A leader's commitment transforms Campbell Soup

During Doug Conant’s ten years as president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company (he retired last fall), Conant helped refocus the company. In the first half of his tenure, his goal, he says, was to bring the company from being “a poor performing company to being a competitive company to being a good company.”

After about five years, that goal was achieved. “We said, ‘we can do better,’ and we started to explore how we could bring what I call our DNA, our natural inclination to corporate social responsibility, to a new level, and kick it up a notch,” Conant said.

In 2006, Campbell Soup began studying what sustainability commitments would mean for the business. In 2008, it recruited a specialist to head up the efforts. And in 2010, Conant set out some “big, hairy, audacious goals” to pursue — like cutting the company’s environmental footprint in half by 2020.

Were you actively engaged with any of the (sustainability goal area) teams, or did you just hear about things from your executives?

I was engaged in the review process, but I think as a leader the qualities you have to bring to this work are an openness, a humility to realize you don’t have all the answers and a fierce resolve to get it done. And if there’s one thing I did, I was a broken record. I brought a fierce resolve to the work, and this notion of we were going to persevere through the challenges and we were going to find a way. That to me was my primary role.

If I were a lower level employee at Campbell Soup, how would I know that you were saying that? You said you were a broken record.

Well, we would have employee forums every quarter. I had a pulpit in our portal for our Internet. My executive team and I would meet with the four virtual teams that were creating the goals.

Photo of Campbell's Soup provided by By Ramon F. Velasquez via Wikimedia Commons

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