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  Ellen Gordon
  Though not a Kellogg graduate, Ellen Gordon shares her philanthropy and business expertise with the school and Northwestern University.  Photo © Will Crockett /

A friend to Kellogg and Northwestern, Tootsie Roll president Ellen Gordon creates value in the classroom and the boardroom

Ellen in an engaged member of the Kellogg Dean's Advisory Board and brings an interesting perspective to each meeting.  She and her husband, Mel, have been loyal supporters to the Kellogg School and Northwestern University for more than 25 years.

By Adrienne Murrill

Life is sweet for Ellen Gordon, and much of that has to do with her role as president and chief operating officer of Tootsie Roll Industries.

Headquartered in Chicago and with operations in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Mexico and Toronto, the 109-year-old business is one of the country's largest candy companies, producing more than 60 million Tootsie Rolls and 20 million lollipops daily. Gordon joined the firm in 1968 as a director and in 1978 was named president — a move that made her the second woman to be elected to such a role in a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Gordon says that growing the company is one of her most significant professional accomplishments. To build profitable sales, she says, Tootsie Roll Industries uses several brand-centered strategies. "One is producing a quality product. Our commitment to quality permeates everything we do," she says. The chewy candy for which the company is named, for example, looks and tastes just like it did when the firm was founded.

Gordon also believes that investing in the business has contributed to its success. That includes purchasing state-of-the-art equipment to keep production automated, which reflects another strategy at Tootsie Roll. "We are conscious of the fact that our price points are relatively low and candy is a fairly dense product — so you have to be very economical," she says. "One of our most important philosophies is that we are very conscious of the company's long-term profitability, and we try to make sure that what we do won't hurt us in the long-run but rather strengthen our brands."

Tootsie Roll Industries is a public company, and Gordon says the business' operations reflect this, but she maintains that it has the heart of a private company. Another key strategy is keeping "good people," what Gordon calls the company's best asset. Tootsie Roll employs more than 2,000 worldwide, and by embracing diversity and an open-door policy, she says this builds a strong rapport with employees. "We encourage a lot of new ideas, we create teams and we invite challenges, but we always have to make sure we stay on our overall goals."

In addition to teamwork, Gordon says education and civic engagement are part of her core business values. This is visible at Tootsie Roll, where the company promotes an educational program to support employees who desire additional schooling and a matching gift program for philanthropy. These values extend to Gordon's personal life as well; she began her undergraduate studies at Vassar College, then married, and continued studying at Wellesley College. Gordon left Wellesley while raising her four children and beginning her role at Tootsie Roll. She completed her degree at Brandeis University and attended graduate school at Harvard.

She remains very involved in academia, serving on several boards including Northwestern University Associates and the Kellogg School Dean's Advisory Board. Gordon, who has been generous with her philanthropy to Northwestern over the years, says the work at Kellogg in particular excites her.

"It is a rewarding experience to see how Kellogg has met the needs of preparing people and helping them grow for when they enter our company and others." She admires the school's approach to team management, which she says Kellogg embraced before it became popular at other business schools, and its focus on giving back to the community.

Gordon is equally energized about the opportunities that lie ahead of her, professionally and personally, and she encourages others to find that same kind of passion by always asking, "What's next?"

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