Two Fortune 500 CFOs on How They're Shaping Company Vision
CFOs of The Estée Lauder Companies and Gilead Sciences join Fortune’s MPW International Summit.
So this is, you can tell from my trees. Introduction thing is really not a conversation about numbers anymore. CFO's uh, by the way, there's a great article in fortune. Last year our former colleague Leigh Gallagher did on the influence the CFO's air having it cos it's really well worth a read if you get the opportunity. So today we have Tracy Travis, CFO of Estee Lauder, before that CFO of Ralph Lauren High Fashion, but started a GM engineer. I love that, um, Robin Washington CEO. Excuse me, CFO of Gilead Sciences. Sorry. Also a board member of Honeywell Sales Force and Alphabet and Robin count everybody a little bit about Gilead and its role in the AIDS uh, crisis. Sure. So Gil EOD is a 20 plus year bio pharmaceutical company that really was pioneering relative to making HIV a livable, chronic disease. We haven't cured it yet, but we're very focused on it. Um, and we now see everyone remembers. You know, in the eighties and nineties, people were dying in their twenties. The average age of an HIV patient that takes treatment today is 50 plus years old, and they'll live a normal, healthy life with one pill one today, and we continue to advance in that regard. And we're also focused a lot on prevention as well for those that aren't infected ways that we can ensure that they don't ever get the horrible disease. That's fascinating and important work. So let's start with you, Tracy. And in terms of the changing nature of the CFO, you're on your way to China in a few days. Um, talk about the importance of geopolitics to your job right now. It's very important. So everyone knows Estee Lauder Cos we're have 30 brands on dhe. Much of our business is actually global. So 70% of our business is actually outside of North America edible. So we have a tremendous amount of growth in a lot of emerging markets in China being being certainly one of them. So between my CEO and myself, we spend a fair amount of time traveling to China, Hong Kong, other other countries to really, you know, make sure that we're investing appropriately in growth opportunities. Geopolitical events, you know, have a tremendous impact. So, obviously, all of the discussion today on trade between the US and China there was no conversation last night about US Canada tensions, US Mexico. Tensions on all of those things have an impact on us. From a business standpoint. The Hong Kong protests and sales in Hong Kong. Hansel sales in Hong Kong. We just talked about it on our earnings call a few ah, few weeks ago are down quite a bit. Azia. Result of of protests and in stores being being shut, Andi areas being blocked. So it has a big impact. It also has a big impact on currency markets. And so, you know, if we look at currency volatility, um, you know, and, uh, um, you know, and how we manage that from the company's standpoint, those are all things that a cz, the CFO you're really engaged in an involved with the management team on How do you personally stay ahead of the curve on that? Do you? What do you read? You goto Council on Foreign Relations events. I mean, how do you have you stay abreast? Yeah, I am a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Well, at the Economic Club of New York. So? So those air great sources of information and other things as well so I mean, I do. I spend a fair amount of time on weekends just keeping up with everything that's that's going on with the Financial Times fortune on DA and other other periodical. But we also get an awful lot of intelligence from our teams on the ground. So we have boots on the ground and more than 150 countries, and we rely on our general managers a lot as well. Thio tell us what's going on in the market, Um and, uh, and what they're saying from A from a consumer standpoint, in a customer standpoint as well, really interesting, Robin. Also, the CFO's role has changed in terms of making sure companies or more purpose driven. And you talk about CFO's meeting now and e Q. What did you mean by that? Yeah. I mean, I think, um, the person introduces said it very well. The job is very much beyond the numbers. I mean, really a business partner to the CEO to the management gene, and I do think e Q is really important because I believe you're great fearful when you can really understand the business. The higher level economic issues, the industry the competition. So having that e Q and ability to reach out and understand what's happening around the world in your company to meet across the various areas, being able to be a spokesperson, not only to our investors but the other stakeholders, I think really important gives you a better pulse of what's going on. And I find now what shareholders and they won't understand your strategy. Where you're going, you're being Yes, profitable. Growth is important. But being a responsible company, for instance, one of the things that Gilead is known for is in addition to our commercial business. We're known for our access business, where we have a model in place where we work with Indian generics that can formulate our products at a much lower cost that allows it to be used in countries that could never afford access to our medicines. But global access is really important for us, particularly with helping reduce the spread of HIV AIDS. The other piece of this as being purpose driven is it. Employees are more concerned and more activist when it comes to social issues and you particularly in congratulations, you've just joined the alphabet board. But sales force. You've seen some employees protests over three use of technology by Border patrol, I believe. But how do you How do you have companies cope with that? Yeah, I think it is, Um, even going back to the Business Roundtable. I just think being responsible and thinking about all stakeholders is just much more important in our world today. And if you think about the next generation of employees, they want to be part of purpose led organizations. They want to know that their work, whether it's being a software engineer or whatever, is being used for good purposes and good. And I think this is something that not only technology companies have to tackle, but all cos we do as well as just being responsible