Don’t try to be perfect!! In the past, I’ve tried to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect professional — but of course it’s impossible to do it all. I suffered a lot because I wanted to be everywhere and to do everything, but eventually I realized that it’s ok to break plates — just choose small ones! In other words, I decide what events in my life are non negotiable, like my husband and children’s birthdays, and I just make sure that my schedule works around it. It was really important for me to decide what is nonnegotiable, because in a very large company like ours, if I don’t stand for this as head of the global people function, who will? For young female leaders, it’s really hard to build that balance. I’m still working on it!
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Werneck, the Global Chief People Officer for The Kraft Heinz Company. She is responsible for overseeing the global human resources function. Melissa joined Heinz in 2013 to implement the new performance methodology and the integrated management system. Prior to joining Heinz, Melissa served as Performance Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at America Latina Logistica (ALL). Melissa received a degree in chemical engineering from Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and an MBA from Federal University of Rio De Janeiro.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Throughout my career, I’ve been interested in transformation. It’s the reason I chose to be a chemical engineer, because I wanted to see raw material becoming a product that people love. During my studies, I had the opportunity to work as an intern on R&D, and then moved into a full time position in a factory, working on process improvement. After a while, I wanted to return to university, so I entered an MBA program focusing on supply chain. This led to an incredibly exciting position at ALL, a logistics provider in South America. During my fourteen years at ALL, I worked in several different areas, including marketing, logistics and HR. I realized that for someone like me who was so interested in transformation, human resources was the best place to be. Every organization is only as good as its employees, and if you want to really transform something, it has to start with HR. Leading the people function for Kraft Heinz has been an incredible opportunity. I get to apply my analytical and data skills to help transform a business that I am passionate about. Ultimately, what excites me the most is transforming someone’s life — which is why human resources is such a great place to be!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At Kraft Heinz, our passion is to be the best food company, growing a better world. This really hit home a few years ago when I visited our agriculture team in California, the epicenter of tomato production and therefore where the iconic Heinz Ketchup starts. That day I dove into the science of tomatoes and saw the fields where ketchup and all our tomato sauces are born. It was incredible to see the process they used to get the perfect tomato seed for the most loved ketchup in the world. This day was my ah-ha moment, because it was such a tangible demonstration of the quality and love this company puts into our products.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My first day at Kraft Heinz was also my first day using English at work! As you can imagine, this made an intense day even crazier. Of course I had studied English and had practiced a lot, but it’s totally different working in English every day. My brain is hard-wired in Portuguese, so there are still lots of expressions I use that are not quite correct in English. I wouldn’t have succeeded if I wasn’t humble and willing to make mistakes. It also helps to laugh!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, my focus is to deliver the HR component of our company’s strategic plan. It’s very exciting, because we intentionally cast a wide net for internal and external best practices. Every day I’m thinking about how human resources can be more present and engaged in our employees’ work experiences. Most of all, my obsession is employee retention. We need to ensure that our incredible employees continue to be excited and driven to succeed at Kraft Heinz.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t try to be perfect!! In the past, I’ve tried to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect professional — but of course it’s impossible to do it all. I suffered a lot because I wanted to be everywhere and to do everything, but eventually I realized that it’s ok to break plates — just choose small ones! In other words, I decide what events in my life are nonnegotiable, like my husband and children’s birthdays, and I just make sure that my schedule works around it. It was really important for me to decide what is nonnegotiable, because in a very large company like ours, if I don’t stand for this as head of the global people function, who will? For young female leaders, it’s really hard to build that balance. I’m still working on it!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Two words: End hunger. For a food company like Kraft Heinz, I’m so proud that this is our mission. It’s at the very heart of who we are and what we represent. There is so much food waste and so many children who are starving, and ending hunger is the key to solving many other problems. For example, in many poor areas of my home country of Brazil, school meals are sometimes the only ones available, so providing food to schools is also a way to improve education.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I admire Michelle Obama so much, for her beliefs and her story, but also because of the way she has managed her career and family life. She’s a very good example of a female leader.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.