The CFO of transformation

Moving from communist Romania to the US taught Yoana Land how to adapt to change.
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Yoana Land

· 4 min read

Yoana Land is CFO of transformation for L’Oréal North America.

It’s a fitting title for her in more ways than one.

At L’Oréal, Land has held various CFO positions, including CFO of research and innovation for North America and CFO of the active cosmetics division in North America and also in Asia. In 2022, she took her current role as CFO of transformation in North America. Her job involves facilitating large transformational projects that cross departments and functions and ensuring they stay aligned with the mission of the organization as a whole.

She’s learned to deal with the seismic changes to the role through multiple transformations in her life. As a teenager, she left communist Romania to pursue education in the US. She switched careers from IT to finance. She’s changed industries, moving from airlines to beauty. And she’s used what she’s learned to guide others through their own transitions as well, acting as a mentor and facilitating organizational change in the workplace.

“If you want to survive, you’d better adapt,” is her advice for coping with change, she told CFO Brew. “Everything around you changes, but what grounds you is never going to change. It’s your core, it’s who you are. But everything else you welcome into your life.”

From repression to freedom: Land grew up in Romania under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. The 1989 revolution opened her eyes to what life was like elsewhere. She left Romania for the US and studied IT at the University of North Texas.

Land had no family in the US, and experienced culture shock. Even opening the pop-top on a can of soda and using the stamp vending machine at the campus post office were new experiences. But she enjoyed IT, which suited her “mathematical mind,” and after graduating, took an IT job with PepsiCo.

From IT to finance: During her 5 years there, Land discovered her aptitude for business. While working on reporting software, she “realized how much fun it is to look at all these KPIs and track them.”

Her mentor, Rajveer Kushwaha, now managing director, co-head of value creation, and chief digital officer at private equity firm Warburg Pincus, encouraged her to pursue business.

“She had strong technical depth, but she came at everything from a very commercial mindset,” he told CFO Brew. “I think she took the right route…She works with her tailwind, which is commercial sensitivity and trying to build something big from a business standpoint.”

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Land earned an MBA from Duke in 2008 and worked for American Airlines in finance—an area that, like IT, is “male-dominated,” she observed. Seeing another woman succeed in the field was what inspired her to become a CFO.

Bella Goren, the CFO of American Airlines at the time, was “a woman from Russia in a black suit among a board of men,” Land recalled. “She really inspired me because she showed so much compassion and ability to connect to people, but at the same time, so much strength. I thought ‘I want to be like her one day.’”

Guiding transformations with empathy. Land is known for her people skills. At Pepsi, Kushwaha said, Land worked on a major hardware refresh in the days before cloud computing. The project involved changing the infrastructure hundreds of employees worked on—something that would significantly disrupt their day-to-day lives.

Land “went in and sold a value proposition that didn’t have a real, tangible outcome” in immediate terms, Kushwaha said, though it would pay off in terms of cost savings and more stable systems a few years down the road.

“That required a level of empathy and ability to relate,” he said. Land is “always focused on, ‘How do I make the person working for me responsible and successful?’” he said. “She embodies that servant leadership construct.”

Land agrees that CFOs need excellent people skills. “It’s not about how well you know your job. It’s about how good of a leader you are,” she said. “Your ability to create an impact depends on how well you can motivate people and move them toward a common vision.” She recommends taking classes and participating in mentoring and coaching to improve your EQ.

She now mentors others herself. “I’m happy to talk to [others] because the reason I am here is the efforts of many mentors,” she said. “I always tell people, if you send a note to someone to say, ‘Hey, I would like to have a coffee with you…I’m inspired by you,’ they’ll never turn you down.”

“People are afraid to do that,” she added, “but that’s when you get the most understanding of what it’s like to be the person that sits in front of you.”

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.