Leading by example
Markel Food Group CFO prioritizes mentorship
Virginia Business’ 2023 Virginia CFO of the Year award winners represent large and small businesses and large and small nonprofits.
Large business | Cindy Yao, CFO and executive vice president
Markel Food Group, Richmond
Awhile back, Cindy Yao and the other executives at Richmond-based Markel Food Group underwent a 360-degree feedback exercise. Yao, the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice president for the past decade, found that she was viewed as the company’s heart.
“People come to me to solve problems and when they feel they need help, and when someone … needs a caring person there to help them grow,” says Yao, who’s known for putting together gift baskets for employees and their family members who are going through tough times.
An independent subsidiary of Henrico County Fortune 500 insurance holding company Markel Group Inc., Markel Food Group is a $350 million company with about 1,000 employees worldwide. It provides automated industrial equipment and consulting services to food processing companies.
Markel Food Group, Yao explains, is the parent of three “pretty much autonomous companies” — AMF Bakery Systems, Reading Bakery Systems, and Solbern. In addition to being the parent company’s CFO, Yao serves as CEO for Reading, Solbern and AMF Bakery Systems’ AMF China division. “I bring them structure and I helped them to be more organized [in] thinking about strategy,” Yao says.
Born in Shanghai, China, and fluent in the Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghai dialects, Yao has overseen over the past two years a doubling of revenue and profits of the company’s business in China, where it’s aiming to become the leading supplier of industrial bakery equipment.
Yao earned her MBA from the William E. Simon School of Business Administration at the University of Rochester, her master’s degree in accountancy from Virginia Tech and her bachelor’s degree in English literature from East China Normal University.
Before joining Markel, Yao served for almost a decade in executive finance positions with eye care company Bausch + Lomb.
In 2019, she received the Corporate Leadership Award from NaisA Global, a nonprofit organization that connects and provides mentorship to future Asian business leaders.
At Markel Food Group, Yao has implemented structural changes, including designing its governance structure. She also oversees Markel Business System, the framework that governs the company’s strategies for operations, staff and growth.
“Rolling out the system, you change the culture, you create a collaboration among the companies,” Yao explains. “We have a very systematic way to look at growth, look at the costs and look at people engagement.”
Additionally, she serves as dean for Markel Business Systems Leadership University, an internal executive leadership development program she founded.
It all speaks to her support and passion for mentoring “high potential” younger workers.
“To be a good manager, you have to care about people. You truly have a goal to have an impact on somebody’s life and career,” she says. “Your goal is to help people grow and to improve their life.”
Yao also serves as a mentor to MBA students at the University of Richmond, where she has led discussions about course material, reviewed résumés and offered job advice. And she volunteers with the VCU Massey Cancer Center and joined its advisory board in May.
“I look forward to contributing to the community,” Yao says. “We all do better when our community does better.”
Read more about Virginia Business’ 2023 Virginia CFO of the Year award winners:
- Small business | Jason Chesky, CFO, Logenix International LLC
- Small nonprofit | Clyde Cornett, CFO, Virginia Community Capital
- Large nonprofit | Jim Barker, CFO, Delta Dental of Virginia
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