Roger Loo

Roger Loo became Director Benelux at Kraft Heinz, at age 36, skipping the position of Commercial Director. He talked to Janko Klaeijsen from Top of Minds about finding the right place to thrive, taking risks, going into skids and the right work-life balance.

You just started as Kraft Heinz Benelux’ MD six months ago. Hectic times?

"Yes, there is a lot of great stuff going on. Eighty five percent of our business consists of local brands such as Brinta, Honig, Venz and Karvan Cétivam. That doesn’t just mean there is freedom to innovate, it’s what investors expect from us. So I just left a brainstorming session with the marketing team about De Ruijter: think feet on the table, and brainstorming on how to grow twenty percent instead of two. The challenge is to think big."

Is your marketing team open to brainstorming at full throttle in front of the boss?

"That depends on how you position yourself. I really try to be accessible. I don’t have my own office, am not seated in a fancy leather chair, I am just part of the team. Nothing more, nothing less. Every other week I have a round table session with colleagues from different teams. By bringing new people together, you’ll get interesting discussions and ideas. Such as the plan to liven up the Gay Pride Parade with the KC-Go- it is hot out and many people drink water, so these mini-sized bottles of lemonade are very relevant. You can’t discuss career building or limiting during such meetings, the atmosphere is very open."

Does that match the values you got from home?

"Yes, I come from a very warm and loving family. My parents are, and I mean this in the best way possible, your regular hardworking people who don’t do anything crazy. They always encouraged me to pursue my career, also when I had some hard choices to make. I got my degree specializing in Procurement and I was destined make my way to the top in it. But at Procter & Gamble they asked me why I wanted it. My drive to negotiate and be the best was more suitable for sales. It’s been twelve years and I am still glad I picked the front end of the business."

And your parents are proud.

"Yes, they will be coming over soon here in Zeist to see where I work! But deep down they are scared I’ll go abroad someday."

And are they right?

"I don’t know yet. I want to keep growing, but with the right work-life balance. I have three wonderful children, a beautiful wife and many friends. If I want to be happy, I need to spend time with them. But I set the bar high with everything I do. If I play tennis, I want to win the match. That also means I can get bored easily. Looking back on my career what stands out is that I stayed in my first job for the longest period of time: two years and a quarter. I was working on a big project with Jumbo, which meant I needed to stick around longer than my peers. After a year or two I had a discussion with my manager. She considered it a compliment I was involved in such a big project, but I became restless. Development is so important to me, that I don’t discount a career abroad."

How do you handle the challenge disappearing from a job?

"When that happens, you need to transcend your own base. Do the job you were hired to do as efficiently as possible, so that you create room to take on more responsibility. You should be inventive when it comes to finding out what’s missing in order for you to add more value. You become your own manager. It can be hard, but it helps when you have inspiring colleagues."

Do you have those here?

"Yes. I report to the President for Europe, who already gave me a few pointers during the interviewing stage which altered my thinking. I also have a lot of interaction with the CEO. And he doesn’t expect your well chewed agenda in his lap, but we really have a tête a tête on how we can improve. That’s a real one off, the culture here, with hands on and available leadership. But I also get a ton of inspiration from the new generation. I make time to talk to our social media specialist on a regular basis, because he can teach me more on the newest digital developments than our MT can."

A lot has changed here over the past few years. Why did you pick Kraft Heinz?

"Many people warned me, but I consider it to be full of opportunities. Directly after 3G took over my predecessor was hired to manage the transformation; with me entering the stage that era has officially ended. CEO Bernardo Hees gave me two assignments: topline growth for the Benelux and building a stable, professional organization that will make all the difference. On the one hand I was raring to go, facing the challenge head on, on the other I got scared out of my wits. Can I do this? That tension was a sign for me to go on ahead and do it. We are going to be writing a new chapter together."

In order to begin a new chapter you do need to know the rest of the book.

