How This Harvard Grad Found a Job in the Natural Cheese Business at Kraft Heinz
Fortune’s Entry/Level column is dedicated to people looking for and working in entry-level positions—read the full series here. We interview entry-levelers about their jobs, how they got them, what they want to do next, and more. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Kevin Song is a 24-year-old category marketing analyst in the natural cheese department at Kraft Heinz. Song interned with Kraft before earning a spot in the company’s six-month rotational program, which led to a full-time job in January of 2019. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in social studies in December 2017, he relocated from his hometown of Norwood, New Jersey to Chicago for his new job.
Here’s what he has to say about…
Getting the job:
I interned, I loved the company, I loved the culture, and that’s what drew me in. The process was pretty seamless. And I had a return offer extended in the fall, which was really relaxing, because I didn’t need to worry about getting a job while I was writing a thesis.
Dipping his toes in at Kraft Heinz:
I started as a sales rep for Kraft Heinz prior to becoming a corporate management trainee. So I was home in New Jersey and I still had a few months before coming to Chicago to officially start. I reached out to HR, which was able to hook me up with a cool sales rep position in New Jersey. I was going to different grocery stores, befriending the managers there, and helping out with the merchandising.
It was very important for my foundation. Just being in the store, you get a feel and a sense for all the execution of the plans and strategies that headquarters makes. I was really able to see how certain promotions and pricing actions led to increased sales by looking at the traffic of consumers in-aisle.
The Kraft Heinz rotational program:
It’s called the Corporate Management Trainee program. It’s a six-month rotational program for recent grads to rotate between different desks to get exposure to different roles and functions before being officially placed in our roles now. And it’s a guaranteed job after that.
What he does:
As the category marketing analyst for the natural cheese business, I would say my job is to analyze and make executive decisions for the business. That’s at a very high level, but we basically evaluate performance and consumption of all of our products in our portfolio. And we determine what is working for us as a strategy and what’s not. Then based on those results, we make business calls.
A day in the life:
I typically get in around 8:45 a.m. or 9 a.m., and I leave around 6 p.m.
We have rituals and routines in place, which is just meetings on a regular cadence depending on the month and the week, and what we need to get done. So I usually get in, pull all of the automated reports that I create to track performance across the business, then I typically have three to four meetings throughout the day to talk about some of the financial calls that we’re making, meeting with supply and demand to make sure that we have the right client product being produced, and also meetings with the waste team to make sure that we are managing our waste risk. A lot of reporting and then meeting with teams to act on the decisions that we make based on those reports.
The hardest thing about his job:
Making these decisions and then having people who are experts in operations or finance go along with those decisions has been really difficult. It requires a lot of humility and a lot of people skills. But to be completely honest, it’s difficult and I’m still learning how to best be the herder for the different groups.
I think as students coming into new roles, we’re oftentimes very comfortable with numbers and the analytics and doing the homework that we’ve always known and were used to. But what’s really hard is then executing the decisions that we make based on those numbers.
The best advice he’s gotten at the beginning of his career:
This is a piece of advice that my manager and mentor gave me: don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, and always try to know what you don’t know. I think that humility really comes through in these group meetings and it resonates with people. Acknowledging the fact that I am a new hire, but relying on the data to tell my stories to make these decisions, I think is the biggest thing that I’ve learned coming in.
One of the traps that new hires fall into coming out of college is knowing that they’re top talent and thinking they know more than they do. That causes a lot of friction. Because ultimately, people want to help you. And more importantly, they want to do what’s right for the business. So if you’re making the right calls and you show that humility, that always makes for the best relationships.
How his previous work experience prepared him for this job:
Before interning here, I did a lot of startup work, interning for early-stage startups in Boston. One of the biggest things at Kraft Heinz is a culture of ownership. All the business teams kind of operate as multi-million-dollar startups. It’s in the way that we are very open to new ideas, innovating, and creatively-thinking about business problems. And that’s a lot of what I experienced working at startups, where I’m given a business problem, and I have to come up with my own creative solutions toward that. Being able to own a big part of the business so early on and being on a small team is challenging, but also reminiscent of the work that I used to do prior to coming to Kraft Heinz.
The Kraft Heinz hierarchy:
So I’m on the natural cheese business. Cheese and dairy is the umbrella of this business unit, and then above that is the refrigerated business unit that encompasses cheese and meats. Within refrigerated, within cheese and dairy, we have five or so different groups, and natural cheese is one of them. I report to my manager, an associate director, who reports to the head of cheese and dairy, who reports to the head of refrigerated.
His relationship with management:
I speak on a monthly basis in our monthly reviews directly with the head of refrigerated when I present a portion of the business. But I would not feel uncomfortable at all approaching him or setting a meeting with him if there’s something that I want him to know or bring to his attention.
