Do you have your sights set on an executive position? There are many factors that contribute to achieving this level of success – taking opportunities to learn from others being one of them.
Here’s your chance for an inside look at what it’s like being in a top leadership position at a Fortune 500 company. Plus, glean advice on how to get there yourself. In the interview below, Denise Morrison, President and CEO at Campbell Soup Company, and Irene Chang Britt, Senior VP of Global Baking and Snacking at Campbell’s and President of the Pepperidge Farm brand, provide their insight on work-life balance, how corporate life has changed, rising through the ranks of a company and more.
Q: Reaching the executive level at a large corporation takes a lot of time and dedication. How do you maintain a work-life balance, and has there been a specific time in your past when you struggled to do so?
Denise Morrison: It is not about finding a work-life balance, but, rather, it’s about work-life integration. I’ve learned to integrate my work and life so that the two exist as harmoniously as possible and priorities can be set. Life’s a balancing act. You have multiple roles and goals and you can do it all, just not all at once.
A great example of this is when I worked at Nestle as the Director of Marketing and my husband was offered a CEO position at a fruit company in California. I went to the President of Nestle and told him that I wanted to stay with this company, but I needed to balance my career with my husband’s. And so I was transferred to the ice cream business and promoted to Vice President. It was a great opportunity for my husband and I turned it into one for me. Years later, my husband moved back to New Jersey for my career advancement.
I also like how technology has made it easier to stay in touch with family while on the road – I used to edit my kids’ term papers via fax when I was traveling and now I can FaceTime with them!
Irene Chang Britt: I’ve found that it isn’t about balance – it’s about fulfillment. Honestly, no one is completely balanced on a given day. But, I’ve learned once in a while to take stock…Am I happy? Am I taking good care of my family and friendships? Am I taking care of my health? Am I giving back to the community? Am I learning and growing? If I can answer “yes” to these questions, I feel great. If I can’t, I make adjustments…not big seismic shifts, just adjustments, like fine tuning an instrument. Oh, and I tend not to sweat the small stuff!
Q: Throughout your career, how has the corporate environment changed for women?
Denise: The last 35 years have produced the best-educated generation in the history of the world, yet there are only 22 female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies – and one of them is my sister! While women have made significant progress at the entry and middle management levels of corporations, the pyramid narrows at the top and in the boardroom as the competition for leadership roles increases. The business world needs the best talent from both genders to compete in an ever-changing environment and drive innovation. We’ve made progress, but there is more to do.
Irene: I think that the female “voice”, along with diversity in many forms, has become more accepted in the corporate environment. There’s more representation, although we have a lot further to go at the senior levels. Primarily in consumer packaged goods companies, we realize increasingly that having a workforce that more closely mirrors our consumers and shoppers makes us more empathetic to their needs and more likely to be able to delight them.
Q: What are your top three tips for women to get noticed and rise through the ranks within the companies they work for?
Denise: First, have a personal mission statement. You can’t lead others unless you are grounded in what you stand for and live by your core values. People will connect with you based on who you are as a leader.
Second, develop a plan. It is important to approach your career strategically with a plan to achieve your end-game goal. I have observed that people make strategic plans for brands, businesses and companies but they are not always strategic about themselves. Earlier in my career, I knew I wanted to run a company someday, so I focused on the skills and experiences I needed to achieve that goal and determined who could help me along the way.
Third, networking is working. For many people, women and men alike, networking seems like socializing. And if it’s not done right, it can be. But you have to be smart about it. The work you do and results you deliver will only get you so far. It’s the relationships you build that will get you the rest of the way. This includes identifying mentors and securing sponsors, but it is also about knowing the right people to open doors for you. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a strong network.
Irene: First, it’s about delivery. Bar none, we need to deliver results. Most of my career, I’ve taken the toughest assignments, both turnarounds and transformations. The challenge is great, but the opportunity to deliver outstanding results is also great. Second, have a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously. Third, connect. Help others achieve, and they will most likely do the same for you. Find advocates, be an advocate.
Q: What has been the toughest scenario you’ve experienced while in corporate America? Did you feel like your gender helped or hurt you in the situation?
Denise: Everyone has challenges in their career and to prepare you have to allow for a bit of flexibility in case of setbacks and curve balls. And, as CEO, there are as many tough decisions to be made or challenges to face as any other time in my career.
But going back a bit to when I entered corporate America the 1970s, it was sometimes difficult for women. At Procter & Gamble I was the first woman in the paper division sales force. I remember calling on a key customer, where the buyer turned around in his chair and said he was not going to do business with a woman! I simply told him that if he wanted to do business with P&G, which had $11 million of business with his company, that he had to work with me. He turned around and eventually became one of our best customers.
Irene: I’ve worked in some pretty “male-dominated” cultures over the past three decades…you know, where the decisions got made outside of the office over golf or drinks. When I was younger in my career, that used to puzzle me and worry me quite a bit. But, as I’ve grown, I find that I don’t really have to trim myself to suit the exact situation (since I can’t golf and never will be able to!). Instead, I’ve learned to find the common set of interests with the people I interact with (family, hobbies, etc.), and make personal connections through those other common interests. Frankly, my relationships tend to be deeper than if I’d chosen to fit myself into situations that ran counter to my personality.
Q: It is often said that to achieve great success, “it’s all about who you know.” Do you agree, and if so, how do you get to know those influential people?
Denise: I think success is about performance and accomplishment, but one of my key philosophies is the importance of building relationships. These relationships can be cultivated in both formal and informal settings and are a source for advice, ideas, sharing best practices, solving problems and broadening friendships. I spend a lot of time meeting people at dinner and attending specific events that present a networking opportunity.
Irene: Yes, it’s about who you know, but not in the way that you think. Is it helpful to know powerful people? Yes, but that’s very one dimensional. It’s much better to keep your focus on connecting around, down and also up. You find that the most fascinating people come into your life, and many times, you end up helping each other, but that being a happy outcome, not the goal of the relationship. That’s why I mentor broadly. I try to help others, and gain as well.
Photos: Courtesy of Campbell Soup Company