Alumnae/i Feature

Ann Marie Fudge ’73, ’98HD Opens Doors for Women in Corporate America

Ann Marie Fudge '73, '98HD

Being in a women-centered environment reinforced my confidence.

Ann Marie Fudge ’73, ’98HD has enjoyed a fruitful career in the corporate world, having served on the boards of General Electric, Marriott, Honeywell, Novartis, Unilever and Infosys, as well as several non-profits. In 1994, she became the first woman to serve as President of Maxwell House Coffee Company. She now serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of WGBH Public Media, is a member of the Northrop Grumman Board of Directors, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-chairing the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy. We spoke to Fudge about her impressive career and how Simmons shaped her into the leader she is today.

“I had no desire to go to a women’s college,” recalls Ann Marie Fudge ’73, ’98HD. Having attended an all-girl’s high school, she didn’t intend to apply to Simmons, but a friend invited her to visit for a weekend. “I had an interview, went to class, and stayed overnight in her room. Simmons was the only place I wanted to go.”

In addition to the selection of courses and Boston location, Fudge was drawn to Simmons for the faculty. “I went to a class taught by Dr. Margaret Hennig [’62], and I thought she was so cool!” Learning about management from a woman would leave an indelible impression.

Fudge had worked in a department store in high school and aspired to be a retail buyer, responsible for selecting and purchasing merchandise. She majored in Retail Management at Simmons, but had second thoughts after a pivotal internship experience her senior year. “I worked with a buyer at Filene’s, but I realized it was not the right job for me,” she recalls. “It’s important to discover what you don’t want to do. With Margaret [Hennig’s] guidance, I began to think more broadly about my career.”

During her first year at Simmons, Fudge met her future husband, a student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. They were married her sophomore year and she attended Bowdoin her junior year, during which time they had their first child. Without skipping a beat, Fudge returned to finish her senior year with her class at Simmons. Fudge recalls transformative friendships at Simmons that supported her throughout these transitions. “My good friend, Dr. Rita Dudley-Grant stood with me when my husband and I eloped in 1971, and another friend, Valerie Durant — a Nursing major — helped me through my pregnancy,” she recalls. “At that time, back in 1969, we were the largest group of African American women to attend Simmons.”

Several professors at Simmons taught Harvard case studies in class, and Fudge enjoyed that type of learning. “One in particular, Dr. Charles Coverdale, really helped me appreciate the Case Study method.” This exposure led her to apply to the MBA program at Harvard Business School. After graduating from Simmons in 1973, she worked for General Electric in Connecticut. By the time she began business school in 1975, she had two sons, ages four and one. “[My sons] helped me keep everything in balance, because I knew what was important,” she says. “We were blessed to have a wonderful support system, including former Simmons professors and the Simmons registrar, Buck Barrow, who was a mentor from my Freshman year in 1969.”

After completing her MBA in 1977, Fudge held several leadership positions at General Mills in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She became Associate Director of Strategic Planning at General Foods in White Plains, New York in 1986. She advanced through several roles before being named President of the Maxwell House Coffee division of Kraft in 1994.

“Fortunately, I had a strong network of women colleagues and friends who were also moving into operational roles,” she recalls. “Those friendships are important when navigating the storms — anybody who is running an entity of any sort goes through storms. You need people you know who can help you meet the challenges that impact you as a business leader and as an individual.”

Fudge was also fortunate to have men as mentors and allies. While she isn’t certain what makes people connect with each other, she has her theories. “I had a boss who was the father of three daughters,” she recalls. “He was so supportive and continues to be a trusted ally and friend.”

At this time, Fudge became involved with Catalyst, an organization that supports women in the workforce. “GE was working with Catalyst to develop and advance women in their careers,” recalls Fudge. She also continued to call on her Simmons mentor, Margaret Hennig, for advice at different “inflection points” along her career journey. “It’s a joy for me to help other women succeed and be there for them in the way people were there for me,” says Fudge. She has served on the Board of Catalyst and is currently on the Senior Advisory Board. In recent years, she began working on a project started by a private equity firm to develop professional women to serve on Boards.

In 2008, Fudge left her position as Chair and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, a global network of marketing communications companies, to join President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign finance committee. After Obama’s successful presidential campaign, Fudge served the Administration on the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. She also served on the Foreign Affairs Policy Board for the State Department when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Most recently, Fudge served as Co-Chair of the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy which was a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.. “We conducted listening sessions across the country, speaking with people about their lives and the economy,” says Fudge. These listening sessions informed the Commission’s report and photojournal, featuring recommendations for creating a “people-first” economy. When talking about the economy, “typically, people talk about the GDP [Gross Domestic Product], but that doesn’t touch how everyday people live, or how they think about how to put food on the table in an inflationary environment.” The Commission developed a CORE Score to measure wellbeing across the U.S., drawn from data on economic security, economic opportunity, health, and political efficacy. “[The research] has been very time consuming over the last three years,” says Fudge. “Now we need to get the message out and move policy in a way that helps All Americans.”

Through so much of her life, the seeds for what flourished were planted at Simmons. “I really did have some great courses in management,” she says. “And I studied Black art history with [Professor Emeritus] Dana Chandler. I took a course in nutrition and used so much that I learned from that class to make sure my family was eating nutritiously. All of that was ignited at Simmons.”

Fudge believes that being in a women-centered environment reinforced her confidence. “You see smart women and you don’t question yourself and your ability. You know you’re good. That’s a big element of success — seeing other women in powerful roles and knowing that you can do it, too.” She recommends that every Simmons student read “Desiderata,” a poem by Max Ehrmann, which Fudge displayed on the wall of her Simmons dorm and later moved through several offices. She cites the phrase, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” And especially in challenging times like these, “in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”

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Alisa M. Libby