Print Page  |  Sign In  |  Join FaB
Industry News and Press: FaB Members in the News

At Sargento, Innovation Is Everything

Tuesday, December 19, 2017   (0 Comments)
Forbes

Jeff Thomson

 

 


The name Sargento is synonymous with cheese. After all, the family-owned company has been in the business of making it since its humble beginnings in 1949. Behind its well-known moniker, though, is a highly-strategic team of individuals dedicated to innovation, collaboration and growth. As the company continues to break new ground in an industry niche that might seem unlikely, I spoke with Executive Vice President and CFO, Jeremy Behler, to gain a glimpse into what makes Sargento so successful.


Jeff Thomson: You have a background in coding, held an M&A role at Procter & Gamble and later joined Sargento as VP of Strategic Analysis prior to becoming CFO. As such, you’re a firm believer in the importance of cross-training those with varied backgrounds, particularly in IT, to help support the finance function. Why does the modern CFO need to have some CIO DNA to be successful?

Jeremy Behler: I studied IT in undergrad and did some coding, and in my finance roles I did leverage this coding background to develop analytical tools to support the business.  The CFO role has evolved to place as much importance on the strategic and analytical elements as the reporting and stewardship elements.  In my view, the next stage of this evolution is understanding, assessing, and marrying the capabilities in the IT space to drive better, faster insights.


Thomson: With the advent of A.I., RPA (robotic process automation) and the overall digitization of the value chain, it’s likely IT/IS skills will have an increasing presence in undergraduate accounting curriculum. What skills do you believe your finance team needs now, and, in the next few years in the areas of data governance, query, analytics, and visualization?

Behler: The future in this space is so exciting. We are focusing most of our effort in the data governance, querying, and visualization areas. Currently we spend too much time gathering, cleansing, and filtering data so that it is relevant for analysis. Often the data comes from multiple sources and needs to be reconciled or linked to other data to be useful. Fixing these areas will free up considerable time and allow our team to add more value via analysis and insights. We are just scratching the surface on visualization. What I’m most excited about with visualization is the ability to drive democratization and transparency of our results. It’s much easier to identify a trend or find a correlation when appropriately visualized, even for those without a formal analytical background.


Thomson: Following the introduction of a new product line, Balanced Breaks®, Sargento experienced unprecedented growth, forcing the company to transform its IT function from a service provider into a strategic partner. With your background in IT, how did you support that process and what was the outcome? From a finance perspective, how did your involvement help manage the growth the company was experiencing?

Behler: First and foremost, it is about having the right team in place that is aligned to the vision. We were incredibly fortunate to bring Holly Baumgart onboard a year ago to fill a vacancy in our VP IT role. We are completely aligned on the vision of IT as a business partner. We have both seen this model work effectively in our roles prior to Sargento. Not only does it require the right skills and capabilities in IT, but it requires education and engagement across the business to know how IT can help key functional areas be more effective.  With the rapid growth we’ve experienced, we realize that it’s critical to get out in front and be strategic with our investments and resource allocation. We’ve found the partnership and involvement of IT within the business teams to support this objective has helped us make better decisions.


Thomson: Sargento is a family-owned, privately held company – in fact, you’re one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. How do you use this to your advantage? Does your family-owned status provide you with more flexibility to innovate?

Behler: Yes,without a doubt. The Gentine family is focused on growing the business to support our entire stakeholder community well into the future. As a result, we take a long-term view to all our investments and are not limited by short-term investor demands. Innovation is one of our five core strategies and encompasses not only product innovation, but also process and systems innovation. Innovation is risky and we’ve had the occasional misstep, but overall, we’ve seen great returns. In the last few years alone we’ve launched successful products including Ultra Thin Slices® and Balanced Breaks® and embarked on a massive greenfield ERP implementation with SAP’s new in-memory S/4HANA platform, along with a work process reinvention to support our continued growth.


Thomson: You are a frequent participant in Ironman Triathlons. Do you see a connection between athletics and business? What does participating in grueling, physically-demanding races like Ironman teach you about yourself?

Behler: I see many parallels between athletics and business. First, the importance of planning and preparation is critical to success in both. Second, you must be agile. I always liked the Mike Tyson quote, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Adjusting appropriately after a proverbial "punch in the mouth,” be it a bike crash in a triathlon or a missed project assumption, is paramount to success. Finally, in my experience, we only know where our limits are when we attempt to exceed them. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but when you take on something big, prepare appropriately, and execute intentionally, amazing results often follow.


Search
Sign In
Sign In securely
Upcoming Events
Industry News


THANKS TO OUR ANNUAL GOLD SPONSORS 

 

 ©2012 FaB Wisconsin