In the nearly five years that Perry Yeatman, SVP of corporate affairs, has been at Kraft Foods, she has seen the food company through several watershed moments.
In 2007, Kraft became among the largest spinoffs in history when Altria, formerly Philip Morris, de-merged the company from its mix. This was followed by an ambitious three-year turnaround plan and, this year, its acrimonious Cadbury takeover.
"We had to redefine who we are, what we stand for, and what Kraft Foods is all about," Yeatman says. "This was one of the most quiet $40 billion companies in the world."
Kraft recently completed its three-year turnaround plan, which was intended to give the company a clearer brand identity. Last year, it unveiled a new tagline, "Make Today Delicious," and a new logo. It also incorporated the phrase into the company's mission statement.
These initiatives ultimately gave the company firmer grounding for its takeover of Cadbury earlier this year. The deal, while facing ongoing criticism in the UK, has also given the food company the chance to ameliorate stubborn market perceptions.
"Most people don't know that our portfolio outside the US is predominantly about biscuits, chocolate, and coffee," Yeatman explains. "But if you ask an American what does Kraft Foods make, the things they are going to name will predominantly be things we don't make outside the US."
Those would be items like Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese products, cold cuts, and hot dogs.
"Kraft Foods is in 99% of US homes," she says. "Everybody knows who Kraft Foods is, but if you talk about it [outside of the US], it's a very different kind of brand."
Kraft's foray into the British chocolate market stunned, even angered, many who fervently opposed their beloved British chocolate company being taken over by an American multinational. Harsh words came from even those inside Cadbury who pushed against Kraft's ambitions.
"A lot of concern we got was from the unknown," Yeatman says, adding that cooler heads prevailed after CEO Irene Rosenfeld appeared at the headquarters in February. "They got that what you do in the heat of battle and what is said - and what they were saying about us and our company - is appropriate in the heat of battle, but now everybody is moving on as a combined company."Tackling Cadbury challenges
This, of course, put enormous pressure on the communications team, whose job it was to keep various stakeholders supportive of the deal. But Yeatman says her focus was on the immediate task at hand. For example, before the acquisition was complete, Kraft set its sights on the financial community.
"It was about ensuring we were doing the right thing to make sure that Cadbury investors would understand the value of our proposal so they would ultimately accept our offer," Yeatman recalls.
Even so, the company knew it had to protect its own reputation in the UK, a market it has been engaged in for 80 years. If the deal didn't go through, it would still need to have loyal consumers in the region.
"We had to protect the reputation of our existing business there, which is growing quite nicely," Yeatman says. "We also needed to plan for what we hoped would be a successful acquisition."
After the deal proceeded (Kraft's final offer for shares was to be April 16), the company tried to prove it would be good for the UK and was not just a profit move. This included bringing Rosenfeld to Cadbury's headquarters, as well as publicly showing support for Cadbury's culture and nonprofit engagements as Kraft sorted out the integration process.
"We were doing the outreach to ensure, as much as possible, our commitment," says Yeatman. "But these were short of guarantees because, of course, we didn't know exactly all of [Cadbury's] contracts or plans."
Yeatman also had to make tough calls, deciding when it was appropriate - and strategic - to pull Rosenfeld away from working the deal to speak with media.
"When we launched our bid, we were not as well-known in the UK as Cadbury," says Yeatman. "It was easy for the other side to characterize us as this big American conglomerate. And it was not who we are. Our plan in getting Irene out there was to humanize Kraft Foods and let people see who she is."
But even these attempts didn't keep Kraft from coming under fire when it went back on its pledge to keep Cadbury's Somerdale factory open and when the media reported Rosenfeld would take home $26.3 million for successfully completing the takeover.
Marc Firestone, a Kraft EVP who told the British parliament that the company was "truly sorry" about the plant closure, leads the corporate and legal affairs team. Yeatman reports to Firestone, who oversees corporate affairs, corporate legal, compliance, corporate secretary, and government affairs. Rather than operating in parallel silos, all departments work together and solve problems through this multifaceted lens, Firestone says.
"[This structure] provides a window into seeing connections and is a very valuable tool," he adds. "All the issues surrounding food choices, marketing, and labeling touch on all five of the areas. We try to look at it from all those different angles and dimensions. The metaphor we always use is cubist art."
Yeatman co-leads the corporate affairs function with Nancy Daigler, who oversees communications for the business units.
While Firestone reports to Rosenfeld, Yeatman "also works with Irene one-on-one a lot," he adds. "They have a good working relationship. I never seek to intervene or say that you can't talk to them unless I'm there. Perry has a good sense for seeing all the different connections in the internal and external environment and looking ahead, one step around the corner."Focus on women
Though Yeatman joined Kraft before Rosenfeld, it is fitting that she now works for one of most powerful women in the business world. Yeatman has always sought to be a role model for women throughout her career. In 2007, she, along with former Burson-Marsteller executive Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, published a book aimed at women, Get Ahead by Going Abroad.
"I wrote the book because I wanted little girls to know it was possible to have an international life," she explains. "I wanted to inspire other people - particularly women."
Yeatman's career has been a fast-track to seniority with impressive international assignments. She started as a junior-level employee at DuPont, but soon learned that her quick personality was better suited for agency life. She stayed on the agency track until she was qualified for a senior post at a corporation - first Unilever and then Kraft.
"I don't think I would have succeeded in a corporation at a junior level because you don't get to control the pace [nor] make a lot of the decisions," she says. "When I came to the corporate side, I was at the executive level, which gives you the ability to be decisive, have a point of view, and move quickly."
All these traits will help Kraft face the ongoing backlash to its Cadbury acquisition.
"We clearly have a lot of work to do in integrating the businesses internally and then in being able to demonstrate to the UK and other markets around the world what we meant by this combination being good," she explains. "It's ultimately about growth and this being good for all our stakeholder groups."Kraft's 'Delicious' plan
February 2009: Kraft Foods reveals a new global identity, motto - "Make Today Delicious" - and logo. The re- branding effort differs slightly across markets, but is meant to help Kraft Foods, the corporation, differentiate itself from its consumer branding.
July 2009: The company launches Foodii, an employee interactive site designed to bring out staffers' passion for food and Kraft brands. It encourages employees to engage in every-thing from new product ideas to on-site cooking demos and classes.
October 2009: As part of its first "Make a Delicious Difference Week," the company debuts educational video on volunteerism. The video, intended to be shared, featured employees encouraging viewers to volunteer. Each time the video is viewed, Kraft pledged to donate enough money for five meals to hunger-relief charity Feeding America.
Kraft Foods, SVP of corporate affairs
Quinnipiac University, professor
Unilever, VP of corporate affairs