Katrina Hahn, Former Senior Vice President of Bare Snacks
Katrina Hahn is a visionary general management leader with a history of driving dramatic growth and leading exceptional teams across the food, health and beauty, household cleaning, and durable goods industries. As the Senior Vice President of Bare Snacks, Katrina and her team doubled the company’s size before their acquisition by Frito-Lay in 2018.
Before joining Bare Snacks, Katrina was the Vice President of Sales and Customer Marketing at Mrs. Meyers/Caldrea. Her experience extends to brands like Campbell Soup, Clorox, Brita, and more. Katrina has also served on various nonprofit boards dedicated to advancing women in the workplace, supporting young people on the path to college, and helping people save water, reduce waste, and conserve energy.
Highlights from our conversation include:
- Transitioning from large to small companies (2:35)
- Hiring differences between big and small brands (3:40)
- Why culture fit is so important at entrepreneurial organizations (9:33)
- Bringing hires in from big CPG companies to small organizations. (11:28)
- Finding success in recruiting from outside of the industry (13:12)
- How she uses her network to build candidate pools (15:04)
- The experience she creates for candidates (16:23)
- Trusting her gut in making a hire (17:00)
- Moving through situations of doubt (17:54)
- The tools, tips, and tricks she uses with her teams (19:02)
- Challenges Katrina has faced in recruiting (20:06)
- The skills and competencies she finds most essential (20:52)
- Balancing technical know-how with culture fit (22:28)
- How she defines culture fit (23:01)
- Why investing in people is vital to success (25:57)
- Her advice for fast-growing brands (26:38)
Show Transcript: How I Hire Podcast with Katrina Hahn
Roy Notowitz: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m your host, Roy Notowitz, founder and president of Noto Group Executive Search.
I’m excited to welcome Katrina Hahn to the show. Katrina has a proven track record of success as a growth-driving sales and marketing GM working for healthy, mission-driven CPG natural products companies across multiple industry sectors including food, health and beauty, household cleaning and durable goods.
Most recently, Katrina was the Senior Vice President of Bare Snacks. Prior to Bare Snacks, Katrina was the Vice President of Sales and Customer Marketing at Mrs. Meyer’s/Caldrea. She’s here today to share how she builds winning teams, how she adapted her approach between large and small companies, and how she had success recruiting talent from outside the industry.
I first connected with Katrina in 2014 when my team was conducting an executive search for a CPG snack brand. After my first call with Katrina, it was really clear to me that she was a proven industry leader and somebody that I wanted to maintain a relationship with. And so Katrina, I appreciate you being on our podcast today.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Katrina Hahn: [00:01:20] Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Roy Notowitz: [00:01:22] Great. Let’s begin with the story of how you got started and what your path has been to get you here.
Katrina Hahn: [00:01:28] So I actually started my career, not in CPG, but in heavier industrial equipment and car manufacturing. And one of the things I learned in doing that was that I really lacked a connection to the consumer.
And so when I went back to grad school, I purposely targeted the CPG industry because you could have that connection to that consumer and you could talk about the brands that you worked on and people had stories to tell you or experiences they had had. And for me that was very meaningful. And so the CPG industry fit that bill in terms of me being able to connect sort of my work to human beings.
Roy Notowitz: [00:02:09] What were some of your first career steps in consumer packaged goods?
Katrina Hahn: [00:02:13] So coming out of grad school, I took a job at Campbell’s Soup, which is, of course, a very iconic CPG company that has been in the business for a very long time. And from there I then went to work for Clorox. So I did probably the first 14, 15 years of my career in what you would define, as, you know, Fortune 500 big CPG companies.
And then I decided to make the transition to small, which is actually where I had started my career back in heavy industrial equipment. And for me that was really a nice marriage of taking all the things I had learned and, in my days in corporate America, and being able to apply them to small entrepreneurial growing companies.
When I left, I did that at Mrs. Meyer’s parent company as Caldrea, but Mrs. Meyer’s, who makes natural cleaning products, and that was a very nice transition in terms of being able to work in a small company, but also work in an environment that, and on businesses that I felt very personally passionate about in their efforts to be in the “better for you” space.
