There’s a sweet sense of fate in Jeri Finard becoming president of Godiva North America.
The Larchmont, N.Y., woman smiles as she shares a bit of personal history on a recent afternoon in her Manhattan office.
And it’s a history that underscores the charming element of kismet underlying years of hard work that brought her, this past August, to a top executive post in the premium chocolate company known around the world.
“Honestly, I feel like it was destiny for me,” she says. “Growing up, my father actually worked for a chocolate factory.”
Finard, born on the South Side of Chicago and raised in Philadelphia, says she even had her first job at the now-defunct Pennsylvania chocolate company.
“When I say I was practically weaned on chocolate, I was weaned on chocolate,” she says.
It makes the post with Godiva Chocolatier Inc. especially rewarding for Finard, who candidly shares “I never go a day without chocolate.”
And despite her slender figure, you tend to believe her as she adds that when good friends heard about the new job, “They said, ‘I hope they’re locking up their inventory.’”
Joking aside, Finard is well aware that her “pretty cool job” is far from frivolous.
“It is an immensely complex business,” she says. “The great thing is we have an amazing, iconic brand.”
And that was what drew Finard to Godiva, founded in Belgium in 1926.
Finard is no stranger to top management roles at major corporations. Following graduation from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, she went on to earn an MBA.
“I came to New York to go to Columbia Business School,” she says.
With her first job at General Foods, she moved to Westchester County and over the next 20 years worked in offices including White Plains, Rye Brook and Tarrytown during a time when the merger with Kraft Foods came about. When commuting to Chicago from Westchester for her last position — as chief marketing officer — became too much, she moved on to Avon Products Inc. Again based in New York, she served for more than three years as senior vice president and global brand president.
The Godiva job, she says, incorporates varied elements from her career.
“When they called me about Godiva, I said this is too perfect, because it was food and it was fashion,” she says.
And it’s also, she acknowledges, kind of impressive. She says whenever someone hears about her employer, they say “I’d like to get to know you better.”
And that makes her laugh: “Let’s just say I didn’t get the same reaction when I’d say Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.”
Finard is determined to know her brand inside and out.
“I’m still trying to eat my way through,” she says with a laugh.
Finard is in charge of some 230 retail boutiques, including those in Stamford and Danbury, along with her company’s presence in fine department stores, and she is determined to get out to the company’s top stores and forge a bond with the staffers.
“It’s really important for them to know who I am and know that I’m approachable,” she says.
Those visits have already included the Godiva boutique in The Westchester in White Plains, where Finard learned how to make the company’s famed chocolate-dipped strawberries.
“I’m not sure mine were the prettiest, but I did my best,” she says.
Choices, of course, go far beyond the iconic fruits dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate.
“We kind of introduced premium chocolate to America, but now there are a lot of competitors,” Finard says, though Godiva does have an edge. “It is recognized everywhere. It is really globally iconic. Everybody responds to it.”
Finard is in charge of “the mechanics of how we run,” with duties ranging from monitoring the supply chain to overseeing inventory management. Finard says she is still settling into her new position, tapping into the “Godiva culture” that reflects loyalty, innovation and team effort.
And that includes a commitment to corporate philanthropy, as well, exemplified by its Lady Godiva Program that celebrates inspirational women around the world who, the program description notes, “embody the attributes of Lady Godiva through selflessness, generosity, leadership and the spirit of giving back to the community.”
“It’s business, but it’s business that does good,” Finard says.