When Claudia Torres Yañez graduated from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin with a master’s in accounting, she expected her career to take her down the public accounting route. Perhaps she’d continue to work in accounting, she thought, or maybe she’d transition to tax or auditing. One day, she might even become a CFO. But Torres Yañez had been introduced to human resources early on in her career and couldn’t ignore her passion for the field—she took a risk, decided to switch gears, and hasn’t looked back since.
Torres Yañez began her career as a financial analyst intern at Motorola in Austin, Texas: she transitioned to a full-time role after graduating from college and continued to move up the ranks, gaining experience in a variety of corporate finance-driven departments.
In addition to completing her master’s, Torres Yañez built up a robust skill set that would enable her to pursue senior leadership positions in finance and accounting. Still, she kept thinking about what it would be like to work on the people side of the business. She helped lead a summer internship program as a junior analyst at Motorola, and her enjoyment of that experience—and her appreciation of its impact—kept coming back to her. And so she made a decision.
“I started dabbling in that area by raising my hand to work on projects in that domain,” Torres Yañez recalls. “And it turned out to be perfect because as I learned more about compensation, specifically the executives’ comp, I was able to see how a lot of programs such as bonuses and incentives are tied to financial metrics.”
Soon after that, Torrez Yañez began considering an official career shift. She knew that it would be a major risk to switch gears towards human resources (HR) at this point in her career, but after discussions with trusted mentors, she decided to take the plunge when a vacancy appeared in the HR department of Freescale Semiconductor, the semiconductor segment divested by Motorola.
Torres Yañez quickly adapted to the needs of her new role. “I found that you’ve got to have knowledge about the financials, but you also need to be able to make them understandable for everyone from the average employee all the way up to the top executives,” she explains. “It’s having the understanding of the substance, but then also being able to communicate it in an easy and understandable way.”
In 2013, six years after she had begun working as an executive compensation manager at Freescale Semiconductor, Torres Yañez was approached by a recruiter for SunPower Corporation, a distributed solar and storage company that offers all-in-one solutions to a global client base. During the interview process, she discovered that the company could offer her something that she had been yearning for—the chance to present her work directly to the executive board and be in the room where decisions are made.
“I wasn’t hearing the conversations of the board members in those meetings,” Torres Yañez explains. “I would get a debrief, but it wasn’t the same. I knew I was missing something that could maybe make my work better in the future. So, I asked SunPower if I would be able to present my work myself, and they said they could make that happen.”
Torres Yañez joined SunPower in July 2013 as the senior manager of executive compensation and long-term incentives and is now the senior director of executive compensation. Her intersectional expertise in finance and HR recently played a crucial part in SunPower’s successful spin-off of its manufacturing assets, which reorganized as a new company called Maxeon Solar Technologies.
The spin-off represented a significant restructuring of both companies and required thoughtful communication as well as an intentional redesign of employee programs. Those efforts were made even more complicated by the fact that many employees at SunPower and Maxeon were located outside the United States.
“In order to guide employees through these changes, I prepared and delivered special training sessions to explain how company bonus and equity programs would be affected by the unique spin-out event,” the senior director explains. “In addition to training sessions, I helped develop FAQs and worked with outside experts to deliver country tax summaries so employees would understand what they could expect as a result of what we were doing.”
Torres Yañez also assisted with the onboarding of the chief human resources officer for the newly formed manufacturing company, which would be headquartered in Singapore. She shared her knowledge and experience with existing programs and policies that employees had been accustomed to at SunPower with the CHRO and helped the newly formed Maxeon team strike out on their own in creating programs that would work best for Maxeon down the line.
The spin-off was an extremely delicate process, but successful in the end—thanks in no small part to Torres Yañez, who has learned over the years to stay resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.
“On paper, my career journey may appear like it has been easy and smooth. The reality is that there have been plenty of challenges along the way, both personal and professional,” she says. “I have been fortunate to have had people in my corner—colleagues, managers, mentors—who invested their time and attention in me. That helped me get through challenges big and small, and I have learned to embrace challenges when they come, knowing ‘this too shall pass.’”