Conant hopes to cook up a winner at Campbell Soup.
Soup CEO Doug Conant '76 talks strategy
Doug Conant grew up to be director of strategy at Kraft Foods
and then president of Nabisco Foods and now the president,
director and CEO of Campbell Soup Co., he was a kid growing
up in Glencoe, Ill., who liked playing tennis. He also liked
dipping his grilled cheese sandwich into a bowl of tomato
rice soup. Turned out the soup came from Campbell and the
kid really liked the taste. Little did Conant realize then
that he would one day be tapped to lead the revitalization
of the world's most famous soup company.
Soup is the ultimate food you remember from when you were
a kid. We were all Campbell's kids at one time," says
Conant, a 1976 alum, who became the company's CEO on Jan.
8 and is working to rejuvenate the company after several recent
years of disappointing performance.
50, is no stranger to reinvigorating brands. His 25-year career
in the food industry includes leading a turnaround at Nabisco
during his five-year tenure as president, delivering five
consecutive years of double-digit earnings growth. In the
process, he led the reinvention of such core brands as Planters
nuts and LifeSavers, and launched several successful new products,
graduate now brings this proven track record to Campbell where
he is implementing a paradigm for maximizing shareholder wealth
that revolves around six strategic elements: revitalizing
the core business; creating incremental "new" business;
driving productivity with quality; accelerating technology;
pursuing strategic breakthroughs; and driving organizational
excellence to achieve all these objectives.
times when you encounter a business problem it's because you
have strayed away from your fundamental mission and from your
core capabilities in an unhealthy way," explains Conant.
"Managers come up with these brilliant strategies, but
if you don't have the competence to execute them, they can
be your undoing," he adds.
for Conant's personal success strategy arranged themselves
early. Family life, he recalls, was always oriented around
achievement and contribution to the community. At New Trier
High School, Conant developed into a standout tennis player,
a talent that would take him to Northwestern University on
an undergraduate athletic scholarship. After earning his bachelor's
degree in political science, Conant briefly explored the possibility
of earning a living as a tennis pro before deciding to begin
his business education at Kellogg.
tennis is an individual sport," he says. "Early
on, I realized that I wasn't good enough to go pro, but also
that I hungered to be part of a team-based environment. The
power of team-based culture was one of the lessons I learned
at Kellogg that's been so helpful to me."
recalls being inspired by some extraordinary Kellogg faculty,
including Louis Stern, Philip Kotler and Ram Charan. "Those
professors had competence and character. They were a terrific
set of role models," he says.
credits Kellogg for developing his appreciation of context,
marketing and what he calls "the human equation."
The CEO believes the Kellogg leadership experience has enabled
him to understand how to excel in a team-based environment
-- and how to create a culture that lets employees know they
does a masterful job of creating well-rounded leaders,"
says Conant. "As students, we learned the importance
of stepping back and analyzing a situation from 30,000 feet
before dealing with it from two feet. We also gained a discerning
market-driven mentality. Underneath all that, we learned that
the secret to winning in the marketplace is about creating
a superior employment experience in the workplace for your
Conant's mandate is to transform the 132-year-old company
so that it regains its place as one of the best performing
consumer companies. He believes that, like any company, Campbell
must meet and then exceed the expectations of its consumers
-- and those consumers have changed with the times.
today demand more health-conscious foods, explains Conant,
whose company also includes brands such as Pepperidge Farm
cookies, breads and crackers, Godiva chocolates, V8 beverages
and Franco-American canned pasta. In addition to wellness
concerns, trends indicate that consumers are now demanding
better quality and convenience as they balance a hectic work
schedule with a demanding home life.
dichotomy also produces markedly different consumer patterns.
Soup is the No. 2 lunch item eaten at home, second only to
bread, says Conant. Away from home, however, soup drops to
No. 12. "That tells you there's opportunity for us,"
the chief executive explains. "If we can strengthen this
behavior in the home and extend it away from home, on college
campuses and in airports, for example, we can continue to
grow our business."
has taken the top job at Campbell at a time of massive change
in the food industry, highlighted by a wave of consolidations
among major manufacturers and retailers. "Our industry
is very Darwinian," he says. "As a company, you
either evolve and grow, or you die. Given the choice, I choose
growth every time."