Balancing risk while also promoting adventure is one of the most important roles of a CFO, according to Boele de Jong, CFO at plant-based food brand Vivera.
“It’s very easy for somebody in the financial role to point at the risks and calculate why things cannot work,” he says. “Sometimes people who work in financial roles are typecast as people that will kill any idea. But I try to be more supportive, and at the same time also challenge to de-risk. It’s hard, but I like to look for the opportunities as well.”
This sense of adventure is what Boele would describe as one of his key values, along with safety and transparency. By safety, Boele tries to incorporate both physical safety of employees and their mental safety.
“I try to make sure they work in an environment where they feel comfortable,” says Boele. “It feeds into transparency as well because it’s about ethical behaviour.
“When I started at Vivera, there was very little by way of reporting on what people were doing, it was even a bit secretive.”
“I believe it’s better if everybody is aware and knows exactly what’s going on because we will be better able to act on it.”
“I’m proud of the changes in management information that my team has made.”
Gravitating towards the food industry
Boele’s career journey has mostly centred around the food industry, despite initially starting out in a bank. While he always loved working with numbers and was interested in finance, after working for a bank, he quickly realised his passion lay in using numbers for a more tangible outcome.
“After a year or two working in mergers and acquisitions for a bank, I decided it wasn’t really my field,” says Boele.
“I wanted to work somewhere where something is made.”
He got a job at the Netherlands office of American consumer goods company, Sara Lee, who at the time produced coffee and body care products. After several financial roles within the company, he was then approached for a CFO role in a company called Royaan BV, which was backed by a private equity investor.
“What I liked about it was the relative independence and responsibility. It was a huge adventure where we grew both organically and by acquisitions, and it was a really wonderful experience,” says Boele.
“Since then, I’ve worked for several food producing companies, but always backed by private equity, which guarantees adventure. That’s how I ended up at Vivera.”
Like a lot of businesses at the moment, Vivera is seeing an impact from the conflict in Ukraine.
“It’s an unimaginable horror, and of course it’s creating enormous price surges in the entire food industry,” says Boele.
One example of this is sunflower oil, as half of the world’s supply is produced in Ukraine and Russia.
“Those prices have gone through the roof, and the same is true for some other products as well,” says Boele. “Luckily we have a good procurement team and research and development team that have developed alternative plans for various scenarios. We now have sufficient supplies but do have to contend with these price increases.”
Another challenge Vivera is facing is one of rapid growth. The company has grown 25% a year on average. This means that every three years, it needs to build a new factory, Boele explains.
“It’s been a huge challenge. But of course, it’s a good problem to have to manage.”
“I personally think it’s a really crucial time for climate change and we need to rely less on meat and eat more plant-based.”
As a company with 30 years’ experience in developing meat alternatives, we are uniquely placed to really make a difference in the world.”
BOELE’S POWER PROFILE
Who is your hero?
“Ray Anderson, the founder of carpet manufacturer Interface. He was running his business in a sustainable way, but in 1994. He’s really one of the front runners in the area of sustainability.”
What music empowers you?
“The Distance by Cake. It’s a song about someone who is obsessed with material success, so much so that he forgets his real goal which is to love and be loved, and therefore he fails. I think it’s a powerful lesson, but what I also like is that the lyrics are so cleverly written, there’s great metre, rhyme and alliteration. I can listen to it many times and still enjoy and admire how it’s been written.”