Profile: Garry Price, FD for HJ Heinz

Garry Price, Heinz FD

Garry Price, Heinz FD

Garry Price is full of beans. There’s no other way to describe him.

We meet him on an auspicious day: it’s exactly 23 years since he started his
career as a trainee with HJ
in Canada and yet, even after almost a quarter of a century with the
same company, he still talks ten-to-the-dozen, pinging from people to products
to performance like a pinball, peppering his speech with imagined conversations
with other people to illustrate his point and bubbling with an enthusiasm you
couldn’t put in a bottle if you tried and which contains absolutely no
artificial ingredients. It’s a wonder we got him to stay still long enough for
the photoshoot.

He has a passion that has taken his CV – and his family – from Canada to
Pittsburgh, back to Canada, then Holland, France and now Hayes, Middlesex, where
he is CFO of Heinz’s UK and Ireland division.

‘I was supposed to come to Europe for two years,’ Price says. ‘It’s been six.
We’re loving it. The whole family absolutely loves it. It’s a fantastic

As far as we’re concerned, families are usually off-limits in our interview,
but the family factor can’t be ignored when you’ve taken two daughters to three
schools in three countries in about as many years.

He admits it can be hard on children, but as far as he’s seen, ‘the benefits
outweigh the cost,’ he says. His eldest daughter has been admitted to top US
university Cornell.

‘I think a big chunk of that was her international exposure and her cultural
understanding. She’s been in 32 countries in her life now and she’s lived in
five and it’s not bad for an 18-year-old, I think.’

Price recalls the excitement when he told his family that he was in the
running for a job in Australia – ‘I made a mistake in telling them; you don’t do
that. They were really pumped up.’ And their disappointment when he turned it
down for a posting in Holland? ‘“What happened to the beaches?” “The beaches in
the Netherlands are fantastic on the North Sea!”’ (You see what we mean about
the imaginary conversations.)

Back to business and, over and above all the international travel, there’s
another reason why Price is just fizzing. In the two years he has been in the UK
he’s played a pivotal role in getting significant growth back into the British
and Irish business which had been flat for around five years. Britain and
Ireland are important to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, branded food group, he
says. ‘If this company isn’t growing it’s very hard for the rest of the company
to hit its growth targets because everyone has to [grow] by a factor of ten.

‘Outside of New Zealand, the sales [of Heinz products] per capita is larger
in the UK than anywhere else. So, substantially above the Americans.’

Price describes what was wrong with the business when he came. ‘We got a
little lazy; I think we got complacent. The products we had were number one in
most of the things we do and I guess we took a too-relaxed view.’

Then, he says, fresh competition came in from Premier Foods in red sauce,
brown sauce and beans. Heinz, however, had been suffering from ‘a lack of
innovation, there was a lack of true, really talented marketeers that understood
consumers and understood what the consumers wanted’. He says: ‘I don’t think
there was the right drive and the right level of accountability. A lot of people
flew below the radar screen and were getting through each day and going home.’

In virtually all areas, including marketing, supply chain, HR and sales, new
people were brought into the UK organisation from Gillette, Coca-Cola, Mars and
from some far-flung bits of the Heinz empire. ‘I don’t think we’ve used this
model before,’ says Price.

‘Our business is growing – 88% of our portfolio is in growth.’ Core to this
is a significantly higher proportion of sales coming from new products –
everything from ‘Farmer’s Market’ soups to little, microwavable tubs of baked
beans. In fact, 120 new products were launched last year alone. So forget about
there ever having been just 57 varieties.

And he’s changing the culture of finance, getting away from its traditional
role as ‘reporters of the news after the fact. Everyone’s waiting: “How did we
do this month?” We’re trying to become more business partners than just a lot of
accountants around the place,’ he says. ‘We’re trying to take away the monthly
build-up. “We’re closing the books next Wednesday.” “Okay.” There’s this big
build up. It shouldn’t be like that; it’s [just] another day. So we’re trying to
do things weekly now. Let’s tap into our yield reporting, our labour reporting,
our overhead recovery and our gross profit. What did we earn last week? What did
we ship? What were the sales? What was the gross profit?

‘I want my finance guys to understand what’s behind the numbers,’ he says.
‘Sometimes they struggle. A lot of the finance people have a tough time putting
words on a piece of paper with numbers. And what you find is, “hey, give me the
summary of those numbers,”and what they do is they read the numbers. They’ll
say, “we’re up 2.6% driven by higher volumes” and it’s like, “look guys, tell me
what’s behind that”, which stretches them a little bit. And then, “okay, well,
we’re down in Sainsbury’s. Why? What do we do about it?” “Oh, shall I go check?”
“Why don’t you?”’

To help make this happen, Price has his finance people literally sitting with
the operational people: ‘We’re located throughout the business, so [for example]
our factory finance people have dual reporting: they report into the factory
managers, but also into our supply chain finance director who works for me.

‘We have people in sales areas. We have a sales finance manager [who sits]
with each major customer team. Part of our drive of becoming a business partner
is to have a seat at every table so every decision that’s made in this
corporation, I want finance to have a part of it. I want finance to be a valued
member of that group at that table.

‘So we’re going to launch a new product, finance has a say in it. We’re going
to launch a marketing campaign, finance has a say in it, because we can add
value to it.’

The real role of finance, of course, is to do the modelling, the costings,
test whether the projections meet the necessary hurdle rates and then, after
launch, to do the one, three, six and 12-month reviews. Part of that exercise
involves making sure the product has been costed properly: real-life factory
costs can be different from experience in the pilot plant. Not all launches
survive this process. ‘New products are hit and miss,’ Price says.

Schemes such as Adopt-a-store, consumer closeness sessions and working shifts
in the factories help even the most senior executives understand the whole of
the Heinz operation – to say nothing of the new products that immediately land
in the staff canteen. ‘We eat the soup,’ says Price.

On the consumer closeness sessions, Price spent an afternoon with a young
mother in Ruislip, west London, listening to her talk about her shopping habits
and even going to the store with her, finding out ‘what’s important when she’s
walking through the aisles, what upsets her, what intrigues her, what is she
looking for?’

He adds: ‘Is she looking for health and wellness? Is she looking for reduced
sugar and salt? Is she looking for organic? Is she looking for colour and
flavour and new experiences and all those kind of things?’

And, as you might expect in a business where manufacturing quality is so
crucial, a shift on the beans canning line helps round off the education for
this highly operational FD.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Price tells us (without being asked) that
Heinz’s beans production is 336m units a year. That’s 14 cans a second. So now
you know: you can take the finance director out of beancounting, but you can’t
take the beancounting out of the finance director.

Carrying the can

To achieve the sort of growth figures Heinz has achieved, finance wasn’t
exempt from the turmoil made necessary to throw off the complacency that had set

About half the finance staff were replaced in the space of 18 months. ‘Some
at our request and some at theirs,’ he says. ‘One of our values is “sense of
urgency” and everyone has to have accountability. Some people weren’t up for
that because they just weren’t.’ The new structure requires everyone to deliver
against objectives: ‘We have 90-day objectives and four-year goals. We do
reviews semi-annually and annually with career planning as part of that, so
we’ve really taken it up a notch from an HR perspective as part of a high
performing organisation.’

Finding the right people wasn’t easy, and Price says he is frustrated by
headhunters, most of whom don’t do the proper due diligence on candidates. It
took eight months to find a financial controller, for example – ‘but we weren’t
going to make a mistake’. Price wanted to get people who understand consumers
and the pressures on retailers.

This article originally appeared in the September edition of

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