At the heart of every high-performance company is great employee engagement. Every company has an agenda to meet and this can be done in a fast and effective way when everyone sees what the goal is. Every leader needs to be supportive with the uniqueness of every employee. When Doug Conant became the CEO of Campbell Soup Company, he empowered his team to make decisions on demand, efficiently meeting the needs of the customers. Building powerful leadership connections makes being a leader fun because you get to enjoy the challenges in a balanced sense and make a greater impact in the end. Doug explains that it’s not about the leader, it’s the team and how they show up when their leader doesn’t.
We have Doug Conant. He’s an internationally renowned business leader and New York Times bestselling author. He is the one that turned Campbell soup around with his work with increasing engagement. He is listed in just about every class I’ve ever taught as a management expert. You’ll see case studies based on his work. He’s an interesting and amazing guy, and I’m really looking forward to talking to him.
Listen to the podcast here:
Creating Powerful Leadership Connections In The Smallest Moments with Doug Conant
I am with Doug Conant, who’s that internationally renowned business leader, New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker and social media influencer with over 40 years of leadership experience at world-class global companies. For the past twenty years of his leadership journey, he’s honed his leadership craft at the most senior levels, first as President of Nabisco Foods Company, then as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and finally as Chairman of Avon products. In 2011, he founded Conant Leadership, a mission-driven community of leaders and learners who are championing leadership that works in the 21st century. He is the co-author of the bestselling TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments and has been listed as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Authors in the World. It’s so nice to have you here, Doug.
I’m like a Timex watch, I take a licking and keep on ticking.
Every business class I’ve ever taught, you’re listed in it. I’m sure anybody who’s ever taken a business course has heard of how you turn Campbell Soup around. Can you give a little background of what you did prior to joining Campbell’s?
I was recruited into Nabisco back in the ‘90s, right after Barbarians at the Gate when KKR acquired RJR Nabisco in the world’s largest LBO. At that point in time, 1991, that large private equity acquisitions led to chaos within the company as a lot of the executives had left and they were rebuilding the company to ultimately put it back on the market again. I went in at the early stages there and spent a decade laboring with a lot of amazing people at Nabisco to turn that around. We sold it to my former company Kraft, at which point, I took a week off and then I started as CEO of Campbell Soup Company.
Your experience with Campbell’s is what probably got you the most attention and everything that I’ve seen. I’m curious if you think that some of these stories have been exaggerated. Did you really write 30,000 handwritten notes? I’ve heard different numbers.
I didn’t count, but that’s the record, when I was retiring I became renowned for handwriting notes to people who had made significant contributions to the company and trying to get those notes handwritten on paper to people within 24 hours of when I was advised what they did. When I was retiring after almost eleven years, someone said, “How many notes did you actually write?”We went back and did the math, and because I wrote ten to twenty a day, six days a week, religiously, 52 weeks a year. We did the math and at a minimum, it was 30,000 notes to Campbell employees. I believe it felt like more. We only had 20,000 employees, so virtually everybody in the company had a note or two from me. That includes executive assistants and receptionists that was pinned in their cubicle or their desk somewhere, acknowledging something they had done to help us move the company forward.
I powerfully believe that when people say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” that’s bullshit. It’s very personal. Any organization or any individual that ever really wanted to accomplish something meaningful, believe me, they were personally invested in it. We celebrated personal contributions at Campbell and it was a small part of the way we built amazing employee engagement over the decade I was there. They’re doing even better now under the leadership of Denise Morrison, who was my successor and worked for me while I was there. The company is now on an eighteen-year run of solid performance, which in today’s world, for an old economy canned soup company, is somewhat unimaginable. The people there are just amazing.
All this boils down to engagement, which is such a huge topic right now. You made this a huge topic years ago. Why do you think they still struggle with it so much in organizations if we’ve read so much about how important it is and the ways to improve it? Why isn’t it getting much better?
I don’t know that it’s not, so I don’t know the facts today, but I know the facts when I went through it. I don’t think you can expect anybody to be wildly engaged in the agenda of your enterprise if the company is not somewhat engaged in supporting their life journey at the same time. I believe it’s a quid pro quo. If you want employees engaged in your agenda, you got to get engaged in theirs, and you’ve got to be supportive of them in unique and special ways. The logic of it is inarguable. At times, we lose our way because we’re trying to do the expedient thing and that may be not necessarily the right thing for the long-term.
