SHE-E-O FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Denise Morrison

How have female CEO’s risen to the top? What was their journey? Let’s explore…

I’m empowered. I have the skills. I’m ready to take on the world. Now, if I could just figure out tangible steps to get there. This series has two purposes: to celebrate women’s accomplishments in business, and to research their path to success.

Notable things you should know about Denise Morrison:
1) CEO of Campbell Soup for 7 years
2) Morrison worked to transform Campbell’s soup from an icon of processed food to a brand that is associated with fresh foods and ingredient transparency. She did this by leading acquisitions of organic baby food and fresh carrot companies.
3) Morrison’s first task as CEO was to interview various people throughout the company to tap into the emotions that Campbell’s soup represents in their lives. This transformed the vision from a commodity based company to “creating real food that matters for life’s moments”
4) Morrison brought a strong sense of corporate responsibility to Campbell’s soup. She launched the Healthy Communities initiative that funded school gardens, mobile food pantries, nutrition education, and cooking classes to the community.

5) Morrison is outspoken and advocate for women in business. She urges women to “take charge of their career” and not just rely on the company to take care of them.

Morrison was born to lead. Her path to CEO was heavily influenced by her upbringing. She grew up in New Jersey with three sisters, her father was an AT&T executive and mother a real estate agent. The Morrison family was focused on education and teaching life skills. In order to get a bike, Denise had to put together a business plan as to why she should get a bike. When Denise wanted her ears pierced she put together a “two-for-one” business plan as to why she and her sister should get their ears pierced. The girls would wake up at 6am to do Royal Canadian Air Force drills that their dad thought they would benefit from. It’s not surprising that all four girls now have high powered careers.

Denise graduated from Boston College in 1975 with a B.S. in economics and psychology. She jumped into her first job at Proctor & Gamble where she started as a paper division sales representative. She stood out from the crowd and was promoted twice at P&G.

When her husband needed to move to New York, rather than take a lower level position at Proctor & Gamble, she found a parallel level sales management job at PepsiCo.

From there she was recruited by Nestle and became the Director of Sales Planning for Confections. Denise was extremely organized and kept track of her accomplishments. The CEO at the time recognized her efforts and became a champion for Morrison. She then received many high profile assignments to turn around various business lines.

At one point Morrison was asked to move to Cleveland Ohio, but she prioritized her children and decided not to uproot them at pivotal times in their lives. Instead, she reached out to Nabisco and pitched herself to the President.

Morrison went on to lead Nabisco’s West-zone sales. This led to more promotions for Morrison. During this time she also joined Catalyst, a non-profit that advocates for women in business to help improve her external visibility.

When Nabisco was acquired by Kraft, Nabisco’s CEO and Morrison’s champion, Conant, left to become CEO of Campbell. 2 years later in 2001, Morrison left Kraft to become Chief Customer Officer at Campbell. She was promoted to President of Campbell USA in 2005, then took over as CEO in 2011.

My takeaways about her path to CEO: 1) She was tedious about her documentation of accomplishments and made them visible 2) Her upbringing shaped her ambition and drive in business – upbringing helps! 3) She was able to jump from company to company and position herself in higher responsibilities and title each time 4) She has undeniable passion and drive 5) She found a high ranking person to be her champion 6) She shifted her mindset from transactional, results oriented only to focusing more on building relationships.

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