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Kraft Heinz VP Yang Xu: “It’s so important that women realize the following: you can never exceed your ambitions”

It’s so important that women realize the following: you can never exceed your ambitions. I see so many young female professionals who have self-imposed ideas of what they can and cannot do. I was lucky that it never occurred to me to not consider my profession because I’m a woman. Fundamentally, I believe I’m an equal […]

It’s so important that women realize the following: you can never exceed your ambitions. I see so many young female professionals who have self-imposed ideas of what they can and cannot do. I was lucky that it never occurred to me to not consider my profession because I’m a woman. Fundamentally, I believe I’m an equal human being to everyone else. As long as I want something, and I work for it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t achieve it.


Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yang Xu, VP & Global Treasurer at Kraft Heinz.

It’s safe to say that Yang Xu’s personal and professional journey is unique among leaders of a Fortune 500 company. Yang’s life trajectory has taken her from rural China to an elite French business school, and now to her current position as vice president and global treasurer at Kraft Heinz. Along the way, she has become a passionate advocate for diversity in the corporate world.

Born in Guizhou province, a mountainous and impoverished part of China, Yang devoted herself to her studies and was accepted into the finance program at the prestigious Wuhan University. There, she discovered a passion for the French language and culture. After attending free language courses at the French consulate and taking the top French graduate school placement exam, she was awarded a full-ride scholarship to HEC Paris, the top business school in Europe and among the top three business schools in the world. Yang’s business experience has taken her from an M&A Analyst role with GE Healthcare in France to the Senior Director of Corporate Treasury & Risk Management at Whirlpool. In her current role as Vice President & Global Treasurer, Yang was recently chosen by the National Diversity Council as one of their Top 50 Financial Leaders of 2020.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

Sure! When I attended Wuhan University, two majors were considered the best: finance and computer science. I wasn’t interested in computer science and so finance became my choice, especially because they had a major in International Finance. I loved foreign languages and cultures (and at one point thought I was going to be a tour guide!), so International Finance was a perfect choice. It also helped that math has always been intuitive for me. I could do it quickly in my head, even though my favorite pastime was writing and reading. It all came together: math, foreign languages, writing, and reading into International Finance.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

In my previous company, I was based in Shanghai for a while. During that time, I was asked to branch out of finance into more of a sales and marketing role. I was asked to launch a new business line and establish an alternative distribution channel. I was very idealistic and thought the key was to have a world-class website, since the product (a microwave) was going to be targeted to high-income people. The target was 10,000 units a month. In the first month, I sold 3! I thought I would be fired — I was really nervous. The problem was that people were used to more traditional channels for buying microwaves. We ended up shutting down this idea, but we kept the website. The lesson to me is that it’s not enough to just be innovative and dreamy. You have to anchor it in experience and knowledge about the industry. It was good learning for me.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m working on the transformation of the finance function for Kraft Heinz. It’s very unusual to give this task to a treasurer, and I feel really lucky to be doing it. It’s a reflection of the confidence Kraft Heinz has in its employees. The company doesn’t confine people to a narrow selection of projects. I’m thrilled because this project allows me to work collaboratively with a broad array of people.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Kraft Heinz hires people with an owner mentality. They own their career and their responsibilities. It’s really helpful in building morale. Here you see people excited about their work and their future with the company. When you give people a challenge, they sparkle.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Women proved we’re not stupid! All the most crucial character traits: Intellectual curiosity, passion, interpersonal skills and communication skills are not gender-specific. Also, the more women are part of teams and the workforce, the more everyone realizes how valuable this is, and the more it becomes the norm. It’s a virtuous circle, and I benefited from that. Growing up, it never occurred to me that my profession was something only for boys. I never paid much attention to that.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

The most important is to allow everyone to balance their lives between work and family. If you give leading professionals an opportunity to be flexible — and judge them on output rather than on presence in the office — this will go a long way. Many men want to be an equal participant in childrearing and take paternity leave, but many don’t dare take this. If more men participate in paternity leave and childrearing, we’d see a much better world. Don’t judge people as they juggle work and family responsibilities!

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience, what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

It has to be part of the basic curriculum, starting very early. For example, people leave money on the table when they don’t fully contribute to their 401k. People should learn why it’s important to diversify your portfolio. Financial literacy should be taught, like you teach people history. Whenever my children make any money, say in a bake sale, I try to teach them there are 3 buckets of money: 1) you spend; 2) you save for investment, like in a savings account; and 3) you give to those who are less fortunate. Children are sponges. They’ll be financially literate if you teach them.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

I’d teach them the miracle of compounding! Many years back, my grandfather sold his little house and moved to another place. The money he earned he kept it in a checking account. It didn’t grow and therefore it wasn’t worth much when he passed away because of high inflation. For example, over the long term, the stock market is a good place to put money. I tell my children that if you give it a chance, the money will make its own baby! It will grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We all have many values that are important to us. My top two values are gratitude and responsibility. I’m so grateful for the many people who have helped me along the way. I’ve had sponsors and mentors who offered me positions and allowed me to imagine that I could have higher-level responsibilities. I’m especially grateful to the people who recruited me to come here to Kraft Heinz. It allowed me to make a big leap professionally.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never stop learning. I am where I am because I’m curious about lots of things. Learning constantly and being open to a variety of opportunities, geographies and cultures are crucial. Being curious generally means wanting to have a rapport with people.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It’s so important that women realize the following: you can never exceed your ambitions. I see so many young female professionals who have self-imposed ideas of what they can and cannot do. I was lucky that it never occurred to me to not consider my profession because I’m a woman. Fundamentally, I believe I’m an equal human being to everyone else. As long as I want something, and I work for it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t achieve it.

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