You are the CEO of a failing company – what are your first steps to keep the company from closing its doors? Most people will consider cutting costs and focusing on the bottom line. Let’s take a look at how the CEO of Campbell’s turned the brand around by believing in it’s people.
The Campbell’s Soup Company is one of the most iconic brands in America. The company was founded in 1869 and headquartered in Camden, NJ. They have one of the most recognizable brands/logos in the world, but by the 1980’s and 1990’s, the brand was starting to sag.
Sales were down as the market for pre-prepared foods was getting crowded, and (especially with competition from microwaveable frozen foods), the overly diversified Campbell’s brand was starting to suffer.
By the early 2000’s the Campbells were trying to reignite the brand. They invested in new leadership. In 2001, Campbell’s hired Douglas Conant as the company’s new CEO. When Conant was hired as CEO in 2001, he was only the 11th CEO in over 130 years. And this once thriving company was in serious trouble. People didn’t think he could do it, even some of the board wanted someone with more CEO experience.
Instead of doing what almost any other CEO would do – make huge cuts – Conant invested in making Campbell a place people would WANT to work, where people would want to stay. Conant realized that for Campbell’s to be successful, he was going to have to change the way he led. He’d need to be more visible, more communicative, more involved and engaged. Not only did he put people first, and truly invest in his workforce, he also took a hard look at his own leadership style. In fact, he went so far as to write 10 to 20 handwritten personal notes to employees at all levels of the organization each day to recognize those who were performing well. Listen to him tell the story here.
Conant took on every aspect of the company, it wasn’t without cost. Some people just couldn’t hack it, or didn’t want to. 300 of the company’s 350 leaders left within the first 3 years,losing 85% of your leadership in the first 3 years – a lot of people would have seen that as a failure. He chose to focus on the ones who stayed, and on making them feel good about being committed to the company and their work.
Campbell’s sales turned around, and profits grew for eight straight years while Doug Conant was CEO. He truly valued his people – they weren’t just a means to an end (his wealth).
He recognized the broad range of factors that influence people’s happiness, and he took them all on.
Conant saved a massive business from failing by simply investing in his people and putting them first.
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