At times, it gets in the way, but I see companies today that are building wonderful levels of engagement. I started doing this in 2001 with the Gallup organization when it was new and we tracked religiously for eleven years and really saw a profound impact, so I know paying attention to this works. I do suspect that it’s now passé. It’s now seventeen years later and I’m sure there’s a new widget or a new shiny idea that’s fresher. To me, employee engagement is at the heart of what any leader needs to promote in order to drive excellent performance in an enduring way.
I worked in a company where all the leaders sat on the top floor and never came down, and no one was allowed up there. There was a real problem with engagement in that company. I know you work with helping people understand engagement. How do you begin to fix issues like that?
It’s got to work on the head and the heart level. One can create a case that employee engagement is mission critical for an organization. Both just on a logic level and you want them engaged in your mission, you better be engaged to some degree in theirs. It’s even more important now because the workforce that we’re moving into, who the leaders of tomorrow, the Gen X-ers and the millennials, they have a much more collaborative leadership model. You don’t have a choice anymore in terms of being engaged. If you’re not engaged, they’re not going to get engaged. I guarantee it. This is even a more timely subject now, but what I observe is organizations that cling to old models, which don’t work anymore.
I would talk about that within the context of hierarchy and the traditional models that I started with when I started working in 1975.You would write a recommendation that would go up the chain of command. A week later you’d look for the white smoke to come out of the chimney to tell you whether it was a good idea or not, and then you would redo it three times and ultimately a month later you would have a decision. Today, we have to make decisions on demand. Information, decision making is moving at the speed of light. Hierarchies are crumbling under that pressure.
I found as a CEO in the first decade of the 21st century, that you had to let go and you have to empower more people to make decisions on demand to meet the needs of their internal and external customers, and so you couldn’t control things anymore. The broader employee population had to control things. They had to be engaged. They had to think on their feet. They had to represent you properly. The only way you could create those conditions, I found, was by engaging them in a way that motivated them to represent the company to the very best of their ability on demand. In order to do that, they have to be with you. As I talk to CEOs today, the reality is that in any organization, 1,000 decisions are made every hour over 1,000.
Let’s say out of 1,000, 999 of those decisions are made when you’re not in the room. By the time they are reimagined and explained to you, they’ll make perfect sense. The reality is you have the ability to guide an organization and direction, you don’t have the ability to run it. You have to recognize that and then you have to find a way to connect with the broader organizations so that they’ll represent your company with distinction. They’ll only represent your company with distinction if they feel they’re treated with distinction by the leadership of the company. That’s my observation. I’ve seen it time and again in work and since I have retired from the corporate world.
It’s interesting you get people really engaged and interested in what they’re doing, talking to them. Do you ever find that people are just misaligned? Is that the problem with some of the disengagement, it’s just they’re in a job that maybe is not good for them, they need to move to do something else?
That’s true and sadly, people don’t really look. People are overwhelmed. One observation with leaders today, more so than when I started, is that they feel as if they’re trying to get a sip of water from a fire hydrant of life every minute. Stuff is washing over them, both from a business perspective, a customer perspective, the internal business perspective, a family perspective, a community perspective. They’re swamped, and so they’re having trouble orchestrating an effective leadership life. In that process, they tend to lose themselves and they’re trying to keep their head above water. As a result, they don’t know what they’re suited for. One of the things I advocate, and we did in our TouchPoints book, is that leaders have to carve out time for reflection and they have to start acting with more intention. When I started my career in management, most of the leaders I worked for and observed, they led by the seat of their pants. You could do it because there was a way to do it at that time. The hierarchies were fundamentally working following World War II, and you knew the rules of the road.
Today, in what my friends at Harvard call the VUCA world, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, you can’t necessarily be affected by the seat of your pants every moment. You have to be much more intentional, as leader. You have to reflect on the leader you want to be, and then you have to put in place a process that helps you behave more the way you want to be behaving than you might have been doing, otherwise you were just managing by the seat of your pants. As leaders go through that process, we teach it at our boot camp and also at a nonprofit I work with in Boston, as they start to think about the leader they want to be, they began to become enlightened on the way they want to approach that part of their life. They start to migrate to areas of interest where they feel they can be helpful and it may not be in the area of interests that they’re operating in today. They do need to step back and reflect.