Roy Notowitz: [00:03:12] In your career, when did you first have responsibility for hiring and managing people?
Katrina Hahn: [00:03:19] So I took on managerial positions about two or three years out of grad school into my first sort of corporate job.
Roy Notowitz: [00:03:26] Did you get any formal training on recruiting or hiring when you first started or, you know, what shaped your approach when you started having that responsibility?
Katrina Hahn: [00:03:35] Yeah, and this is one of the areas that I think that big companies do a really nice job.
You know, they have HR departments that can help you. And Campbell’s Soup was one of those in terms of being able to help me think about how to interview candidates, how to structure an interview, everything from sort of the opening dialogue and getting them comfortable in the situation to more pointed, hard hitting questions around their skills and capabilities, asking them situational questions so they can showcase what they’ve done in their careers.
And then I think one of the things that I have found helpful and that I have reapplied in other companies that I’ve been with is this sort of team-based model in terms of if you’re going to have five or six people on your interview roster, how do you divide the questions such that you both don’t fatigue the candidate. And I certainly had been on the other side of this coin where I feel like I answered the same question 10 times and don’t really get to tell the organization other things about myself. Right?
Roy Notowitz: [00:04:35] Yes, I’ve seen that happen. Yeah, that’s not good.
Katrina Hahn: [00:04:37] It’s not good for the candidate, right? It’s not really helping them tell their story and it’s also not very good for the employer because they’re not getting a chance to know as much as they could know and they’re not using their time as sort of efficiently and wisely as they could. So for me, I, I sort of stole that along the way. And really try to, when I have candidates and sort of that “divide and conquer” model of, you know, you take these questions or these topics and really try to go deeper in those areas.
And I think we get a lot more out of the situation as the employer and I think the candidate then has a lot more opportunity to tell their story.
Roy Notowitz: [00:05:11] Absolutely. What qualities, capabilities and competencies did you look for in candidates when hiring for positions in the bigger CPG company settings and what differed when hiring in smaller entrepreneurial companies?
Katrina Hahn: [00:05:26] The way I would categorize that is that my hires at Clorox leaned more heavily on the technical proficiencies of the role, and my hires at Caldrea and Bare leaned more heavily on some of the softer skills. Yes, they had to be technically competent, but in these small companies, you get a lot more into the cultural fit and the aptitude to sort of dive in and do, you know, anything and everything you can to make it come together.
So I think in my Clorox days and my Campbell’s Soup days, a lot of our hiring really relied on much more of a proficiency model to do the role and their technical expertise as it pertained to the job than it does necessarily in the small entrepreneurial companies.
Roy Notowitz: [00:06:13] Was that mostly because you needed that subject matter expertise in the larger companies and people didn’t go as much out of their lane versus the smaller company where people had to wear more hats or be a little bit more adaptable?
Katrina Hahn: [00:06:25] Yeah, that’s exactly it, and in the big companies you have, you know, a much larger magnitude of staff, right?
So you can be much more narrow and deep. And that was the expectation. Whereas in these smaller companies, when the, you know, when the entire team is 25 or 35 people running the company, you have to be wider in your scope and more flexible in your day-to-day work.
Roy Notowitz: [00:06:49] In terms of your approach to hiring, was there certain steps that you followed or a methodology or process that you used in one place versus the other, or was it the same?
Katrina Hahn: [00:06:59] I’d say some of it was the same. I think that, you know, in my big company work. A lot of the early vetting was done by the HR department. And so we don’t put together a job rec and give it to HR. And HR would do, you know, more than 50% of the upfront leg work. So by the time that we got the candidate pool, they were pretty well vetted.
And you know you had candidates that were technically competent and now you were interviewing for some nuances as well as fit with inside of the team and likability and things like that. Whereas in the small companies, that first 50 plus percent is me or somebody, whoever the hiring manager is. Right?
So it’s different in that you do the vetting along the way. And so at Clorox, I may see five candidates for a job. In my smaller company work, I usually only see two at the end in live interviews because I have been intimately involved in a lot of the upfront vetting, and so I’ve narrowed it down to a much smaller candidate pool by the time I get to in person interviews.
