Heinz’s Global Playbook

Every IT leader’s dream is a standardized technology agenda shared by all. But what happens when operations spread across continents? Enter Leandro Balbinot, the CIO creating a common operating system for the biggest player in condiments.

Heinz bills itself as “America’s favorite ketchup,” but H.J. Heinz Company’s reach extends far beyond domestic borders. Each year, hundreds of millions of ketchup bottles produced in North American plants go to more than 140 countries. The company also owns several other brands, from Bagel Bites to Ore-Ida to Wyler’s, and products from its lines take Heinz into 200 countries. As senior vice president of global IT and CIO, Leandro Balbinot truly knows how to work on a global scale, and he’s leveraging technology to help the company meet its lofty goals. To catalyze that growth, Balbinot has to harness big data, drive efficiencies, and find new ways to enable collaboration between 30,000 worldwide employees.


Revenues covered by SAP’s ERP software when Balbinot joined


Revenues now covered by SAP


Countries and territories where Heinz conducts business, spread across six continents

Balbinot started at Heinz as a consultant and has a long history in retail, having worked for international brewers and a top Brazilian fashion company. At Heinz, he leads a team spread throughout thirty-two countries focusing on helping Heinz become more efficient, scalable, and predictable. In 2013, the team embarked on an 18-month process to transform tech infrastructure and replace outdated systems worldwide.

The process began with the standardization of SAP’s ERP suite in all major and new markets. “Since we expect such aggressive growth in many different geographical regions, IT has to make the process simple,” Balbinot says. “We have to make the tech agile and flexible so systems can be duplicated overnight. Standardization is key to all of this.” Balbinot’s IT team numbers less than 200—surprising given the scope of the company’s operations. Balbinot heads the function from Heinz’s Pittsburgh headquarters and manages five zone CIOs and a global team. All teams have the same organizational structure, with a business relationship manager in place to understand the demands of the business and ensure IT services are delivered properly.

As a global CIO, Balbinot knows each region presents its own challenges. “We’re in some countries that have very limited resources, and we’re in others that have the most advanced capabilities,” Balbinot says. “We need to bring the same level of efficiency and reliability to Papua New Guinea as we do in the United States.” To do that, Balbinot’s team focuses on using the most efficient technology possible while providing options to the business.

In addition, the Heinz IT team relies on outside expertise from companies like Stefanini, a technology-based business solutions firm that helps Heinz with its global efforts. “Leandro [Balbinot] had a unique vision for globalization and provided clear direction that helped us greatly in rethinking our approach to supporting Heinz’s technology needs,” says Antonio Moreira, Stefanini’s CEO. “[He] values agility, responsiveness, and a thoughtful approach to the application of technology. Those same values are really a part of Stefanini’s DNA, and I believe that played an important role as we worked together to shape forward-looking solutions for Heinz globally.”

“We’re in some countries that have very limited resources, and we’re in others that have the most advanced capabilities. We need to bring the same level of efficiency and reliability to Papua New Guinea as we do in the United States.”

Internally, Balbinot looks to maintain infrastructure cores and minimum standards no matter the situation. “We can’t sacrifice telecommunications, for example,” he says. “Each facility absolutely must be able to communicate with each other and with data centers. But we give options dependent on available technology to provide the same capability through different means.” Underdeveloped countries may be equipped with simple radio transmitters, while advanced regions enjoy the latest in VoIP and video conferencing. In 2013, Heinz launched a global telepresence video system.

The IT team also looks to help its local businesses through social media and online functions. Brands that communicate and interact with communities can differentiate themselves and increase sales. Additionally, IT analytics help managers and executives know how well a business is doing in a specific country. “We also gather and use data to help find local investments and opportunities. We use the information to make better business decisions to help Heinz grow in the right ways,” says Balbinot. Based on this data, Heinz built a new factory in China, which opened in 2014.

Leandro Balbinot’s Guiding Principles

Find the best talent

Balbinot believes in the power of collaboration and knows that it’s his job to assemble the best team possible—even if others seem more talented than him. “It’s the old adage about hiring people smarter than yourself,” he says. “Always bring in people that are better than you—people that will help you succeed. Without a great team, it’s impossible.”

Promote from within

Once Balbinot finds great talent, he looks to provide plenty of opportunities for professional growth and development. By promoting from within instead of always looking to recruit from the outside, he keeps existing associates motivated to do their very best.

Make everything simple

When making decisions and crafting solutions, Balbinot applies a version of Occam’s razor, believing that needlessly complex answers tend to break down in the long run. He values logic and reason, communicates clearly, and looks to eliminate superfluous steps.

Balbinot says that sometimes innovation is as simple as introducing a tested solution. “It might not be innovative in the whole market, but if it’s new to Heinz, it can spark new ideas and new ways of doing things at this one company, and that can drive results,” he explains. As part of an 18-month transformation, Balbinot migrated all collaborative tools to the cloud and introduced Office 365 for e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, social media, and file sharing. “It’s a critical improvement for the business because our employees are increasingly mobile. We’re responding with steps that bring mobility and agility through new technology,” Balbinot says.

Those employees can now access files on any mobile device and collaborate in much easier ways. They can update files together, join in a meeting, share files, and see interactions in real time. These comprehensive steps help employees reduce time spent on mundane tasks and give sales people the information they need to respond quickly to customers. Furthermore, the migration to cloud-based Office 365 eliminates updates, reduces incoming service calls, and lowers costs by about 20 percent. In addition to these steps, Heinz is in the process of consolidating data centers, and will ultimately reduce its number of such facilities to three.

Although Balbinot’s major IT transformation is complete and all systems will soon be uniform, his work is far from done. Going forward, he’ll look to transform connectivity and the network through new technology and is investigating a hybrid network to connect company offices, factories, and other sites around the world. He’s also putting the tools in place to help Heinz leverage digital information connected to internal systems. With a robust IT plan in place, Heinz is in a strong position to continue its long history of innovation.