Through the Glass Ceiling: A taste for leadership

Iris Feine feeds the model of a generation of women reaching the top.

iris feine 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
iris feine 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An engineer, a chief executive officer, a calm mind, a mother and a good listener - the formula for the Israeli woman of the 21st century encapsulated in one fine mind sitting at the helm of Tnuva Chef, the food giant's away from home market division. Born to US immigrants, Iris Feine, has seen many worlds - whether attending religious school although a secular spirit; solving the problems and difficulties faced by military prisoners during her military service or taking responsibility for increasing sales at Israel's food giants Strauss and Tnuva. Since 2005, Feine has been pulling the strings as CEO of Tnuva Chef, the biggest division of Tnuva after the dairy group, with NIS 800 million in annual sales after proving herself as CEO of Tnuva's Olivia Gourmet, which has NIS 40m. in annual sales. Tnuva Chef is responsible for selling to the institutional market, supplying more than 25 percent of Israel's food service industry needs (hotels, catering, restaurants, etc.). It serves as a single channel for all the products and services of Tnuva and its subsidiaries and specializes in the specific needs of an industry that is rapidly expanding - the institutional market as a whole generates sales of about NIS 7 billion a year. The 38-year-old Feine, who was born in Jerusalem, is an example of a young woman with qualities of leadership and sound management that have brought her to the top of her field. "In the industry, there are many, many female marketing managers but you will barely find women in more senior positions, such as female CEOs," Feine says. "Senior management has a high price, which not every woman is willing to pay. On the other hand, we are still, unfortunately, living in a world where women are sometimes still disadvantaged - although there has been a lot of improvement over recent years and I believe women who want to succeed can." Feine, the mother of two, has never been deterred by hard work, taking every challenge in stride while combining family life and business success. "In every position in my career, I have always put responsibility for action on myself and no one else," says Feine. "Everywhere I went I understood very quickly that boosting revenue growth was the name of the game and the ultimate key to success, whether a man or a woman." Feine matriculated from the Technion in Haifa after a four-year program in industrial engineering and management. In her first job, she was a consultant, marketing products ranging from jewelry to insurance and very quickly grasped the importance of listening to the customer in order to meet their needs. "I enjoyed my first job but I soon discovered that I needed a more challenging position," Feine says with a sparkle in her eyes. "I wanted to have and take more responsibility." She moved on and started her managerial career at competing dairy giant Strauss, headed by one of the most powerful women in the Israeli corporate world Ofra Strauss, a supporter of female progress. During her seven years at Strauss, Feine excelled in innovating organizational and marketing structures while increasing sales, whether as brand manager of the group's ice cream division or marketing manager of the dairy products. "A simple but crucial change on the wrapping of Strauss's Alaska yogurt ice cream increased sales six-fold," Feine says proudly. As the head of dairy products at Strauss, Feine developed a new line of health yogurt products, including Actimel. Climbing a step higher on the corporate ladder, she was lured to the position of vice-president of marketing and sales at Shemen, one of Israel's oldest edible-oil companies. "It was an upgrade to my previous marketing positions, but after two-and-a-half years at Shemen, I felt I was ready to be at the helm of decision-making, where I would have the responsibility over a company's business model and profitability," she says. "I did not want to get caught in the marketing manager trap, where a lot of women get held up." Feine did not rest on her laurels. Seeking greater challenges, she accepted an offer from Tnuva to become CEO of its Olivia Gourmet subsidiary, which specializes in the production and marketing of gourmet spreads and ready-made sauces. In her first post as CEO, Feine succeeded in doubling Olivia's gross profitability within her three-year tenure. "I detected many weak points in the company's organizational structure and made many changes in the staff to engage the best, talented and competent personnel," Feine explains. "You can't win on your own. No one can succeed without the right people." Feine took responsibility for restructuring Olivia's product line and changing the look and name of some of its products, which boosted sales dramatically. For some of the products, sales shot up eight-fold. Her achievements did not go unnoticed and Tnuva offered her the management of a much bigger company in terms of sales and magnitude. Now, as CEO of Tnuva Chef, Feine has boosted growth largely through deals with the the country's large hotel chains, including Dan, Isrotel, Holiday Inn and Sheraton. "The key of my success is simply hard work, while constantly defining and keeping after targets, successes and mistakes,"says Feine. "I have a book of mistakes. Every weekend, although my husband does not like it, I sit down for two hours to review all the good and bad things that happened during the week, in addition to setting my targets for the upcoming week." During her move up the corporate ladder, Feine says she did not encounter any hostility or discrimination because of her sex, even though she has been working and managing a male-dominated world. "But for many years, I acted more like a male manager in terms of, for example, the clothes I was wore. Only recently, have I allowed myself a more feminine look." No challenge is too hard or too far for Feine. Even the way to work is a challenge that has not deterred the determined, career woman. "I spend more than three hours every day commuting to work from Tivon [in the Galilee] to Tnuva's offices at the Glilot junction [north of Tel Aviv], but I use the time to conduct business calls," says Feine in her efficient manner. Feine admits, however, that between commuting, working hard and managing companies there is not much time left to spend with family but that with the help and support of her husband, who shares responsibilities, she manages to combine family and business life. "I am not the perfect mother if judge by the time I spent with my family and children," she says. "However, I have the ability to switch on and off. When I am at work, I am a 100% focused on what I do, when I am with my children and family I am 100% focused on them," she says proudly showing off a drawing that hangs in her office signed with the words "Thank you for your love" from one of her children. Despite her amazing success, Feine is not not finished yet. "I always look for the next challenge, which keeps me happy," she says. "I still feel challenged in my position at Tnuva Chef, but I have not come to the end of the road. In the future, I will look to manage even bigger companies."

Profile of a powerhouse Name: Iris Feine Born: Jerusalem Age: 38 Status: Married with two kids Education: B.A. Industrial Engineering and Management, Technion Haifa Professional milestones: Marketing consultant Brand manager at Strauss Marketing manager of dairy products at Strauss Vice-President Marketing and Sales at Shemen CEO of Olivia Gourmet Ltd. CEO of Tnuva Chef