Denise Morrison – Campbell Soup Company’€™s first female CEO

July 2011

Denise Morrison

Twirling Fire

By Caroline Cox

Campbell Soup Company has been around for more than 140 years. With annual revenue of $8 billion, products sold in 120 countries and a roster of 18,000 employees, it is one of the largest food companies in the world. This year, for the first time in the company’s history, a woman will become CEO of the iconic brand – that woman is Denise Morrison.

As Chief Operating Officer of Campbell Soup Company, Morrison will officially begin her role as CEO August 1st. And she’s got her work cut out for her: the Wall Street Journal reports sales at the company “have declined in eight of the last 10 quarters.” The 56-year-old has been in the food industry for decades, working at companies including Kraft Foods, Nestle USA and Nabisco. But now that Morrison is about to achieve what she’s called her ultimate career goal, she realizes that this is only the beginning of it.

Here, Morrison talks to PINK about her proudest career accomplishment, the biggest issues for working women today and not believing in Life/Work balance.


PINK: What’s the biggest concern leaders face right now?

Denise Morrison: This prolonged economic downturn has really changed consumer shopping habits. The vast majority of consumers have yet to feel much progress in terms of an economic recovery. U.S. unemployment is hovering around 9 percent and the average length of unemployment has doubled. We are seeing a wary and skeptical consumer who spends less money on food and purchases fewer items per shopping trip.
[To combat this,] we’re shifting our marketing mix with greater focus on advertising and brand building initiatives that are good for both the short and long-term. Consumers continue to maintain a high level of Campbell’s soups in their pantries. The key is to prompt people to use what’s in their pantries, and good advertising is the most effective way to achieve that.

PINK: What’s the biggest issue facing professional women today?

DM: Women need to continue building strong networks that help them access information and be successful. I always tell women, “networking is working.” I’ve found this to be true in my own career and feel it’s important to encourage others to do it. For women especially, they have a hard time accepting that if they’re at a professional event or a seminar, part of the “work” should be to connect with others. It takes just as much time to create a worthwhile business lead or professional contact as it does to craft a strategy or write a brief. Many people underestimate the power of a good network and how it might benefit their career in the short and long term.

PINK: Any other issues?

DM: Flexibility. I don’t believe in the concept of work-life balance – to me, that implies a perfect equilibrium. Instead, I [aim for] work-life integration. Companies need to become more conscious of the needs of employees and enable flexibility. All employees have to make the decisions about their responsibilities in and outside of work, including social, parenting obligations and, importantly, their own well-being. The company needs to create the environment to ensure that the policies come to life in real-world situations.

PINK: How can companies enable flexibility?

DM: The concept of flexibility has evolved. It used to be associated only with working moms with kids, but employees now have many other concerns that require their employer to be flexible – whether it’s aging parents, additional schooling or the millennial generation working nontraditional hours. There are several examples of Campbell accomplishing this. On one of my earlier business teams, my HR lead wanted to coach his son’s sports team. It meant that two nights a week, he had to leave early. He talked to me about it before he committed to coach and I strongly encouraged him to do it. He did, and managed his hours by coming in earlier on those days he had to leave early. It was a short-term period – the length of the season – but it paid huge dividends in terms of his engagement.

Denise Morrison
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PINK: What’s your success secret?

DM: There really is no secret formula. For me, there are three keys. One, I always try to surround myself with great people. Two, I’m a big believer in having open lines of communication and collaborating across an organization. Three, you need good strategies paired with good execution – that’s what makes the difference.

PINK: How have you implemented these strategies?

DM: We have a great brand in V8 vegetable juice with very loyal customers. Through our consumer research, we realized more and more people in the U.S. were trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diets. An easy way to do this is to drink some of your vegetables. We recognized that not all people love the taste of tomato-based juices, so we created V8 V-Fusion juice that doesn’t use a tomato base and it’s been a great success.

PINK: How do you communicate with your teams?

DM: Communication across the organization takes many forms. Of course, there are the direct interactions I have with people. To reach the broader organization, we use several tools. We hold employee forums each quarter to provide employees with updates on our business and goals. We also communicate through Campbell Today, our intranet site, where employees can find news about the company and messages from senior management, among other things. The key to good communication in a company our size is to enlist the support of our global leadership team. These are the top 350 managers at Campbell and they have a responsibility to help communicate the company’s strategies, goals and business plans to the organization.

PINK: What do you intend to do differently as CEO?

DM: You always have to adapt to the situation. I don’t expect my leadership style to change. In terms of what’s next for Campbell Soup Company, I think you can expect me to strike the right balance of continuity and change. [Former CEO] Doug Conant created a special culture here, and I won’t change that. I can build on the cultural foundation that Doug created while evolving our strategies for continued success in the marketplace. One of my plans is to accelerate innovation. Recently, we created an innovation team in our Campbell North America business. This team is responsible for driving breakthrough innovations across our soup, sauces and beverages business. We have several exciting innovations in the pipeline right now, and we just launched our V8 Energy Shots in April.

PINK: What’s your biggest weakness as a leader?

DM: By nature, I am an impatient person. Always have been…just ask my sisters. While I pride myself on being a good listener, I always feel a need for speed.

PINK: What is the proudest accomplishment of your career?

DM: A few years ago, I rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange with the President of the American Heart Association. Campbell has been leading the food industry in reducing sodium in our soups, sauces, beverages and breads. For years, soup had been singled out as a culprit when it came to salt. And there I was with the American Heart Association. It showed how far we had come. It was quite a moment.

PINK: What are your best balance tips?

DM: I am a big proponent of work-life integration. We’re all so busy today and so connected that we have to find a way to integrate our careers with our family life and other interests. It’s challenging, but as working mother, I know it can be done. With my girls [Kelly, now 30 and Michelle, now 32], I made it to every recital – because that was important to me and to them. I vividly remember faxing term papers back to [my daughters] from various hotels when I traveled (before email). I got many strange looks from the hotel managers, but it was my way to stay connected to my daughters.

PINK: How do you relax and rejuvenate yourself?

DM: I try to make time for vacations. I enjoy anything around the water. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, so I love to be at the beach whenever I can. Also, I’m always reading books. I’ve been reading Campbell CEO Doug Conant’s new book TouchPoints.

PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

DM: I was a fire-twirler in high school. As a majorette, I got to twirl fire at all of Long Branch High School’s football games. I have the photos to prove it!

PINK: What is one personal goal you haven’t achieved?

DM: For the longest time, my personal goal was to be a CEO. Once it was announced that I would become CEO at Campbell, I realized that becoming CEO was only the beginning of the race. My personal goal is to make Campbell the most extraordinary food company in the world.

PINK: Do you have a favorite quote?

DM: “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

PINK: How do you define success?

DM: In business, success is about growth. I define success as driving sustainable profitable growth. Success is leaving a legacy. Ultimately, my legacy will be about how the company performs against the strategy that my team and I put in place. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to unleashing Campbell’s full potential. I want to make a lasting impact.

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