. And every company can think about good reasons why you would hold an investments at that time managing risks or looking at growth comes from, and it’s a choice to me. And that was a very strategic choice for us. But the longer term because we’re a privately owned company, we are proud of our brand, and our consumer woofers the success of our brand. For us, that’s an initiative that we have plans and, and we built capability. And we want to do that for the next 50 years. Right. And holding that in the year 2050 was not really the choice that we wanted to make. So really making strategic choices is very important. being closer to our customers and consumer and understanding the trends and what changes, so we will all celebrate Halloween, being in the confection industry and of course, some of our colleagues now we’re looking at this interview with, with understand what it is for all of us as really one of the major social events that we have in our society today. Right? Me with my kids have been a very famous dad in my neighborhood with my soccer team other than my job, but what’s gonna happen, right? How is that going to be different than me, you have to understand the differences as a retailer and you have to navigate that in the most efficient way, as we build back the business and the economy and give back as much as we can to normalize. So these are choices to answer your questions about how we manage this, how we navigate this, on short term managing month by month forecasting, putting the budget, I think the answer would be the choice of how resilient we can be because really, it’s there is no status quo, or there is no one answer. I think as long as we can manage our business to directionally be successful and delivering value to our consumers, our consumer and our customers continue to grow, that will be very successful. And we do that every day. We come to her but our brand and build our organization and make choices. That’s what we do every day.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s so important right now for companies is to stay aligned, you know, and really focus on the goals at hand and taking it day by day. Obviously harrybo has headquarters all over the world, how have you managed to keep those goals aligned, you know, throughout every team that you have not just the ones here in the US, not just the ones in Germany, but really across the board.

Absolutely. It’s It’s It’s a neat time in our career in our personal life to face a pandemic that impacts all of us around the world. And it would bring us food and a common goal of how we maintain the health and well being of us as interior and our families and our associates and our league. I think that comes first at the top. That was the first focus for us is how we take care of the well being of our of our associates and our community. And we take pride around the world of doing a lot I can share examples of what we’ve done in the dark in the EU here in the US, especially in the Midwest, in Chicago and Wisconsin. And this is where what we call home over future. First North American manufacturing sites, actually 2020 will mark our best year in the community to work in the US and the past 24 years in America. So we supported a lot of dedicated educational institution universities vision University I can name some. So we are working with Mark Marquette, we’re working with Carson with college, and University of Wisconsin, Parkside gateway college, to provide scholarships, and make sure that people can continue their education, or supporting Boys and Girls Club as well to maintain the well being of the boys and girls really need support at that time. So, the and the and there is no better time to live our values. So really the way we started this will be we’re associates and living our values. from a business standpoint globally, absolutely, there has been a great coordination, every country around the world has been impacted, right in different ways and different magnitudes. And really being together and close together is very important internally and externally. So, for example, my colleague was in the front Board of Directors outside of vertigo as well. So we work with our fellow CEOs, CFOs, or other management team or professionals in different capacity, and we learn from each other. And I find those interaction priceless and invaluable to have. And one example is the discussion we’re having today. And I look forward as well, to learn from your future interviews as well. Don’t underestimate the value that when somebody share or share an experience during that time.

Yeah, of course. And another thing you’ve mentioned time attempt, again to us is that finance is a journey. And a really promotes that employee engagement. And that’s what you’ve been touching on now, just the importance of the teams and staying aligned. How does that work? You know, how do you keep your employees engaged, positive, and making sure that they’re hitting the goals that you’re looking for in the company?