Roy Notowitz: [00:08:09] So with the HR people at Clorox, did they create any sort of structure or was there something that you had to follow? Was it rigid or was it something that they just did some vetting and then hand it off to you and then you took it from there?
Katrina Hahn: [00:08:21] It was pretty rigid. There was a lot of upfront in terms of, you know, writing the job spec in terms of what they wanted to see in the candidate.
Certainly, you know, comparing that to other like candidates and other like levels across the organization. Because most of the work is, you know, you have grade levels for each different job and those need to match across the organization. Whether or not you’re in the, you know, the sales, the marketing, the finance, the ops function.
And so HR would be heavily involved in the, you know, what are we asking for from the candidates? What did their experience background need to look like? And spending a lot of time up front on drilling down on, on those qualifications, ahead of even posting the job.
Roy Notowitz: [00:09:04] Did you find that helpful?
Katrina Hahn: [00:09:06] Yeah, I think it’s, it’s helpful in some situations.
I do think though that it can leave you with a blind spot to candidates that may not fit precisely into that box.
Roy Notowitz: [00:09:20] Coming into Mrs. Meyer’s and Caldrea, how did you determine what the culture fit was or the, you know, what were the things that were important to them or to you when you were hiring for that situation?
Katrina Hahn: [00:09:33] So we do spend a lot more time talking about culture in these entrepreneur organizations, partially because it’s such a big part of the makeup of these brands and partially because with 25 people, if it’s not a good fit, it’s really obvious. One of the things that I really tried to do is spend a lot of time with the candidates, not talking about the job, but talking about other things so that you can find out who they are as a person and what interests them and what drives them and what gets them excited in the morning when they get up.
And then I find one thing that helps a lot is going and having a meal with people is, I think a great way to get to know folks. I think breaking bread with people is just a bonding experience. Then it really just becomes a conversation with two people, two human beings talking, and when it’s just two human beings having a conversation, then you really get to know the person and that’s ultimately what you’re trying to hire for in a culture fit is the person.
Roy Notowitz: [00:10:29] I agree totally and often make recommendations to build in a breakfast or a lunch or a dinner to create a different, more informal dialogue and different settings.
Katrina Hahn: [00:10:40] Yeah, I like breaking it up and I also like the fact that if you do it, you know, a dinner and then a day, they have time to digest some of the dialogue and they come with different questions and different perspectives and different things they want to highlight about themselves because they’ve had a chance just to spend time with you. Not interviewing, quote unquote, right?
You’re always on when you’re in an interview, but when you’re at dinner, it’s a more – or lunch or whatever – it’s a more relaxed environment and I think you have a chance to process and then come to the next dialogue differently.
Roy Notowitz: [00:11:13] During your experience working at Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer’s and Bare, did you also hire people from big CPG companies or with that type of experience and were those hires successful or were there challenges associated with that as well?
Katrina Hahn: [00:11:28] So I have done that and I’ve done it successfully and unsuccessfully. I’ll be honest, and I think the places where I have been successful is really getting back to that conversation about that culture fit. The “why” behind why they want to make the move to a smaller entrepreneurial company.
And I think that that conversation almost, to really get to the heart of it, almost has to be had outside of an interview situation and when I’ve really probed and really gotten to the root of that and it has been a good match, I have been successful. But when I have relied more heavily on, they’re clearly capable of doing this job and they, you know, they’re technically proficient and, and they’ve been there and done that in bigger companies and relied more on that aspect, I have not been as successful.
Roy Notowitz: [00:12:20] Yeah. I think sometimes people say or think that making that transition would be easier than it actually is. So giving them a feel for what it’s actually really like and then also, as you had mentioned, really understanding the underpinnings of their motivations and the experience that they want to create for themselves.
Katrina Hahn: [00:12:40] Yeah, and I think even with inside of the entrepreneurial environment, the size of that organization is also important because you can have entrepreneurial at, you know, sub $10 million. That’s one kind of environment and you can have entrepreneurial at, you know, $100 million. That’s a very different environment, although both entrepreneurial.