You mentioned millennials and Gen X-ers traditionally attends your bootcamp. Do you get different age groups in that?
Occasionally, but we’re very selective because the way we do bootcamp requires us to be selective. We only take 32 at a time. We have an intense two days with an intense amount of work before they get there and then work after they leave. We tend to focus on senior middle managers and C-Suite executives who probably have twenty years on the runway for the rest of their career. They hunger to do better and to lead more effectively, but they’re not quite sure how. Our sweet spot with bootcamp is senior middle managers to executives. We’re working on a book, which will make this conversation very approachable to anyone. I do it very hands-on.
I teach this thing by myself and I do it four times a year. That’s the focus of the bootcamp, but with luck, the book will be out next year, and it’ll be more approachable for everyone. There is a way to do this. You don’t have to turn your life upside down in order to do it. What the amazing thing these leaders discover is leading can be fun. There can be joy in work. You can be working against the agenda, the company representing your people well, enjoying the challenges, not every minute, but on balance, and you can have greater impact, but we do have to change the way we think about it in order to get there.
Do you focus at all on the different generations and do you get a lot of questions about millennials and younger generations and how to reach them?
Yes, but what I find is employee engagement. When you think about engagement, which I don’t spend a lot of time on in the bootcamp, the concept is that you’re honoring the agenda of the individual and trying to inspire them to want to honor the agenda of the company. If you’re honoring the agenda of the individual, you are by nature speaking to every person, every generation, every diversity person, every gender. The nature of employee engagement is all about honoring the agenda of the individual and you honor the millennial, honor the Gen X-er. In order to do that, you have to be tuned in to what they’re looking for. The concept of employee engagement is all about how you connect with the individual and their circumstance. There are some timeless principles that can be applied to that process. Gallup’s done a great job with their Q12 survey and other organizations have developed very rich survey tools that in twenty questions you can be tapping into the interests of each individual and then shaping an agenda that honors those interests.
I’ve seen a lot of people test and get a baseline and then do nothing with the results.
You go to be a dog on a bone with this world. We did it for twelve years while I was their baseline and then eleven years subsequent, and the survey itself is not the secret. The secret is what you do with the results. We would do the survey with thousands of employees, but then we would share the survey results with about 600 different work groups. All the employees would assess the results from their group, see how they compared to other groups in the company and see how they compared with the company overall. Also, they could see how they compare to other like-minded companies. Then they would figure out, “What do we need to do this coming year to be more helpful to our associates?” They would pick three things, and then they would have a work plan that would remediate those three things.
Over the course of a decade, each work group was basically remediating or addressing 30 different things that were going on in their group and in a continuous improvement way. Everyone knew that every year we were going to be revisiting how we did, and I guess just a small note is we actually added a question as what we did the survey, we said, “How effective has your manager been in helping you remediate these issues?” As soon as we started surveying the employees about how their manager was doing, it was amazing how much more engaged the manager’s got. I saw the results for 600 work groups. I was in communication with the top 350 leaders on how they were doing. It was a real center of the plate activity for me, but you have to be a dog on a bone. Think of this as Six Sigma for culture building, and if you’re not championing a process and performance, then it will drift and it will fall by the wayside, so you do have to be a dog on a bone.
A lot of it you want to follow through and give feedback, and all the things that we hear about are important for getting people more engaged in working. It led to my interest in curiosity and how much curiosity plays into whether people are successful. They want to know more about how well they’re doing, they want feedback, they want to have opportunities for growth. How can you develop a sense of curiosity in people and how has curiosity impacted your success?
Jim Collins did some great work, not just in his Good to Great book, as he looked at leaders of good to great companies. He talked about level five leaders were the ones he held in the highest esteem. He noted that he had two noticeable characteristics that differentiated them. A) They had a fierce resolve to move things forward that sort of transcended the ordinary, and B) They had a remarkable sense of humility because the one thing they knew is they didn’t know enough, and they knew they wanted to move the organization forward. Put those two things together and those leaders were remarkably curious. “How can we do better? This is how much I know but altogether, how can we make this work even better?” As those leaders and as leaders I’ve worked with, as I’ve seen them contribute, I see this sense of fierce resolve, married to a sense of humility to a point where they’re modeling and they’re asking questions.