And then I have an amazing relationship with my direct manager. She is an associate director, and usually an analyst like me would report to a brand manager, but because our team is smaller, I report directly to the associate director. She’s so personable and so honest. It’s been amazing for my professional and personal development to hear what she has to say about how to conduct the business, how to lead groups, and other things like that. My big thing with her is that she’s also young, and that kind of speaks to the fast pace at the company. She was in my shoes not too long ago and has been successful, so she’s been really good at cultivating my skills as a marketer.
Getting involved at work:
It’s not a formal extracurricular group, but I’m really involved with the in-the-classroom training for new hires. The culture here is that you are responsible for mentoring and herding the younger people, the new hires. I do a lot of Q&A panels for prospective hires. And as part of the buddy system, I am a mentor that anyone can reach out to at any time. I also like to do on-campus recruiting.
The biggest perk at Kraft Heinz is the emphasis on work-life balance. People care a lot about not drowning yourself in work, and making sure you’re going to the gym, rec leagues, concerts, and things like that. Aside from that, there are always free samples in the kitchen to take home. Honestly, I love cheese, but I may have gone overboard with the cheese during sampling. We also have a gym located four floors under where I work in the same building that’s super nice and only $10 a month.
Moving from New Jersey to Chicago for the job:
This definitely was not a small move, but the company was super-helpful. They gave us a pretty large check for relocation purposes, helping us out with the first two months of rent and things like that. They also had a lot of mentors, which we call buddies or training buddies. We can talk to them informally to figure out what locations in Chicago are good to live in, which places have the most fun night lives. All the questions that I had, I was able to get answers to through the buddy system.
I see Chicago as a smaller, but cleaner and quieter New York. I honestly love it more than I would if I lived in New York or any other city. I think being here in the summer is definitely a unique experience, and starting out in the summer was something that really sold me on the city. There are so many concerts and festivals and things to go do happening every weekend for three or four months straight.
I also always say Chicago has way more soul than New York. I am a musician, so that’s something that I really attach myself to, the music scene here, which is something that I wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. I’m definitely faring well.
His living situation:
I live very close to the urban center in Streeterville. The biggest factor for my roommate and me, when we were deciding where to live, was how close we could get to work. So I live maybe 10 or 15 minutes walking distance from the office, which makes my life that much easier. I don’t need to worry about public transportation or anything, I just take a stroll in the morning to get to work.
Our rent is a little bit over $3,000 a month, for a two-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms. He has a bigger room so he pays a little bit more than me. For the location, convenience, and all things considered, I think it’s definitely worth the rent. And I think Kraft Heinz does a really good job of offering a competitive pay to other entry-level consulting and industry jobs. So I’m very comfortable with the rent that I have to pay based on the salary that I get.
I knew my roommate before moving in because he also interned with me at Kraft Heinz, and also currently works at Kraft Heinz. He’s also from New York. Being from the Northeast, I didn’t really know many people coming to Chicago, so having a roommate that I worked with the previous summer and is also in the same boat was the right decision. He’s probably my best friend in the city, so it’s been really good.
Making friends in a new city:
Growing up and going to school all my life on the East Coast, to then moving out to Chicago where I think I only knew, besides my roommate, one person in the city…it definitely takes more of an effort to be social now. You need to make that active effort to go to events, join rec leagues, and meet up with buddies. It’s definitely different than college. It requires a little more effort but it’s just as rewarding when you do find that group.
Where he saw himself after college:
I had very little idea what I wanted to do after college. So in college, I focused on education. I was involved in a lot of social outreach and after-school programs for urban students in Boston. There was a time when I wanted to be a teacher, and then there was a time when I wanted to go out to Hollywood and do entertainment.
But I think what really sold me on Kraft Heinz was the emphasis on meritocracy and ownership and the expectation that I will move fast if I do well, is something that being a teacher nor being in the entertainment industry offered.
I love marketing so I see myself staying in the field. Right now I have a goal to become a brand manager or marketing executive one day because those are the skills that I’m cultivating.
Long-term, I’m open. I’ve never really been one to limit myself to one thing or one role that I need to strive towards. I’ve always found it easier to let my skills my passions open the doors to opportunities.
Advice to his younger self:
My biggest piece of advice to my younger self would be to cancel out the noise. There are a lot of rules and expectations that society places on us. And at a place like Harvard, there are certain paths that people take and things that people do, and you feel like if you’re not doing those things, you’re not succeeding. I would tell my younger self to just focus on what you’re passionate about and let that be the driver of the decisions you make and the places you end up going.
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