Roy Notowitz: [00:13:02] When we talked last, you had mentioned that you had success recruiting from outside the industry. Can you share some examples of how that’s worked for you? I thought that was really interesting.
Katrina Hahn: [00:13:12] In one of my most recent roles, I hired folks from the technology space, and being based in San Francisco, we have a lot of that talent in the marketplace.
Roy Notowitz: [00:13:23] Tons, yeah.
Katrina Hahn: [00:13:24] Tons. It may not be where you would traditionally think to hire from, but we were looking for some folks with really strong analytical skills, which the technology folks had. And the desire was really the question mark.
And that’s where I go back to, we really spent a lot of time vetting the desire piece, which leads to the cultural fit, and we were able to have some folks join our organization that had not done the role, had not done the work in the role, but had the aptitude, the capabilities, and the willingness to apply themselves and apply their skills to the job and they’ve been very successful in doing so.
Roy Notowitz: [00:14:01] So you hired people who, their resume, you would not even, you know, think would be a fit other than the fact that they had sort of the right type of competencies and experience that’s translatable, but not exact…
Katrina Hahn: [00:14:14] Right. With a burning desire to be in that space, right? So they came to us with this, I want to work on, you know, “better for you” brands in this CPG space and, and I, you know, I have the competencies and I have the desire to apply myself.
Roy Notowitz: [00:14:31] Yeah. I wish more companies would do that. I think that’s awesome. And I think also it promotes diversity, right? And new ways of thinking, bringing in people from different industries. So that’s fantastic. Do you maintain a network for the purpose of building your candidate pool?
Katrina Hahn: [00:14:48] So I feel very fortunate that in this industry, it is a very collaborative space, and the people who work in it are very much willing to help one another. Which I appreciate. And so I have had the good fortune of being able to sort of phone a friend, right?
Call a lot of people that I know that have similar or working in similar industries, similar spaces, similar sized companies. And so I put the word out and I let everybody know in my personal network and my professional network what we’re looking for. And I’ve gotten tremendous feedback by doing so.
Roy Notowitz: [00:15:20] Likewise, has that created opportunities for you being connected within the industry?
Katrina Hahn: [00:15:24] For sure. I think you never know where these things are going to come from. Sometimes you make a phone call to see, you’ve got a role to fill, and you somehow ended up in that conversation having a conversation about yourself getting recruited.
In fact, I was just, in the last 48 hours, I was a reference for somebody and at the end of the phone call, the head of HR said, “I have to ask you, would you be interested in coming working for us?” You’d never know where those things are gonna come from. But I definitely think that, you know, always being open to that.
And I think the other thing is cultivating it, right? And knowing that these, the likelihood is you’re going to cross paths again. And, and I’m fortunate that I really like the people that I work with. And the space. And so running into them again is always a positive thing.
Roy Notowitz: [00:16:06] Getting recruited. Also, just you being you and your track record of success, like you’re always going to have people asking you that question.
But once you have candidates in the mix and they’re going through the process, what kind of experience do you like to create for them?
Katrina Hahn: [00:16:23] A welcoming one and an open one. The people that we talk to are almost always capable of doing the role. They have the competencies to do the work. And so I really want to create an environment that they can showcase who they are as a person and why they want to be doing the job, so that we can really be honest with one another and make sure that this is going to be a good fit both ways.
Roy Notowitz: [00:16:48] How do you know if you have all the information you need to make a decision? Is there a point at which you feel like you have a really solid feel for them, or how do you sort of get to that point?
Katrina Hahn: [00:17:00] My hope and my goal in hiring is that you really just know in your heart of hearts, right? In your gut that you’ve got this one right, and this is the person to make the offer to. When I get to that place, when I know in my head, and I know in my heart, and I know in my gut. That this is the person to make the offer for, it works out.
When one of those three things has a question mark and I’ve moved forward, it often doesn’t work out, and so there is an element, I think of this, it’s not on paper. You can’t quantify it. You have to go with your gut on this is going to be the right decision.
Roy Notowitz: [00:17:35] Yeah. When you have those situations where there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on or you’re not quite sure, you know, what do you do in those points? Do you use like other types of leadership assessments or do you figure out more questions to ask or do you just sort of say, okay, I’m not feeling like I am getting what I need here and just move on?