They’re modeling curiosity and “How are we going to do this? We’ve got to go from here to here, it’s not clear how we’re going to get there, what do we need to do differently? How do we need to think about this?”In that kind of culture, curiosity is important. The other thing I would say about curiosity, it has to be given room to breathe and surface. One thing I talked about at my website at ConantLeadership.com is the single most important thing I think you can do as a leader is inspire trust in the organization. If you don’t have a high trust culture, people are not likely to express their curiosity and to advance it. It’s awfully important to promote trust.
I talk about it on the website a lot, but those 30,000 notes to employees had a benefit in that they knew I was paying attention, they knew I valued them. In the fullness of time, it created a level of trust and engagement that was second to none in the Fortune 500. There were a host of other activities that signaled we value you, we trust your judgment, and as we built trust, curiosity had room to breathe, candor had room to breathe, and we were able to constructively move the enterprise forward in a way that I felt was alive and vital.
Do you think that all people have that innate curiosity if we give them the room to ask questions? Do you think that it comes naturally to do that, or do we have to develop that in people?
I don’t know the answer to that. I would say all groups have the potential to be curious. I don’t know about individuals. The magic is in the group and creating a way to tap into the chemistry of the group so that curiosity can bloom. Any group I’ve been with, we could create the conditions for curiosity to thrive, and not just curiosity, candor and curiosity, so that people are looking at the real world, what’s really going on, not what people want to have going on, and then are smartly exploring ways to address things. Curiosity, when you’re talking about an enterprise or an institution, it’s more about can you promote curiosity within the enterprise, within the institution. You can do that anywhere, this side of the Russia and China, but in terms of free enterprise, I don’t know a free enterprise organization that can’t champion a culture that is curious.
Where did you get this desire to improve culture? You’ve had a lot of successes and it seems to have come naturally to you. Were you fired from General Mills early on?
I talked about that pretty openly, I was let go from General Mills and it was probably the darkest day I had after working for the company for ten years, a company I loved. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and not doing well enough.
What made you forward ahead after that?
Frankly, I was devastated. It was the most devastating day of my life. I can remember it as if it was yesterday. I drove to work. It was the fall. The receptionist at the front desk said, “Larry would like to see you in his office.” He was the acting senior vice president of marketing for our company. I was working in a subsidiary Parker Brothers toys and games in Boston. I went up to Larry’s office and Larry couldn’t look at me, and I thought this isn’t good. He said, “Doug, your job has been eliminated. Need to be out of here by noon.”Nine plus years of my career was over in a snap and I was packing up and leaving that day. That was devastating.
I ended up with an outplacement counselor who said, “You’ve got to be distinctive as you go out into the marketplace.” Which was very hard for me, another conversation because I’m an introvert and I wasn’t good at presenting myself. He said, “You’re going to be a terrible interview. We’ve got to think through a way for you navigate this.”We landed on a process where I would hand write a thank you note to everybody I met, including receptionists and executive assistants wherever I interviewed, and they would get it within 24 hours.
This is when we only had snail mail. I would go for an interview and then I would go to the coffee shop next door, I would get all the names and I would hand write notes to everybody. I’d take them back to the place and I hand them to the receptionist and asked him to be delivered that day. I did that throughout my job search process and ultimately have found its way into the way I lead, which was just connecting with people in a way that an introvert could connect with people, which was through notes. That was a very arduous process, very hard for an introvert to go looking for a job. At that point it was 1984, and you didn’t talk about being fired the way you can talk about leaving our company today. It was hard, and I was out of work for a year, while it was when you have a wife, two small kids and a very large mortgage. Anyway, I navigated through that.
The handwriting note thing, do you think it originated there to learn how to do it later?
It’s pretty funny because I was giving a speech at my mother’s retirement community a few years ago. My mother is now 92.They asked me to come speak to their group, the people that ran the facility. I went and spoke and my mother was there. I’m talking about the importance of thank you notes, and my mother interrupted the whole presentation to say, “I spent 25 years trying to get you to write thank you notes.” I wasn’t very good then either, but when the student is ready, the teacher appears. My outplacement counselor appeared, but he was only teaching me something that my mother had spent 25 years laying the groundwork for.
