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Kraft CEO transformed a behemoth

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Profiles in Leadership

Though big can be beautiful, by 2006 the behemoth Kraft Foods was too weighed down by its centralized structure to be nimble or responsive.

So in 2007, Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld wrote a memo to the Kraft management team announcing a new initiative—later dubbed “Organizing for Growth”—to rewire and energize the organization. It would put more power in the hands of business units.

It was a huge undertaking. Rosenfeld says, “I lay awake many nights thinking, ‘Is this the right thing to do, and is this the right time to do it?’ How I felt was irrelevant, though—it was really about how the team felt, and whether they would get behind the decision.”

The defining moment came three months after she wrote that memo.

At a meeting of the Kraft executive team, she said aloud for the first time, “We’re going to do this.” And then she went very deliberately around the room and said to the members of the team, one by one, “What do you think? Can you support this?”

“My goal was to get us to a resolution in such a way that the executive team would own it and would be prepared to execute it, coming out of that meeting,” says Rosenfeld.

“But what I appreciated was that even the individuals who did not fully support the decision said so. It wasn’t just, ‘Let’s salute the flag.’ It was more like, ‘I’ll do what the team decides, but let me tell you first how I really feel.’”

And that helped create the alignment the team needed to be successful.

A former boss says her single greatest talent is “consumer empathy” and that she is "brilliant" at anticipating trends. When she served as CEO of Frito-Lay, she revived the brand with a new line of healthier, low-calorie snacks. 

In 2008 Rosenfeld was ranked sixth on The Wall Street Journal's list of "50 Women to Watch" list.  In 2009, Forbes ranked her as the 6th most powerful woman...by October 2010, she had moved up to 2nd on Forbes' list.

—Adapted from “Inside the Kraft Foods Transformation,” strategy+business.

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