Then, when I first went to Kraft, I worked on yogurt, a very low-margin business. I found an opportunity to create the first ever kids’ yogurt, which was a creative, innovative thing at the time. Then I had an opportunity to work on Cool Whip, which is a highly profitable business. The question was: How do you sell more? I was able to create a fifth holiday for that brand that they still use today — the flag cake for July Fourth, which was a big new opportunity that drove significant growth.
Was there much discussion of the health implications of trying to sell lots of potato chips back then?
We always are focused on what consumers want. And I think what we’re seeing is that consumers want everything, right? They want some things that are indulgent taste experiences, that are treats. There are other times they want better fuel options. In my role today, what I really focus on is two things. One is transparency, which is how do we be really clear about what we are as a confection company? We’re a treat. People know we’re a treat. They’re not surprised when they look at the calories, right? They get it. Within that, we also look at our opportunity to provide choice. Hershey’s Kisses are one of the best portion control items, with less than 25 calories each. And then also how do we offer other snack choices, which is what we’re doing now as we broaden our portfolio beyond confection.
But you’re not diversifying into kale chips just yet.
Not yet, although we have SkinnyPop Popcorn.
At what point did you move away from being a part of a team to leading a team?
There were a few seminal turning point roles for me when I look at how I developed as a leader. The first one was my very first general management job. I was maybe eight years into my career, and they asked me to turn around a plant in St. Louis making Egg Beaters that was underperforming on every level. I was now leading something that I lacked technical knowledge in, so I had to leverage my leadership skills, my strengths, my visioning capability, my ability to work well with other people, to ask questions and figure out solutions.
I started spending a lot of time down there, at least a week every month. I had to figure out what the issues were, so I really spent a lot of the time at the plant building relationships with the employees. I would work on the line side by side with those workers because I wanted to learn what was wrong. Why is it that we are not performing well? And I thought that the answer lies with these people. I made the employees own the solution. So at the end of a shift, we’d gather and talk about what wasn’t working, why wasn’t it working and what’s the plan we’re going to put in place. And I was able to turn around that plant.
And what was not working?
Well, everything. There were things on the line that weren’t working. Engagement was missing. There were changes that had to be made across everything, from maintenance to training on the lines to better quality inspection. It was efficiency, it was quality, it was everything. There were some people who had to be removed, but a lot of it was just remediation and working with what we had. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, because I knew I saved those people’s jobs.