Katrina Hahn: [00:17:54] My first move is to rely on the other people, my peer set that you know, we’ll have already also interviewed that candidate. And so if I have question marks, I try to spend more time with them understanding, you know, where they are at on the decision curve, or if they’re all the way to bright saying, “this is the candidate,” understanding why they say this is the candidate to try and understand why I still have a question mark.
So as an example, there’s five of us on the leadership team, myself being one of them, and everybody else is, you know, this should be a go. I will often defer to the fact that there’s four other people who are all confident that this is a go. Even if I have a question mark.
And that has proven to work out actually. And sometimes it’s me overthinking something and sometimes it’s that, you know, they have seen things that I haven’t seen during the interview process. So I try to rely on the other people that have been part of the interview pool.
Roy Notowitz: [00:18:52] So how do you involve or incorporate your peers and subordinates in hiring, and then how’d you also develop that capability within your organization?
Katrina Hahn: [00:19:02] As I mentioned, I have stolen things along the way. I shouldn’t use the word stolen. I have, I have politely adapted and borrowed things along the way. So things like dividing and conquering on topics has been really helpful. I think prepping everybody on the interview ahead of time.
So if I’m the hiring manager and I’ve done a lot of the vetting upfront and there’s two candidates, I try to summarize where I think those two candidates strengths lie for everybody else on the team that’s going to be talking to them, give them some background, get them sort of up to speed on the conversations that I have had so far in that process so that they don’t have to start from ground zero when they have their precious hour with this person.
I want to make the most of that time. And similarly, I’ve tried to sort of give these tools and tips and tricks to people that I’m managing that are then also hiring people to make their process a little smoother and a little easier.
Roy Notowitz: [00:20:02] You know, what were some of the challenges that you had recruiting, finding people.
Katrina Hahn: [00:20:06] Certainly a challenge in terms of resources. So oftentimes these small organizations can’t offer the kinds of compensation packages that this kind of talent you want could go and get somewhere else. So you’re fighting against, you know, bigger companies that have bigger packages. So you’re really relying on a lot of those cultural aspects that you can bring to the party.
And then the other one is just the environment in the last, you know, five years. Talent is scarce in terms of they have lots of options and there’s lots of companies out there they can go work for. And so you are a little bit fighting against everybody else for that same talent pool.
Roy Notowitz: [00:20:45] What are the skills or competencies that you think are most essential for success in any candidate.
Katrina Hahn: [00:20:52] Their motivation is a big piece of their success, and that can come in many different forms and it’s different for different people at different times in their career, but really making sure that that’s a match to where the company is and where the company is going, I think is critical.
Roy Notowitz: [00:21:10] If you have two candidates and one has all the skills and experience and the other maybe doesn’t, but has sort of a more powerful reason for wanting to be in that position or have that opportunity to work there, you’d go with the person with the greater motivation over the experience.
Katrina Hahn: [00:21:27] Every day of the week. I firmly believe that if I have somebody who is talented, smart, capable, and really wants to go and do this, I can teach what they don’t know, if they’re open to being taught. But if they don’t have that desire, then I can’t teach them desire. I can’t make them have that burning desire to get it done. I can’t, so I will always, every day take the person who, who wants it and is willing to learn.
Roy Notowitz: [00:21:55] Do you think that applies specifically to growth-oriented companies and environments, or do you feel like that’s just generally true for any type of company?
Katrina Hahn: [00:22:03] I think it can be true for any type of company. I have not found in my experiences that the bigger companies are as open and willing to take on that risk profile.
Roy Notowitz: [00:22:15] Upon reflection, what are the themes or takeaways from hires that were’nt a perfect fit or maybe ultimately didn’t work out? Is there anything that you can speak to about that?
Katrina Hahn: [00:22:28] Well, I think some of that is that, you know, leaning one way or the other too heavily, right?
Leaning too hard on the functional, technical sort of, you’ve been there, done that kind of stuff and not enough on the culture fit. And then I’ve done it the other way and I’ve leaned too hard on the cultural aspects, but realized there’s just not enough “there” there, and you’ve got to have a certain level of competency, you know, to be up and running in the role. And I think that the magic is when you get that balance right.