"Exactly. The old and the new Heinz sell the same products, but they are totally different companies. And that means there are different people involved. Over the past three years maybe half of our people left. It’s up to me to build the new organization- if I succeed, I will really be leaving a legacy."

And how are you going to pull that off?

"On the one hand by offering great traineeships for college graduates, on the other by focusing on (future) leadership. In order to make it big at Kraft Heinz you need two things: a strong analytical aptitude and the ability to simplify. The CEO writes the global report in forty words. I summarize the situation in the Benelux using one power point slide, including our results. But there’s a thorough analysis behind it backing it up."

What kind of people will feel right at home in that new corporate culture?

"People who are willing to do things differently and those who want to climb the corporate ladder really quickly. You need to be able to think big here. How are we really going to make a difference? First come up with a plan to create extreme growth-even if that means setting up a new factory! We’ll look into what is actually possible afterwards. You get the opportunity to take risks and to learn from them. That makes this a perfect breeding ground for your career. I need people who are willing to race full speed ahead. They either win or go into a skid. There’s nothing in between, think Max Verstappen."

Great metaphor, Formula 1.

"Definitely, the theme for the upcoming six months actually is ‘Full Speed Ahead’. So every month we select a ‘Driver of the Month’, have pit stops and race reports by the end of each month. I really loved that moment in Spain when Max won, when the first thing he did was run to his team for a group hug. That’s what makes Formula 1 such a great metaphor for Kraft Heinz: we are focused on individual targets, but it’s still a team effort."

Your investors are known for their focus on cost control. What’s your take on that?

"Cost control is about money that doesn’t pay off (such as waste of energy or unnecessary travel expenses) and transferring it to something that does, such as marketing campaigns and commercial partnerships. In our grown-up market everyone should be doing that. And we do a bit more than that. When a part of the budget is freed up, that means there is more room for innovation. The results will show by 2017. We are really going to be making a difference in the market. But how we’ll do so, is still top secret."

So you consider Kraft Heinz to be fertile soil. What did Kraft Heinz see in you?

"I literally asked Bernardo Hees that same question. His answer was: “I see a sparkling in your eyes.” And that is exactly what I’m looking for in every one we hire from now on: when you have the right energy, you don’t need to have held seven annual negotiations or twelve marketing campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re in sales you need to be able to negotiate. But it’s a skill you can pick up."

So Kraft Heinz invests a lot in professional development?

"Yes, we are hiring many consultants right now, who then move on to acquire functional capabilities. Through coaching, functional training and leadership training. Sometimes you need to throw people off the deep end to inspire and challenge them. Our President for Europe is coming to Holland soon and I will set him up with ten of our young talented newbies. Those who I think are ready for some exposure, even though it might scare them a bit. Having a one on one with the actual leadership in the organization, that’s something I could only dream of when I worked at Procter. Those who use the exposure to prove themselves, will go through the roof in no time."

What if one of your children will want to become the boss of a big company just like daddy. What advice would you give them?

"They should begin by finding out what makes them happy. What makes you jump out of bed raring to go every Monday at seven? Only when you know that, you’ll see whether you want to be the MD of a large company or whether you should for instance pursue a career in sports. If my children are happy, my main work is done. Should they still want to be MD at an FMCG club, then I’d say: pick the leaders you report to well, and find a place to thrive. I also got into this myself because I saw huge opportunities. Whether it will work out I don’t know, but I do know I am all in and I will be learning a lot along the way."

2016 – present
Managing Director Benelux, Kraft Heinz

2015 -2016
Director Business Unit Foodservice NL, FrieslandCampina

2013 – 2015
Customer Development Director, FrieslandCampina

2012 – 2013
Category Development Manager, FrieslandCampina

2010 – 2012
Business Leader Gilette, Procter & Gamble

2008 – 2010
Team Leader Non-food, Procter & Gamble

2006 – 2008
Account Executive, Procter & Gamble

2004 – 2006 
Account Manager, Procter & Gamble

Kraft Heinz

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