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Whirlpool’s CFO on navigating challenges facing the manufacturing industry

September 14, 2021, 10:35 AM UTC

Good morning,

Twenty years ago, you may have used a Whirlpool range to cook a meal, and that’s where interaction with the company ended. “We’re beginning to connect many of our products today,” says Whirlpool EVP and CFO Jim Peters, who’s worked at the company for 17 years. The more than 100-year-old appliance giant is “even more focused on innovation,” Peters says.

Whirlpool CFO Jim Peters/Courtesy of Whirlpool

But as customers connect with Whirlpool through its online products like recipe app Yummly, the company is also navigating challenges facing manufacturing. Supplier issues along with labor and commodity costs going up are impacting the industry, says Peters.

“All those things are occurring at the same time, yet we’re seeing growth in this environment,” he says. The company reported about $19 billion in annual sales in 2020. In the second quarter of 2021, Whirlpool had net sales of $5.32 billion, a 32% increase compared to the same quarter last year, and an ongoing 11.4% EBIT margin, a year over year change of 6.4 points. “What we’re seeing is the continued focus of the consumer on their home,” Peters explains. Increased home buying and building, and the replacement of appliances, are other factors driving growth, he says. “Replacements are about 55% of our business,” Peters says. 

But Whirlpool, which has about 78,000 employees and 57 manufacturing and technology research centers, has felt the squeeze of the global semiconductor chip shortage. “Fortunately, we have good relationships with many of the semiconductor companies, but we’re under pressure like a lot of other businesses out there, whether it’s automotive or many of the electronics companies,” Peters says. Being flexible is beneficial, he notes. The company can reallocate the microchips to Whirlpool locations around the world that need them the most to “keep production up and going,” Peters says. Managing the number of back orders is also important, he says. “It’s a week-by-week, day-by-day, hour-by-hour process,” he explains. “It’s a very manual process that our procurement organization is very engaged in.” 

In another sign of the times, “inflation has been pretty significant for us,” Peters says. “We’ve talked about $1 billion of raw material cost increases this year alone, which is mainly steel and resins,” he says. “So, across the board, we’re seeing a lot of different cost increases … we’ve been able to offset that via increasing prices,” he explains. Compared to 10 years ago, the company can “quickly understand where those increased costs could be,” Peters says. In regard to the war for talent that’s hitting the manufacturing industry, “we did have to do things such as increase wages along with the market to remain competitive,” Peters explains. “You look at the benefits that you’re giving different employees and make sure that those are competitive [such as] continuing education or opportunities to get reimbursement for education.” Whirlpool is now offering to pay employees a $1,000 incentive to get a COVID-19 vaccination, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

During our conversation, I asked Peters, who became CFO at Whirlpool in 2016 after serving in several financial leadership roles, if he always wanted to be a finance chief. “I don’t know that I always aspired to a career in finance,” he says. In fact, he pondered a career in journalism. However, his dad, a CPA, had some influence on his decision. Looking back, he’s glad he stayed in finance and experienced many opportunities at Whirlpool. “It’s really made me a much more well-rounded individual,” Peters says.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

A survey from SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) and Morgan Stanley at Work report released on September 12 gauges how COVID-19 has affected financial well-being.  About 77% of working Americans surveyed said retirement savings, such as pension plans and 401(k), is one of the most important employer-sponsored financial wellness benefits. And 59% of unemployed Americans said the same. "Organizations should approach changes to their financial wellness benefits by considering the needs of both existing employees and their future workforce, which will include the currently unemployed," according to the report.

Going deeper

Visa's Spending Momentum Index (SMI) for the U.S. was 109.6 in August, down 2.9 points from July, the company reported on September 10. Designed to measure the health of consumer spending, an SMI reading above 100 indicates that consumers are still spending more than they did this time last year, according to the report. Across all regions in the U.S., the SMI slowed in August. In the northeast, the SMI was 109.3; 108.7 in the south; 108.3 in the midwest; and 111.2 in the west, the report found. However, "U.S. consumer spending for the full year of 2021 should still expand at its fastest pace in decades," Wayne Best, Visa’s chief economist, said in a statement. 

Leaderboard

Jennifer Bitterman was named EVP and CFO at Cedar Realty Trust, which focuses on the ownership, operation, and redevelopment of grocery-anchored shopping centers. Bitterman joined Cedar in 2011 and most recently was senior vice president of corporate and portfolio management. She succeeds Philip Mays, who is departing the company. Prior to Cedar, Bitterman worked at Morgan Stanley Real Estate in the asset management group and at Credit Suisse performing equity research on the REIT sector.

Jason Cavalier was named CFO at Lyra Therapeutics, Inc., a clinical-stage therapeutics company, effective September 14. Cavalier succeeds Don Elsey, who is retiring but expected to serve in an advisory role to assist with the transition. Cavalier joins Lyra after serving as managing director, head of life sciences mergers and acquisitions at Cantor Fitzgerald. Prior to Cantor, he held several senior-level positions at RBC Capital Markets, including director, mergers and acquisitions. He also held investment banking roles at Barclays Capital, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers.

Overheard

“I think that the overwhelming evidence is that the current market structure works well for retail investors.”

—Daniel Gallagher, chief legal officer at Robinhood, as told to CNBC.

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