Absolutely, absolutely. And I wouldn’t say that’s a challenge to variable, it’s a challenge to everybody that every company stayed true to their values at that time. And that’s the real test to the value, which is the cornerstone of what our business stands for. In during the 2020 and the pandemic, working remotely. And that being in the office with us all under the pressure of looking in different ways and creative ways, and how do we enable our organization to perform the responsibility, but more importantly, as well continue to have the sense of belonging to the organization, to be able to contribute with their opinion, and make sure that their opinion counts and the influence of what happens in the business. Or the future looks like having a re entry to the office, even partial plan needs an engagement of the associates of how that looks like I think the pool creation and making the finding what future looks like, is super important to the engagement that people find themselves really making the influence and have a voice is key. It’s not like a decision that’s made and announced. One more important thing as well is how we communicate with each other, maybe at office environment. We could have been having meetings, and that was part of the culture of so many companies, for sure. Now we have virtual meetings. But very important, that personal touch, just saying hello, just checking on people and how they feel and it’s very important that it’s priceless. And and it means much more than ever before. But 100 store of the engagement of me personally as an associate of hireable, not as a leader in my business or with my colleague externally is is really making an impact on on the bigger environment, not my not my immediate team, but making an impact on the community and the people around in the business. And and that’s a challenge to do. working from home, of course. But I think that time and that focus in business is definitely a big driver of building engagement is the full of the journey.

Absolutely. And I think sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle, when you have so many things going on, especially if COVID hit a world crisis. People put that aside, they put their employees aside for the time being just trying to survive. But in the long run, it’s so worth it to put that time and to put that effort into your employees, making sure that you were also making a huge difference outside of your company as well. And in the long run that’s going to help you guys tenfold. And I also do have a question in terms of you talked about, obviously, some of your teams are working virtually, how has your company leverage technology, the innovation, automation and things going virtually to move your business along? Yeah, absolutely. I

think we all have passed through the journey of our infrastructure and the speed of our net and the equipment that we have. So I’m going to start with the equipment and making sure that we have the right connectivity the right laptop web access. So the share price and data, we all have been through that in the very early weeks of working from home. And then the scheduling and having the right invites and making sure you include the right people, there was a second charge. But from technology choices in there are, we are specific to us. We were out there not to be offensive to any applications. And some people will use zoom. But we were not allowed to use zoom. Initially. And I have a colleague of mine who I know very well, and it’s super senior at zoom, and I picked up the phone and call them about, like the security and how can we make sure this is right that he I think they’ve done a great job recently. Yeah, but doing great work. And so but we’ve been all through that challenge, but with other applications and connectivity is very important. So I think from as well, the having a structure, and how we connect as an organization and have a holistic view of making sure that the overall organization externally and internally is well connected. And they have the right tools and equipments to perform the job has been and will continue to be the perfect animal for so many of us.

Absolutely. And I think it’s something it’s going to continue to evolve. I know we’ve had to just make our events completely virtual. And we’ve created our new online platform, the courts network, which we’re recording on here today. And it’s one of those things where as difficult as it was, in the beginning, putting those systems in place now are going to help us for the next couple years to come. And I think ultimately, we may always offer a virtual option. Now, just because of the changes in the industry and what people are looking to do, I think a lot of companies have proven that working from home can be just as effective. So

that’s a great example of, of making sure like when I say internally and externally connected, and I think the work that you’ve been doing is really keeping us in touch, not only actually more than before, because before we even meet or interact in an event, but actually now, at our convenience at live events, we have more opportunities to connect, which is I find very valuable.

Absolutely. And I think it just gives us more touch points, you know, more places that we can connect normally I would see once a year at an event. But now I have the opportunity to talk to you more than that. So I definitely think it’s something that’s evolving all of our industries. But like I said, I think in the long run, it’s something that’s actually going to stick. And that will we’ll see carry out. And I do want to actually take us back to one of the initial points, you mentioned, the very beginning, finance really is a driver for all operations of the business, you know, not just finance, but marketing, sales, supply chain, you know, all across the board. But on top of that, you also have to follow some pretty strict government policies. And I would assume as of right now, those have gotten a little bit tougher to how do you ensure that you’re an effective custodian, and also an effective co pilot for the business with all of these different aspects?