You think about on the introvert extrovert thing, that introverts often say they wish they hadn’t thought of saying something they didn’t have time to think about, and then the extroverts often say things they wish they hadn’t said. I could see that writing notes would be good for both cases. You don’t put it in the stuff you shouldn’t have said and you do include the stuff you should have said, don’t you think?
On balance I think that makes sense. It worked for me because I wanted to be thoughtful about what I said and I wanted to say it from the heart to and I wanted to do that properly. That’s what worked for me, it doesn’t work for everybody but interestingly Susan Cain has become a good friend, the author of Quiet. When I first met Susan, it was funny. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test five times and every time I’ve wanted to be an extrovert. If you’re an introvert, you want to be an extrovert. All five times I was an introvert, not a flaming introvert, but an introvert. It was only after the fifth time and I’m a CEO at Campbell that I realized all I needed to do was to come out of the closet with people that I was an introvert.
I was acting it, I was trying to act the role of being the extrovert CEO, and it was exhausting. I finally just told people, “By the way, I’m an introvert. If you see me standing off to the side looking like I’m not in tune, don’t feel as if I’m acting aloof. Just look at me and say there’s Doug again. He’s feeling uncomfortable, he doesn’t know what to say, so he’s standing off to the side. Just come up to me and say, ‘Are you feeling a little introverted right now?’ The answer will be yes.” I started talking about it very openly and it was so freeing. It was unbelievable how it transformed my ability to show up more authentically with people. If I wasn’t saying anything, they weren’t assuming the worst, it transformed my life. “Coming out of the closet” on your introversion is something I highly recommended to many of my introvert friends.
I interviewed Ken Fisher of Fisher Investments, and he’s a very successful billionaire. He was talking about how that book had a real strong impact on him as well, because he’s an introvert and it helped him. How’d you get to know Susan?
We became friends. The thing she was fascinated by was my 30,000 notes and she had read my book. I have a process that helps introverts express themselves, and she was fascinated with that. We met right very early on when her book was being published, and I’m on our advisory board and I’ve known her for a long time. She tapped into something that’s so powerful. The most untapped potential in most organizations is the workforce you already have. Typically, the processes you have in there in an organization work more for extroverts than for introverts. You have to find a way to tap into the full potential of introverts to contribute. She’s onto a big idea that we’re just beginning to feel our way through.
What’s your process to help introverts express themselves?
I didn’t do it, it’s in my TouchPoints book and it’s part of my bootcamp process. Fundamentally it’s called declaring yourself, and I talk about it on my website too. The notion is that people are not mind readers. We tend to think people are going to understand where we’re coming from without explaining it to them. As I said earlier, people are swamped. Everybody feels as if they’re taking a sip of water from a fire hydrant of life. They’re not tuned in to how you’re thinking, who are you kidding? They’re having 400 interactions a day and they’re just not tuned in. I think as a leader or as a contributor, as a colleague, you need to tell people where you’re coming from and what you’re thinking. For an introvert, for me that was hard, so I created a process where the first hour or the first day I worked with somebody, I would walk them through. “Here’s who I am, here’s what I stand for, here’s how I think, and I just want to make this work.
My goal is to take the mystery out of our relationship as quickly as possible so that we can focus on moving our organization forward.” I did that for probably the last twenty years of my career, certainly the last fifteen. I would do that with individuals with whom work and with organizations with whom I worked. First hour, first day. Then I would have a steady drum beat of doing what I would tell them that first hour I was going to do. My belief was if I do what I say I’m going to do, I guess you can trust when we can move forward. If I don’t, at least you’ll know and you can make your judgments accordingly.
I found that by declaring myself, telling people how I thought, and that I was an introvert and this is how I tend to do things, that it got the relationship off on better footing. I would always invite the individual to come back and share with me over another half hour where they’re coming from, and so that the two of us could kind of build a relationship that was thoughtful and that was based on a better understanding of each other. I’ve worked for people and I’m sure you have too, that you’re doing this dance for like months trying to figure out what does she really want? How should I really do it?