employees and thinking about ethical use of our products. Um, you know how they get distributed, how they get you. So it's it's this broader platform and responsibility if the companies have to be aware of. I mean, it could be brand destroying if you're not, but I think it's just become really important to have that broader focused on a lot of different brand destroying. So I mean, our company has been known, I think, for for years being a company that very caring about their employees and caring about, you know, multiple societal manners we have, along with the with the great work that Caylee Out is doing in terms of pharmacy pharmaceuticals as it relates to a our Mac brand is has done a lot of fund raising for the church and, for a related causes, has raised several $100 million. There were over over a couple of decades as it relates to that. Breast cancer research is also an area that, uh hey Lauder on Breast Cancer Research Foundation have really focused a lot. On an earlier this year, we announced SG initiative. So you know, when you think about beauty products, you know, packaging, ingredient transparency are all things from an environmental standpoint, carbon footprint that we've announced gold for this year and are making a lot of progress. And again, to Robin's point, very important, important for employees, very important for consumers. You know, the finance team, you know, is involved in all of these areas. So making sure that, you know, we're capturing the metrics, um and, uh and we're communicating them appropriately and working with the teams on. Actually, how do we implement some of these some of these programs and get get value out of them as well? Because there is the balance between the investment that you're making in order to become a sustainable company and the return on that which is a long, you know, long term return. But they're also opportunities for short term. But what advice? So for dealing with employees. Protests on one protest from stakeholders, whether its employees protesting something that is part of your business in the key part of your business, and employees may not even be right in your mind A or B, you've The cosmetics industry has been the target of pita protests. For example, what's your advice to on on addressing those issues and getting ahead of the curve? I think transparency is just evermore important that you're explaining your strategy. You're explaining me. We talk a lot about engaging with being government. Obviously, you know, for a lot of companies where the government is the primary healthcare system, those are customers, and I think getting in front of describing how you get back to the communities. But more importantly, how you're focused on innovation and ultimately improving. Enhancing the lives of the employees or customers used employees and customers that you serve is really, really important. And I think getting that story out there and that engagement it's really critical. I mean, you're never going to please everyone. I think any time you're in innovative areas, you may run across controversies. But I think being transparent and being open and discussing what you're trying to do and and listening as well I think that the engagement early engaging and it's very, very important and understanding the issues and to the extent that we you can actually help some of those issues, we certainly we certainly try to questions. Raise your hand and a paddle will come and I'll continue the Congress. Oh, bek. Here. Go ahead. Hi. Good morning, Chiltern. A bet with Jen Packed you both talked about at the ethics and sustainability. So I've got two questions. Tracy. Estee Lauder. Um, the sustainability goals you just talked about, I think 75 100%. Your packaging is supposed to be reusable. Recyclable by 2025 right? Can you talk a little bit about Thea reengineering the execution effort in the supply chain and how you manage. You talked about this a short versus long term impact on margin and then the narrative in the C suite as well as with investors, and that's a big one on then. The second question is to the both of you, since you both are on corporate boards and very esteemed corporate boards. Um, some specifics around how that's been a creative to you professionally as well as in the context of your CFO rolls. So let's start with the 1st 1 for both of you. To they. You know the decision about deploying resource is in the and how you make those positions and how you make the argument the narrative. So in terms of in terms of packaging, I mean we do about 30% on average of our innovation. Every year, somewhere between 25 to 30% is new innovation. And so we have an opportunity as we launch new products to make sure that we're doing that with sustainable packaging. We're also looking at some of our, um you know, uh, regular product lines and ah addressing addressing packaging, some of the cartons, making sure that some of those air reusable looking at other ingredients as well. So they had a big financial investment to do that. It is a some financial investment. Again, we're gonna make financial investments anyway in innovation. So you know, the more broadly that we can actually look across our portfolio for those investments on, the more we can engineer the costs down. And so there is some investment, but but again, important to our consumers and certainly from a long term perspective, the view that we take is it's right for, you know, the environment. It's right for the company and over the long term will have an impact on sales if we don't address some of those issues. So that's the investor philosophy. And that's certainly our philosophy as we approach some of the GSG initiative as it relates to the boards. I mean, I joined my first public company board about 16 years ago. I've been a public company CFO for about 18 years, my first public company CFO role, and it was, ah, a terrific experience. The first sport I was on with Jo Ann Stores. I think as a CFO, it gave me a better perspective on how to actually serve the CFO are served the board in my company and, uh, and what I was interested in what I needed to be an effective board member. It's certainly something that I learned and took back to the various CFO roles. I've had sense. So I think it's been a tremendous, tremendous help Thio my role to actually