Absolutely. So I always say finance doesn’t make any product doesn’t sell any product doesn’t buy any product doesn’t set prices, but they are accountable to the farmer what success looks like for the business. And if this all things doesn’t work together, it’s a finance issue. Right? That’s actually a fundamental starting point for being an effective copilot, we have to put the process we have to put the business at create handle opportunities for the business whether top down planning or bottom up planning, making sure that we have a life and interactive planning and budgeting process, which keep the business resilient to the point. Finance is not about sending a number. But just as well helping making private results. So planning is something looking at the numbers something else but driving the results is very important for teens, organizing the resources our business has the location reallocation of resources, resources are not infinite resources are limited and scarce. resources can be money resources can be time it can be a headcount, it can be investments can be so many choices back to the point where we talk about choices. So an effective co pilot media and being all of us and playing an active role in this is important in finance, I wouldn’t limit as well the rule of copilot to finance it’s for every function, but it’s inspired by finance. It’s facilitated by finance, the process, the direction, reconciling our strategies and plans and identifying the gaps and holding our organization and business accountable to what’s working and what’s not working. What do we need to continue what we need to stop It’s a very, very important to being an effective co pilot that we have the voice of reason and the business, especially in a year like where we are, and helping the choices. So selling more investing behind the brand, or manufacturing glass or manufacturing more, we’re working in an under tight transportation market, but you want to hit a better customer service, you will keep your retailer happy, and you will get the best quality. Of course, we have to do that every day. The way we do it every day, and the way we do it every year with depends on the rule of finance on providing a sustainable profitable growth, strategy and a plan to the business. And that’s the journey and it doesn’t stop. And it’s more important in tough time than before, to challenge ourselves and be creative. And now that we’re in, depending on the industry, and the level of the organization we’ll create.

Absolutely. And you mentioned business resilience, that’s a huge key theme, obviously this year, and how do companies do that? What type of strategies have you put in place to ensure resilience, you know, not just through 2020, but for two, three years down the line.

I will put it in a very simple way I wouldn’t say complex words, to explain it, I would define that we will do only what we can do best and do only what we can do next year. And again and again and again for the next 10 years. And make sure that we are successful as a business I would describe it this way. But resilience there is a there is an it’s like a coin, let’s look at the two sides of the coin. one coin is the business and our coin is the people and they go hand in hand. So we can’t ensure business resilience and results resilience without having a resilient organization resilient leaders, resilient associates, because everyone matters. And if and when we talk about resilience, and I say I said the examples about making sure that we take the decisions that we can repeat again. But not only that, it’s as well having the ability to change course. Some companies are always between the challenge of being lean, or being as I want to be the most efficient and have scale. And that’s a choice, or being more important as well to capture growth. We everybody asked the question, Where is that growth comes from? So being agile, or being lean? What are we going to do? I think what matters at the end, there’s a principle that we look at today is being resilient that we if we choose or pursue a strategy or a plan, we want to make sure that we have the right resources, and have the right results. And we can continue to do that. And we don’t give up. Because it’s it’s unfortunately, and it’s a human things. And it’s all of us as a company as well, how long we can sustain an idea until we say it’s a good idea that we need to pursue or a bad idea. And unfortunately, in times, like 2020, maybe judgment on IDs can be faster. And that’s a choice that companies make. So I hope that makes the point the magazine’s

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s some great advice, too. And I think the point of not giving up, you know, there’s so many companies that are trying things that are failing this year, because no one really knows, you know, we can make accurate projections and, and do our best but at the end of the day, it’s it’s really just kind of keep driving and keep trying. And as a leader, of course, I’m sure your role has changed. You’ve probably taken on a lot of different hats with everything going on as well. What are some of the key areas that you really think leaders should focus on right now?

