It was just earlier this year that the iconic ad slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz” celebrated its 50th anniversary. That’s a full two decades older than the man now charged with shepherding the iconic brand’s financial future.
David Knopf, who is 29 years old, has been appointed as the CFO of Kraft Heinz, the conglomerate that produces a vast array of food products, including Heinz. Indeed, it’s Knopf’s youth that has got the press chattering, but his appointment is an important landmark for another reason, too.
According to Ciaran O’Donnell, a virtual FD that specialises in startups and high growth businesses, the appointment is the ne plus ultra of how the CFO role is transcending the finance department to emphasise ever more strategic and analytic functions.
His background is rooted in private equity and investment banking, industries where an analytic and forecasting acumen is highly prized. These are people, as one commenter told the Washington Post about Knopf’s appointment, who know “how to think like an investor”.
Given his job history, Fiona Cincotta, a senior market analyst at City Index, expects Knopf to enjoy a broad remit. In particular, Knopf will be expected to revive flagging sales and give “serious attention to Kraft Heinz's different brands and product evolution in order to keep up with consumers changing taste, something that so far the firm has failed to do.”
Obviously, Kraft Heinz is an absolutely gargantuan business, and no doubt Knopf will be surrounded by a cadre of financial boffins. But this trend for a versatile CFO or finance director isn’t just limited to large corporates, says O’Donnell.
In his work for startups and high growth businesses there’s “now a pressure on the finance person to do more than the finance,” says O’Donnell. “Often the CEO doesn’t have the bandwidth, and when businesses aren’t big enough to appoint a full time chief operating officer, they’ll look at the CFO or FD to be able to help build everything, from the product set, through to the strategic plan.
“There’s no reason why it’s the CEO just deciding and th CFO stringing the numbers together. It’s a joined-up decision”.
These kinds of appointments aren’t going to stop with Knopf, O’Donnell says. “He won’t be the last. These days age is irrelevant. There are plenty of capable people who can accelerate into a senior finance role within eight or nine years. The same way that someone can build a startup to a ten-figure valuation in a short space of time.
“If you’re just a finance person, you could be wiped out very quickly by the younger generation coming through. You need to be able to hold your own and help businesses plan for the future.”