be on boards. And I encourage everyone who can be on a board to be on a board and just understand what's important from a governance standpoint. Thio to make sure that the company can continue toe, operate and operate successfully with the board. Yeah, maybe I'll start with the second question and go back. I wholeheartedly agree with Tracy. Actually joined my first board before I became a CFO. Which waas? Tektronix? Yeah, so it was through, um, the audit chair. I was the corporate controller. People softened. We were going through a hostile takeover. I was involved in a lot of different areas, and he was very much a sponsor of putting me on my first board, where I was the only female and three only person of color. But I think it really just helped frame for me, to Tracy's point, the role of the board thinking as a CFO, more strategically regarding kind of stepping back. And I actually think being able to be on board that's outside of the core industry that you're in is really critical. You see things that are different but also things they're like. But I think it just helps make you a much more strategic thinker. Was just interviewing with Mastic about how I believe being abort member made me a better CFO in a lot of different ways, and I to very much encouraged Ford Service if you can make it work with your day job. I and I actually even think board members that have day jobs is really great as well, because I think you're right in the midst of seeing things evolve so you can benchmark and better understand areas with regard to sustainability. Agree. I think Ear D It's more and more important to our investor base. It's also very important to our employees. You know, we outsource a lot of our manufacturing, but we look at sustainability and best practices were in a regulated industry, so these things are very important. The facilities that we do own were very green. We were just named one of the top companies around sustainability in terms of just water usage, you know, carbon usage, etcetera. But I I'm just galvanized by seem, employees interest in ensuring we're doing the right things by our environment as well. So we're very engaged in those areas. Yes. Thank you. So reintegrate yourself. Sorry. Claudia Ramon Edelman. Um, I used to work for the Secretary General when we were launching the sustainable Development goals on our dream in our office wants to have, um, the sustainable development goals move from corporate surfer responsibility. The little corner, you know, little office in the corner, Toby, come early lead more like the C e O. And then moved to CMO se. But I think that the real thing and the Secretary General of the Times said like but change will never happen until it heats the CFO. Do you think that you're Do you think that CSR has moved into the C suites? Who's responsible now for CSR on? Do you think that you're alone or pioneers? CFOs actually understanding of, you know, like sustainability on purpose. Now that you know your emperor used on investment and so on. And when you answer that question, can you not just speak? I know you both believe in the purpose of your companies, but speak broadly. Other companies have panic. Please. You know, I think Robin touched on it. You know, investors more and more particularly European investors have, you know, always had they were, ah, ahead in terms of really caring about, you know, e SG issues on dhe whether or not we were good corporate citizens from an environmental standpoint, et cetera. But Maur and Maur investors now in the U. S. As well. Black Rock obviously has come out with a statement as it relates thio to corporate citizenship of the Business Roundtable that we've we've spoken about. So it is very important that the CFO be involved inside the company in terms of what investments are we making in this area and making sure that we're making progress because we're engaging with investors. Andi were engaging with the board board's arm or interested in this as well, recognizing the importance to long term corporate sustainability, right? I also would just add to Tracy's comments with JJ. I agree with I think in the CFO Sweet. You're about measuring things. And so I think it does give you another base of really thinking about the metrics, et cetera, that show not only additional value that you're adding, um, you know, in terms of improving environment but hopefully turning them into financial investments for your company. So I think that aspect has made it very important. And I know there are a lot of this is there's a great initiative in the UK that I've involved with. It's really focused on sustainability, and we started to move that to the U. S. Think about, um, you know the opportunity to advance that in the in the financial areas within the U. S. I do think it's a really important topic, and it's a great way to engage younger finance folks in other ways that you can add value in company beyond just the basic blocking and tackling. And at least in our company, there is a leader of the sustainability initiative. But I'm the executive sponsor way. We're running out of time. I want you each to give you both incredibly success. Awful leaders give us one very quick piece of advice on leadership to this room, being a successful leader. What have you learned, Robin? I think being a continuous Lerner is something that I've learned the world is constantly evolving on. Guy would say. The other thing that I think's been a critical point in my career is being comfortable being uncomfortable because I think when you're pushing and driving and developing yourself, you're learning. And it's the other side of that uncomfortable that come comfortable. This when you start to really realize how you continue evolved about here, get out of your comfort zone. You know that I I would agree with that 100% in terms of, you know, the learning aspect of taking risks in your career. Um and, um, and continuing Thio learn and grow and develop from that very much a part of building yourself a leader. I've had so many varied experiences in my career. I think it helped me certainly in this role be a better, better CFO, another business oriented CFO. We're both extraordinary leaders and we thank you for coming and sharing your insight and wish you the best. You both have exciting chapters ahead. Thank you. Thank you