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  Betsy Holden

©Todd Rosenberg Photography
Betsy Holden '82


Branding expert strengthens the Kellogg school position and image

by Rebecca Lindell

Community service was as much a part of Betsy Holden's childhood as, well, the Kraft food products in her family's kitchen.

At 8, Holden organized a successful backyard carnival to raise funds to fight muscular dystrophy. Later she began joining her mother as a volunteer tutor for disadvantaged children in the Head Start Program, an activity that foreshadowed her initial career choice as a teacher.

"Service was a big part of what we did as a family," says the Class of 1982 graduate, who grew up on Kraft foods and went on to become one of the company's top executives. "My parents were invaluable role models for volunteering. It was hard-wired into my siblings and me at an early age."

Now Kraft's president of global marketing and category development, Holden has found many ways to carry that tradition forward. She has worked to instill a service mentality into Kraft's corporate culture, building programs that support employee volunteerism, diversity and working mothers.

The last of these, the Working Moms Exchange Network, was launched by Holden and other female colleagues in the late 1980s. Their goal: to create a forum for women to share information and create programs to balance work and family.

"There was no one in front of us to help us with these challenges, so we reached out and supported each other," Holden says. "That group became a model for our company-endorsed council system, which provides networks and support for employee groups."

Holden is also on the boards of many professional and community organizations, including Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Ravinia Festival, and the Off the Street Club, which helps at-risk children on Chicago's West Side.

The Kellogg School has also been a chief beneficiary of Holden's commitment to service, due no doubt to the school's impact on her life.

While working as a public school teacher after college, Holden consulted for Playskool, helping the company develop toys and games. She found the work so enjoyable that she enrolled at Kellogg in 1980 to gain the skills necessary for a career switch.

At Kellogg, Holden forged lifelong friendships with faculty and classmates, including husband Arthur Holden '81, whom she married while at Kellogg.

"I get a lot of fulfillment from giving back to other people," Holden says. "Kellogg helped me make a significant change in my life, and I want to give back to the school."

Holden has found many opportunities to do just that, dating from her earliest years as an alum. She and her husband helped jump-start the Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago in the mid-1980s. Since 2000, she has served on the Kellogg Advisory Board, working with other top business leaders to help set new directions for the school. Holden also sits on the advisory board of the Kellogg Center for Executive Women.

In addition, she is a frequent speaker at the school. Several times over the years, she and her husband have jointly addressed the Kellogg School's incoming class, discussing the challenges of balancing career and family. Other audiences have included the F.C. Austin Scholars, alumni and a Kellogg seminar on branding last fall.

In the branding seminar, Holden shared her insights on building global brands. Among her key points: that marketers need to balance global standardization with local customization — a strategy that will shift depending on the company, brand and geographic area. Holden's thoughts will appear in a soon-to-be-published book featuring Kellogg experts on global branding.

"Betsy is an incredible patriot of the school and exhibits such leadership in thinking about marketing issues," says Kellogg Professor Alice Tybout, who is co-editing the book with Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing Tim Calkins. "She's always willing to respond to Kellogg and share her knowledge."

In 1994, Kellogg thanked Holden by giving her the Schaffner Award, which recognizes alumni for distinguished professional achievement and service to Kellogg.

Holden has been able to make her contributions while raising two children and blazing her unique trail at Kraft, where she has risen from group brand manager to high-profile roles such as executive vice president and co-CEO. The key, she says, lies in "setting very clear priorities."

"I pick activities that I have the most passion for and that address multiple objectives," she explains. "I look for ways to get my family involved, or areas where I gain professionally at the same time I give something back."

For Holden, Kellogg provides many of those rewards, offering friendship, professional enrichment, networking opportunities and education. That is why the school continues to benefit from her involvement, even as other causes compete for her attention.

"The worst thing you can do is accept an offer to participate in an organization and not get involved," Holden says. "Pick fewer things, and truly get involved in them. You'd rather have more impact in fewer places and in areas you are truly passionate about."

Continue to Robb Knuepfer '78

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University