Simmons Leadership Blog

Denise Morrison: Integrating Work and Life

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Consistently named by Forbes and Fortune as one the country's most powerful women in business, Denise Morrison became president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2011. The first woman to head the $7.7 billion consumer foods maker, she brought to the task a 30-year track record of building iconic brands at Kraft Foods, Nestle, Nabisco, and Pepsi-Cola. In just her first year as CEO, Morrison reinvigorated sales growth with the launch of 288 new products and the $1.55 billion acquisition of Bolthouse Farms, instilling a new spirit of innovation and creativity at the venerable company. Morrison is a founding member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a first-of-its-kind coalition of manufacturers, retailers, and other organizations to combat obesity, especially among children. She currently serves on the board of directors of Catalyst and Enactus, as well as of the Campbell Soup Company.
Denise Morrison filled us in on women she admires, turning points in her career, and more!
What woman do you most admire? What has she taught you?
My mother, who continues to inspire me. When I was growing up, she taught me and my three sisters that "ambition is part of femininity." She inspired me at an early age to aim high and pursue my dream of leading a company at a time when the business world wasn't accessible to many women.
Was there a turning point in your career when you "jumped the curve," breaking an old pattern to change the course of your career? What did you learn from that experience?
I describe my career path as a zigzag - not a ladder with a straight trajectory up. I've jumped the curve to seek new experiences. As an example, in the middle of my career, my husband accepted a job in California that required our family to relocate. I was working for Nestle at the time and I told my boss, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I need to move to California. The good news is that with our acquisition of Carnation, the Nestle Ice Cream business now has a plant right in Bakersfield." The plant was struggling and it was the job no one wanted. But it ended up being a promotion and I was able to turn the plant around. I also gained valuable supply chain experience, and I was able to fill gaps that I had identified in my strategic career plan.
What's the best piece of career advice you've gotten along the way?
A former boss told me it's important to build relationships. As I've learned in my career, working hard and delivering results will take you only so far; building and leveraging strong relationships will take you the rest of the way. As I've said many times, "Networking is working!" It is not wasting time or fooling around. It is serious business and can be very strategic when done correctly.
Any tips for work/life balance?
Throughout my career, I've learned to integrate work and life. I have never believed in work-life balance. It creates a false expectation because it implies that there will be perfect equilibrium. That never happens. Instead, I believe in work-life integration and bringing your whole self to work. Throughout my life, I've integrated my career with a wonderful marriage, two daughters, aging parents, and just last year, two grandchildren...and one more on the way! Integration looks different at different life stages, and will change over time, but it's worked for me.

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