That’s just a waste of time, so I just tried to clear all that stuff out first hour, first day. Didn’t get it all, but I got a lot of it. I tended to be on firmer footing with the people with whom I worked. I’ll give you one quick example. I hired this fellow to run the food service organization for Nabisco. He’s a talented guy and I’m sharing with him first hour, first day you started working and said, “This is great, Doug. Thank you.” Normally I wouldn’t bring this up because I talk about my family and how important it is to me, as well as my work, my community, and my faith. I cover all that stuff and he says, “I’m so glad you did that.”
One thing I didn’t get into when we were going through the interviewing process is I’m recently divorced and part of my excitement about this job is I’m going to be able to be back on the east coast and live near my kids, my two sons, and I want to stay close to them as we go through this process. Normally I wouldn’t be sharing this with you the first hour, the first day, but given that it’s come up, I hope we can make something work. On the spot I was able to commit to him, that we’ll do whatever it takes to make that work for you.
From that day on, he did whatever it took to make it work for the company. We never would’ve had that discussion if I hadn’t kicked it off with this declaring yourself exercise. It just wouldn’t have happened. He would’ve been trying to jerry rig his life to be at all the meetings and to do all this stuff that he thought was necessary in order to placate me. All he had to do is, “My son’s got a basketball game. Can we make it work another way?” We could. It was just so much easier and genuine. This declaring yourself process, I highly recommend it.
You got a win-win, and I noticed you like Stephen Covey‘s information and a few things that you’ve had interviews where you’ve mentioned it. You tend to list things like begin with end in mind, win-wins, those types of things. Is there any other author other than Covey and Susan Cain that really has influenced you?
A ton of them, but Stephen Covey was another one who became a mentor and a friend until he sadly passed away. His son is a very good friend of mine, Stephen M.R. Covey, who is the foremost writer on trust building in the United States, if not the world. Stephen had a profound influence on me. Warren Bennis had a big influence on me as well. In fact, he wrote the foreword to our book, my book TouchPoints. Ron Shiran, was my professor in graduate school and has been a friend now for a long time, for over 40 years. Ron had a profound influence on me. Back in my day, I was reading three books on what I would call wisdom literature, which weren’t just necessarily business, but were books that promoted wisdom.
Anything from Joseph Campbell to Ron Shiran, I was reading three books a week. Introverts read. When I was at Campbell, I was commuting two and a half hours each way, five hours a day, every day for ten years. Fortunately I can read in a car. I’ve read a lot. Now I’m so active on the social media that I’m not reading as much, but I would bet I’m in the top five percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs and chairmen in terms of reading. I love to learn, I love to read, I love to stay current with thinking. It’s very stimulating.
You’re developing your curiosity and I love that, and we’re back full circle with that. It’s so important to share that love of learning with everybody. I always wonder what leaders do to share that with their followers in terms of do they have book request, like why don’t everybody try and read this? I’ve had leaders do that, say why don’t we read these two books and some of them been great.
I have thousands of books in my office still. Whenever I have a guest, I give a book to them that makes sense for them. I’m always giving books away. I started doing, when we were turning around Nabisco, I started a book of the month club and these books just piled up in my executives offices. They were just overwhelmed by it. Then I went to a book of a quarter club which was more manageable and more selective and still sending the same signal. Then I went to a book of the quarter club where I just said, “If you don’t have time to read the whole book, read these three chapters,” and I think that got the most traction because not everybody is a reader.
Today if I was doing it, I would be, which I do for my bootcamp, and for some of the other places I teach, I would be doing podcasts and things as well, and video, I would have them looking at TED Talks and things. There’s some amazing TED Talks from Clayton Christensen and David Brooks and a host of other people that today I would use. I think in boot camp and I’m pretty sure in TouchPoints, I always talk about it’s a grow or die world. The corporate world is grow or die. Either you’re learning and growing or you’re not. There’s no in-between. I always say, “I’m promoting learning and growing. It beats the alternative.”From the get go, wherever I am, we’re promoting learning and growing.
You definitely deserved the recognition you received and it’s amazing how many people I’ve talked to that just rant and rave about the successes you’ve had. You really have done some amazing things and you’ve gone from completely different organizations too. Avon, it’s got to be a little bit different than Campbell’s Soup. How is that changing completely different type of industries? Is it the same thing?
