Anyone who knows Karen May has heard her say this, and probably more than once: “Change—or a crisis—is a terrible thing to waste.” That pretty much sums up May’s philosophy about dealing with big challenges. And she’s had a few. The first came in 2010, when Kraft Foods Inc., where May was executive vice president and chief human resources
officer, acquired 186-year-old U.K.-based chocolate
maker Cadbury in a bitterly contested hostile takeover.
May oversaw the integration of more than 45,000
Cadbury employees. At least three top Cadbury
executives quit in protest, news organizations reported
at the time.
But unarguably the biggest challenge for May
began in 2012, when Kraft Foods became Mondelez
International after spinning off what is now called
The Kraft Heinz Co. May, who became executive
vice president and chief HR officer at Mondelez
International, led the effort to identify the structures of
both new companies and divide Kraft Food’s workforce
of 125,000 between them.
Mondelez International, with 90,000 employees
around the world, now owns brands that include
Nabisco and Oreo, as well as Cadbury. May led the
charge in developing a culture around the company’s
vision (“to create moments of joy by building the best
snacking company in the world”) and employee value
proposition (“we have the scale and resources of a
global powerhouse, but the entrepreneurial spirit,
creativity and agility of a start-up”).
So how do you reassign 125,000 employees to roles
in two new companies?
May and other executives didn’t ask employees
which company they wanted to work for. “We never
offered anybody a choice,” May says. But “we did have
a lot of career conversations” in order to learn about
employee interests and ambitions.
For employees assigned to Mondelez International,
company executives emphasized the new career
paths that would be available in a company with an
Leaders also made every effort to ensure that those
moving to Kraft Heinz didn’t feel like second-class
employees, by equally stressing the opportunities at
Mondelez with those at the spinoff company, May adds.
“We started out with: What does success look like
for these two companies?” she says.
May also oversaw the process of filling the many
leadership slots created by the spinoff.
“I can’t think of any key personnel moves within
the company that haven’t had Karen’s input,” says
Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld.
BY JACK ROBINSON
year to enroll 75 percent of the global workforce in
MIU, Darling says. And “our organization is already on
track in the first half of 2017 to achieve this goal.”
May is a big believer in the importance of
articulating the overarching goal to make sure it
remains the focus, even when hashing out small details.
Language is important, she says, because it “can
empower people to make decisions that are [consistent
with] what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Category: Organizations with 7,500 or more
Title: Executive Vice President and Chief Human
Company: Mondelez International, Deerfield, Ill.
Key HR Challenges: To integrate workforces after
acquiring U.K.-based chocolate-maker Cadbury; to
restructure and divide the workforce with the 2012
spinoff of the North American grocery business, now
called The Kraft Heinz Co.; to develop a vision and
employee value proposition for Mondelez International;
to fill leadership posts across the company.
Key HR Accomplishments: In addition to personnel
moves required by the acquisition and spinoff,
oversaw the creation of a centralized learning-and-development operation called Mondelez International
University under the constraint of a company move
to zero-based budgeting.
“In fact, she’s been the
decision maker for every
single move we’ve made
among our most senior 250
to 300 colleagues across
the organization and has
been instrumental not only
in recruiting, but also in
retaining talent,” Rosenfeld
says. “It’s especially
important that, when tough
decisions are required
around talent, she’s made
those decisions in a way that
has the respect even of those
leaving,” says Rosenfeld, who
will be leaving herself when
she retires in November.
May notes that
accomplishing all the work
resulting from the spinoff
and transformation of Kraft
Foods into Mondelez International required a laser-sharp focus on strategic goals.
Sometimes, May says, a business challenge can be
a tool to accomplish a goal, rather than impediment.
She cites this example: Soon after the 2012 spinoff,
Mondelez International shifted to a financial practice
called zero-based budgeting. (Zero-based budgeting
entails justifying expenses from scratch for each
period, rather than carrying for ward amounts—or
fixed percentages of them—from previous periods.)
While some in the business world fear it as a method
for radical cost-cutting, others see zero-based budgeting
as a tool for developing a cost-conscious culture.
Within 90 days, “we did a review of our operating
model,” May says. “And we did it so we weren’t just
cutting costs, we were building something.”
In the HR domain, May noticed an opportunity to
improve the company’s training, then scattered across
many programs. “At that time, all of our learning was
totally decentralized,” she says. “I couldn’t even roll up
our total learning-and-development spend.”
Zero-based budgeting gave May license to start
fresh on the company’s training efforts. “I said, ‘I’m
going to corral the spending, I’m going to prioritize
it, I’m going to create Mondelez International
University—and save money.”
Launched in 2014, Mondelez International
University is now the company’s integrated learning
program, offering in-person and online training in
functional skills and business subjects. The MIU
online catalog includes 13,000 courses and is popular
with employees, says Ryan Darling, the company’s
Splitting the workforce of Kraft Foods to build
two new packaged-food companies is only
one of several daunting challenges Mondelez
International CHRO Karen May has surmounted
in recent years.