Roy Notowitz: [00:22:57] How did you define culture fit in and how do you evaluate it?
Katrina Hahn: [00:23:01] So I think, you know, culture is company specific. You know, first you have to have an understanding of how you would even express your own company culture. And the clearer you can be in that as an organization, both from a running the company and and motivating the current team as well as hiring becomes really critical.
As you do that, a lot of the, in those entrepreneurial companies, a lot of that comes out of the brand hierarchy, what the brand stands for and how the brand is going to go to market.
As an example, you know at, Mrs. Meyers, that, that brand was modeled after the founder’s mother in a, you know, Midwestern, hardworking, scrappy, you know, recycle wasn’t even a word, but she reused everything in her house. And all those things became part of the company culture. And so when you talk to people, when you’re hiring them about what attracted them to the brand, you’re listening for those things.
You’re listening for those things that make this a good fit in terms of how they behave when they’re not at work, and what they like to do when they’re not in an office, and how their personal life looks, you know? Can it be a reflection of the brand?
Roy Notowitz: [00:24:09] What were the elements of culture fit at Bare by comparison?
Katrina Hahn: [00:24:13] So Bare was also that, you know, born out of a lot of the brand, started by farmers up in the Pacific Northwest, created this product, trying to do something better for people in terms of their food. Trying to be gentle to the planet in terms of how we produce the product, where the product came from, using organic processes, et cetera.
And a lot of that was a mirror of our own culture. So, you know, our office, as an example, was pretty scrappy. We had, literally, doors as desks that you could still see the hole, you know, where the door handle would have been on top of saw horse legs.
We had those all the way to the end because we were scrappy and we were resourceful and we were, you know, gonna make it happen. We worked really hard on all the things that were, you know, better for you, better for the planet in terms of the way we ran that office and what our expectations were of people.
Everything from, you know, printing on two sides of a piece of paper or to composting in your office, those kinds of things to supporting other like-minded companies in the, in the Bay Area that we could when, everything from ordering in lunch to who we partnered with when we did team building activities.
And I think all those things intertwined to create that, that culture that you’re talking about.
Roy Notowitz: [00:25:42] How important was hiring to your success overall? I mean, there’s lots of things you’re doing, strategy, you know, execution. Hiring was part of that obviously. So can you speak to, you know, how that influenced or supported your success?
Katrina Hahn: [00:25:57] I’m a big believer in investing in people. I will spend a lot of time trying to find the right candidates and make those candidates successful. I know that my success and ultimately the company’s success wouldn’t happen without the broader team, and I would rather spend my time there than on almost anything else.
I know you have to do other things and I had to do other things, but I would rather spend my time there. If I get it right and I set them up for success and I support them in the right way, it pays back to me and the organization in spades.
Roy Notowitz: [00:26:30] When it comes to how you hire, do you have any parting advice for a fast-growing entrepreneurial CPG brand?
Katrina Hahn: [00:26:38] If you can make it happen, I would always hire above the job today in terms of their capabilities and then let the people drive the organization forward. You can’t always make that happen, either because you have resource constraints, or you can’t get the talent to come join you cause you’re still super early-stage.
But if you can make that combination work, they will drive the organization forward and do great things.
Roy Notowitz: [00:27:09] Katrina, you have an incredible track record of success and you’re such a pro at hiring. I really appreciate you being on the podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on how you hire.
Katrina Hahn: [00:27:20] Thank you, Roy. It’s been great.
Roy Notowitz: [00:27:23] Thank you for tuning into How I Hire. Visit HowIHire.com for more details on our show.
Also, please sign up for our newsletter to get podcast updates as well as to see featured executive career opportunities. If you know somebody who might be interested in the show, let them know about us. Please also leave a review wherever you listen.
How I Hire is created by Noto Group, an executive search and leadership consulting firm for brands that support healthy, active, and sustainable lifestyles. To learn more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com.
This podcast was produced by Anna McClain.
Stay in the Know
Get more Noto Group featured career content and opportunities.