I think I want to share my life example. Fleet. That was a challenging year for us as well. And for me personally and my colleague as well. And 2020 q1 was different than q2 for all of us and q3 even is different than both of them. And q2 is not the best for so many industries and so many businesses. But actually q3 for us at Paragon has been a great, a great quarter for our business performance, we are delivering great results and leading growth in our categories with our retailer and all major retailers across the country is doing very well and value channel very well a target would be very well at Walmart. And our brand actually has been trending to be number one in our category for the past few weeks. we’re achieving great results. That said it’s not done the way it was done years before. Because some part of our business goes to channels like for example airlines, which is 95% a pack they go from sentiments I’m not sure how many of us went to cinemas I went once by the way it was only me and my wife, everybody in there so I just said but really it was a big channel for us for even for Soft drinks as well. It’s a big channel. And and this channel has hardly impacted and impacts our business. If so that means our business has to do somewhere else much stronger. Your questions about as leader of attrition, because really is very important is the that we as leaders are laser focused on what successful success looks like, for the business and for our organization. That’s the big question I ask myself every day, how can we be successful today at tm 2020, end of next year and five years from now? Because the answer is different than my month ago. And I wouldn’t say that we have the answer defined, and it’s going to be a journey for us. But as leader in that time, and especially in finance, and being the CFO, really, and said, We want to be there thinking partner, the effective copilot, but we want to be the voice of reason in the business and make sure that we have the right resources to continue success going forward to the business and our people. I think we’re going to continue to be in that space for a while because what’s happened is always after COVID. And before COVID, it’s not the same. And we’re going to continue to be in that journey of looking what future looks like. And by the way, I find that exciting. I find that exciting because as much as we lost a lot of opportunities. And we faced a lot of challenge as much as there is more opportunities, if you look for

Absolutely, I mean, there’s so many changes going on right now, so many directions, that you now have the ability to go with your product. And it’s going to continue to change, you know, and people what people are looking for is going to continue to change. And I think one of hairbows strongest aspects for me personally is how connected you are with your audience, and what they’re looking for what the demands are. I know, as a kid, personally, I used to play softball and basketball growing up, and it was a staple that my dad would bring your gummy bears to every single game. And he would hand it out to the entire team. And that’s something that I grew up with, and even now continuing into adulthood. And you guys are fabulous at that, you know, you really keep it in the family for as big as a company, as you guys are, you know, you keep it personal. So thank you so much for doing that impacting impacting my life, but also your business too. Of course, of course. And any final insights for us West that you have to give leaders or anyone specifically in the finance function?

Yes, I was at one of the virtual learning events with other colleagues and one of the professors in northwestern, very successful C level executive one of the top companies, I’m not going to say names, but and we were a group of CFOs in Chicagoland specifically. And the big in our key, a key takeaway from me that I want to share with everybody was at this time is super important. We’ll say work life balance, right as if you strike like something in the middle, and it’s not in the middle. It’s really like looking after yourself, looking after your family, looking after your team, looking after your business, making sure that you really have the energy and the effort and the focus to do that and do that with with fun. Do that with joy. And do that every day. Because that’s what’s required. Do it every day, not one day. I think that was very important, not just for me as a person. But it makes me it makes me think about my colleague in the company as well on my team different. And it’s not a bad idea to reflect. And one of his advice was the reflection. How many times and how often do you reflect as leader? What’s going well in your career as a leader or as a person as well? And what the impact you make on everybody around you? And I think it’s down to the impact, not the words that we say not the intent, but real impact. So it’s and I started to learn since that. I’m trying and I’m not saying I’m great in it. I’m trying because that said a behavior change is really to think about what impact did I make last week different than a week before. And I find that very insightful, and it’s timely, and I really appreciate it that’s on leave everybody with that message as leader for every hour, every rule is it’s very important to reflect on the impact you’re making of yourself and people around.

It is and I can tell you how relevant that is just for our team in general. We had about five new team members start within the past two months, and I’ll be See, I’ve had to put on a lot of different hats for this role. And I noticed, obviously you’re getting get stressed, you know, you get worried you have a lot on your plate. But every time I try to get on with my team, I try to keep it positive, I try to keep it upbeat. At the end of the day, I still want to enjoy my job. And you know, really enjoy what I do and the difference that I’m making. And I love that idea of reflecting on it. Because we get so caught up in our day to day work and the deliverables, we have to get turned in, that we forget about the actual impact or what our words are doing to our team, or even just the people around us or family, you know, when we go home. So that I think that’s incredibly relevant and really helpful, not just leaders, but I think everyone in the company

says, absolutely, I’m so honored to join you today. And I’m looking forward to continue collaborating with you or my colleagues and learn more from more feature interviews with other colleagues as well.

Of course, Wes, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you to everyone who tuned in today. Please do not forget to comment or ask any questions that you have for Wes in the discussion forum below. But until then, enjoy the rest of the summit. And thank you so much for joining us at the Connect virtual CFO Leadership Summit. Thanks, everyone.

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