Irene Rosenfeld breathes the rarified air of America’s women CEOs. She leads a firm whose name is synonymous with boxed mac-and-cheese and made buying a chocolate company an aggressive gamble. She raised two daughters while rising to the top, the quintessential working mom who continues to pepper her conversations with the things she tells her own now twenty-somethings.
Rosenfeld is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kraft, Inc. making her base in the northern New York suburbs. (The company’s global headquarters are in Northfield, IL.) Kraft is not only an American household name, it is a brand found on store shelves and in kitchen cabinets around the world from Canada to Australia.
In less than four years, Rosenfeld has been credited with restructuring the company, introducing it to the new world of global marketing by decentralizing and expanding brands. For almost half that time, she focused on making an on-again, off-again hostile takeover of Cadbury, the British chocolate giant. It was a deal she said is important to the destiny of Kraft.
Rosenfeld gave insightful and somewhat candid answers to a ballroom full of corporate men and women during a 40-minute or so question-and-answer session led by Catalyst CEO Ilene Lang at the annual luncheon that marks the midpoint of the research organization’s conference and awards event. It’s a little like The Actor’s Studio for businesswomen.
Leading Kraft Canada. Seeing Kraft Canada as an opportunity to oversee a whole business, not siloed by brands as in the US, telling a colleague she would be interested in relocating there, getting the opportunity to do it and seizing it. That move provided her with a more global experience and the chance to engage in government relations, which she did not do as head of a single brand.
Most Proud Of:
The most recent acquisition of Cadbury especially in the recession. A major move that she says has helped her to help Kraft "achieve its destiny." In the end, she told the audience, "It was the culminating event that will drastically reshape the company."
On Diversity in the Workplace:
It is a business imperative, says Rosenfeld–critical to enabling to growth and so intrinsic that she has tied mangers’ bonuses to diversity goals throughout the company. She believes in the power of diversity, the opportunity to bring wide ranging thought and experience to the table. Currently, four members of the Board are women, a reasonably high number when over 50 of Fortune’s 500 have zero.
Use the experience and analyze it to death. It is an opportunity to learn.
On Women and Mentoring:
Rosenfeld encourages women to mentor others but does not believe in a formal mentoring policy at the company. She thinks it's important that senior management make sure there are capable women all the way down the pipeline and that there are succession plans in place for women to move upwards. The philosophy must be who is best for the job but understanding candidates may come from anywhere. She also reminds women to look for someone to “speak on your behalf”--like a sponsor who can put your name in the right place at the right time.
She says it comes from years of sports training in both high school and college as a basketball player and tennis enthusiast. She is highly competitive and makes no apologies for that. But, she says, she is also a team player. Rosenfeld surrounds herself with what she calls franchise players–those vested in the organizations success and has encouraged a collegial board. She is also a former Girl Scout.
Her Wish for Her Daughters:
She wants her girls to fulfill themselves but she lightly laughs saying neither are pursuing corporate careers.
Giggles About her Life as a Working Mother:
Moving her girls to Canada meant a few bribes or good lessons in negotiating. The girls she says “negotiated their allowances in Canadian dollars” and were rewarded with pets after the move.
How Her Friends See Her:
They, like she, know she is competitive, maybe to a fault. She told the Catalyst audience a story about a friend sending her a cartoon clipping. It showed a classic working mom in business clothes sitting on the floor with a small child, each building a tower of blocks. The mother’s was bigger than the child’s and the cartoon had mommy saying, “Mine is taller.”
One added note:
At one point, Rosenfeld gave career credit to a working mom in her office in her early days at General Foods when she first joined the research department and her girls were little. Rosenfeld told the crowd that Jane Goldwasser was one of those people who would take off her little bow tie (because they wore suits with ladylike bow ties in the 80’s) and say, let’s get this done. She looked to her for good example and advice.
There are many women in the Hudson Valley who will tell you the same. Working mom and now working grandmother, Goldwasser has for many years run her own marketing research firm but has touched the lives of many women and girls through her commitment to Girl Scouts. She is currently council president of Girl Scouts of the Hudson Valley in New York. General Foods later became part of the Kraft family of brands.
Goldwasser says of Rosenfeld, she was “head and shoulders above all of us. That was clear from the beginning.” Goldwasser’s instincts were right on target. It was no surprise to her that Rosenfeld became CEO.
In 2010, Kraft was named one of the Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies for its flexible work arrangements and icommitment to the advancement of women among other things.
Read more about Kraft's work life programs.
Find out more about Kraft, Inc. from the New York Times.