No, it was challenging. Basically in my 40 year career, I spent a decade at each. I spent a decade with General Mills, a decade with or seven years with Kraft, a decade with Nabisco, and a decade with Campbell. Then I was only chairman of Avon products for three years because we had a very difficult situation that ultimately required that we break up the company. I was with companies for basically a decade at a time. Avon was the biggest challenge because I was hired the day before they hired a new CEO. Then within six months for a variety of reasons, I all of a sudden became Chairman. The company was struggling and we did the best we could. We ultimately had to break it up which was the last thing we wanted to do, but there was no other strategic alternative that we could find and we we’re running out of time.
The common element across all this, whenever I do leadership talks, this is all about the people. It’s all about the culture that you build. Building a high performance culture should be job one for any executive. It’s not about you, it’s about them, and it’s about how they show up when you’re not in the room, and you have to create the conditions for that. Whether it’s Avon or Campbell which is an unusual company, or the world’s largest LBO Nabisco, or the company I started with a General Mills or Kraft, the common element was people, who all wanted to make it work. The challenge for any leader is to find the key that will make it work for them in a way that makes it work for the company, and there’s always a way. There’s always a way.
When I took over Campbell Soup, we were a canned soup company. We’re making the same product for a hundred years later that we had made in the 1800s. We were headquartered in the poorest, most dangerous city in the United States, Camden, New Jersey. 75,000 people, 70 murders a year. Our facility was surrounded by razor wire so that employees felt safe. They also felt like they were going into the prison every day to go to work. We were on death’s doorstep. If we could change that culture to a place where now Denise Morrison is taking it to an unforeseen heights, if we could do it, anybody could do it.
You really have the background and experience that I hope a lot of our audience will go to your site to find out more from what you’re doing now with your Conant Leadership and your new book that I guess next year you said it’s coming out in. You’re totally very successful, best seller TouchPoints, and a lot of people want to find out how they could learn more about you, Doug. Can you share some of your websites?
If they go to ConantLeadership.com, they can learn all about how to contact us and everything else. One thing I’d say about Conant Leadership is we are in this to champion leadership that works in the 21st century. We don’t make any money. We cover our costs. I don’t take a salary. I charge for speaking events. I charge for some teaching, most teaching I don’t charge for. All we’re doing covering our costs. If we make any money in a given year, we give it away.
We’re a small operation, but in the first four years we’ve given away, we just went over a $1 million of philanthropy. We’re in this work for all the right reasons just to try and be helpful. It’s fulfilling work, there’s no other agenda. If you can’t be helpful, people shouldn’t waste their time with us. We are getting great traction with our social media. They can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If they go to the website, they can get all that information.
Thank you so much for being on the show, Doug. This has been so fascinating. I’ve been really looking forward to this.
Happy to help. Have a good day.
I want to thank Doug Conant for being my guest. He is such an inspiration. If you haven’t seen the case study on Campbell’s Soup and what he was able to do. It’s worth researching because he’s an amazing guy and he is somebody that I’ve looked forward to interviewing for a long time. You just hear so many anecdotes about what he did and how he was able to turn Campbell Soup around and do so many things with each company where he worked. I enjoyed having him on the show. If you’ve missed any of our past guests. You can listen to past episodes on my website DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com or DrDianeHamilton.com and go to the radio show from that point.
You can also find us on iTunes, iHeart, and now C-Suite Radio. C-Suite Radio has got a reach with C-level executives. It’s an amazing site if you haven’t had a chance to check into what they offer there, that’s also a wonderful location. You could pretty much find us everywhere. You can subscribe on iTunes and get notified when new shows come out or you can do it on my website as well, and it will notify you. It was really wonderful to have Doug on the show, but I really look forward to the next episode as well, so I hope that you all come back and join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Doug Conant
Douglas Conant is an internationally renowned business leader, New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and social media influencer with over 40 years of leadership experience at world-class global companies. For the past 20 years of his leadership journey, he has honed his leadership craft at the most senior levels – first as President of the Nabisco Foods Company, then as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and finally as Chairman of Avon Products. In 2011, he founded ConantLeadership: a mission-driven community of leaders and learners who are championing leadership that works in the 21st century. He is the co-author of the bestseller Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments and has been listed as one the Top 100 Most Influential Authors in the World.
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