Fay Cooke is Chief Impact and Financial Officer at Yeo Valley Production Ltd. Previously, Fay worked at RWE Generation, RWE npower, and Deloitte. Here, she shares her thoughts on the evolving role of the CFO, how businesses can all play their part in tackling societal issues, and shares her perspective on how to measure impact.
What does the CFO role look like at Yeo Valley?
Being a CFO today is about more than just the financials, and we don’t just judge value by putting a ‘£’ in front of it. It almost feels as if the ‘F’ in CFO is a misnomer today. At Yeo Valley, we talk about people, planet, and profit. That’s also reflected in my own title being Chief Impact and Financial Officer, not CFO.
This didn’t happen overnight – it was an evolutionary process. When our CEO was coming into the role we had an opportunity to reflect on our organisation’s purpose. As part of this, we looked at the global crises that the food and farming sector contribute to, and what our role should be in not only ameliorating these crises but in offering solutions to them. This has been embedded into our purpose, which is "To nurture and nourish people and planet", so we have leaned into our moral obligation to make a positive difference and impact.
What role do you think businesses can play in addressing social issues?
For me, this is where the importance of hope comes in. I think it’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed, especially when it comes to massive challenges like the climate crisis. I also think this is true from a business perspective – what can our company, based in the South West of Britain, do to address something as big as climate change? We need to remember the interconnectedness of businesses and the opportunities for collaboration. The power to instigate change lies with corporates.
We found it helpful to start by thinking about how our sector contributes to global challenges, which allowed us to look more broadly and at a higher level. It allows you to recognise those contributions and put a plan in place: not only to make things ‘less bad’, but also to look for solutions to these challenges. In our sector we talk a lot about regenerative agriculture, and I think the word regenerative can be applied more broadly. How are we restoring things and giving back? And how are we improving things to be better than when we found them?
We need to remember the interconnectedness of businesses and the opportunities for collaboration.
How do you measure and report on your impact beyond profit?
As part of our reflections on our purpose, we implemented impact reporting, which is equally, if not more important than our traditional performance reporting, which had centred on financial metrics. With our impact reporting we have embedded our purpose into our way of working; for example, we give people a carbon budget alongside their financial budget. Overall, we answer seven overarching questions when we report on impact:
- How do we increase the amount of natural healthy servings of food that we provide?
- How do we improve the ethics and sustainability of our raw materials?
- How can we increase the amount of regenerative organic raw materials we use?
- How can we reduce and remove our carbon footprint, from farm to fork?
- How do we improve the sustainability of our packaging?
- How do we enhance the nature-positive farming outcomes that we have?
- How do we reduce the waste that we produce, whilst recycling as much as possible?
We developed these measures so that we didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. We wanted to avoid tunnel vision - for example, if we just focused solely on carbon reduction, rather than thinking about broader impacts such as biodiversity, health, welfare, and other environmental impacts. By measuring and reporting impact across all of these measures, we have a sort of ‘graphic equaliser’ of where we are making progress and where we can do better. It gives us a picture of the interrelated dependencies between those different areas of our impact.
What barriers did you overcome when re-thinking your reporting?
I’m a data-driven person who really likes getting into the detail and getting the ‘right’ answers. I found it challenging to get to grips with a much, much bigger data set and to realise that there isn't necessarily any single ‘right’ answer. I’ve had to overcome my desire to land on a ‘right’ answer or dive into a specific piece of detail. Of course, there are occasions when you need to go into the detail to understand how that puzzle piece fits into the jigsaw – the challenge is in knowing when this is something you’ve got to do. We talk about the difference between being on the dancefloor versus on the balcony – sometimes you need to get down to the dancefloor to see exactly what’s going on so you can then go back up to the balcony and see the overall picture.
I found it challenging to get to grips with a much, much bigger data set and to realise that there isn't necessarily any single ‘right’ answer.
What are you most proud of having done in your career?
Working at Yeo Valley is absolutely a career highlight, and I’m incredibly proud and privileged to be part of an organisation that is so passionate about making a difference by nurturing and nourishing both people and planet. Even thinking about the areas where we maybe don’t have all the answers yet, everyone is open and transparent about what we need to do to get better. Having the buy-in and vision right from the top of the organisation means that it’s a really special place to work.