What Kraft Heinz’s super young new CFO tells us about age-blind recruitment

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Age is but a number, the saying goes – though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise based on the coverage David Knopf has had over the past 24 hours.

The 29-year-old former 3G Capital partner has just been announced as the new chief financial officer of Kraft Heinz, and his appointment has unleashed a slew of coverage focusing, inevitably, on his age.

Fortune points out Knopf is Kraft Heinz’s youngest ever CFO (though not the youngest person ever to become CFO of a major company), while The Washington Post describes the appointment as “unusual”, citing the average CFO age as 52.

Knopf’s young age is certainly eyecatching, and it is part of a wider 3G culture of promoting young execs into senior roles at portfolio companies, as both WashPo and Bloomberg explain, citing Burger King’s Daniel Schwartz, who became CEO aged 32, as another example.

“Fortune Magazine, in a recent article about Kraft Heinz and 3G Capital, called 3G’s management approach ‘meritocracy, broadly defined’,” WashPo writes. “Every employee must justify his existence every day. That’s great news for the very best performers; they are promoted with speed that is unheard of in lumbering old food companies.”

In doing so, 3G is bucking the broader industry trend. A recent study by US executive search firm Crist Kolder found CEOs and CFOs at major companies have been getting older, not younger, over the past five years. The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is now 50, up from 45 in 2012.

Here in the UK, the average age is even higher: the typical FTSE 100 CEO is now 55, research from recruitment consultancy Robert Half suggests, with a generational shift favouring older, more experienced leaders. ‘There are now just eight CEOs under the age of 50 on the FTSE 100, a quarter less than in 2010 when there were 33 CEOs under the age of 50,’ the report says. Of the big four supermarket CEOs, only Asda’s Sean Clarke (49) is under 50, though grocery also has outliers like Christian Härtnagel, who got the top job at Lidl UK aged just 34.

But does c-suite age really matter? The interest Knopf’s appointment has generated clearly shows that young high-flyers hold a certain fascination. But while super young CEOs and CFOs are undeniably interesting, where recruitment and promotion practices really matter is arguably further down the ranks. Are young people supported and mentored as they embark on their careers? Are their achievements celebrated (for example through a nomination for our Top New Talent awards) and is their input sought? Are they given space to shape company culture and strategy in meaningful ways?

It shouldn’t just be about young people, either. Ensuring older workers are given the chance to contribute and are considered for roles at all levels is just as important. A piece published by The Spectator last week made clear just how transformative true age-blind recruitment can be: its new intern is 48 and got the job thanks to a recruitment process that dispenses with CVs and selects candidates based solely on their aptitude.

It goes to show: when it comes to finding the right person for the job, age really should be but a number.

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