Top CEOs Share How To Shepherd Innovation


Robert Reiss, Contributor

July 20, 2015

Winston Churchill once famously said, “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” As leaders seek innovative ways to artfully shepherd their enterprises to success, I thought sharing insights from top CEOs in would be important.

So on June 22, 2015 I had a conversation with 2 great thought leaders on innovation, each leaders of enterprise of great tradition — Campbell Soup Company over 150 years history, and Bank of New York Mellon over 230 years and actually the first bank in America. They share insights about: an important innovation they helped lead, the connection between culture and innovation, and their advice to CEOs:

- Gerald L. Hassell, Chairman and CEO, BNY Mellon, a $16 billion company with 50,000 employees where 20% of the world’s assets flow through every day.

- Douglas R. Conant, consumer products expert who is Founder of ConantLeadership, Chairman of Avon Products, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company from 2001-2010, and former President of Nabisco Foods Company from 1996-2000.

1. What was an important innovation that you’ve helped lead?

Gerald Hassell: “ For context, almost 15% of our employee base are software engineers, so we’re a technology company that’s in the clothes of an investments company. We help investors get a better return on their investment in a seamless way through technology. Coming out of the financial crisis there was a pressing need to reform something called the tri-party repo market. It is highly technical and most of the world has never heard of it, but BNY Mellon and JP Morgan Chase sit between the borrowers of money and the lenders of money, meaning the broker-dealers and investors. The market had significant risks during the financial crisis that we were asked to help solve. No one thought it was solvable. We put a team of people on it and used technology in an extremely creative way to essentially today take 97% of the credit risk out of that market. . And I’m not talking small dollars. At its peak tri-party financing was roughly $2.5 trillion dollars.”

Doug Conant:  “To me it’s a grow or die world. It’s very Darwinian, and there is no in between—you either grow or you die. At Campbell Soup Company, we had become the world’s largest and best canned soup manufacturer and our organization was extremely proud of how many cans we could run per minute. In the meantime, packages were changing and consumers were changing. The microwave had been invented in 1946 yet we did not have microwavable packaging until 2003, two years after I became CEO. We were very focused on being a great canner, and to a degree, had lost track of what our consumers were looking for. They were looking for quick convenient meals. All of a sudden, we unlocked the potential to take soup to work or to school, and that convenience platform created a multi-hundred million dollar business that helped us grow sales ten of the eleven years that I was CEO. So, a simple “close-to-home” innovation connected to meeting a consumer need – in this case, convenience – helped change the profile of our company. Similarly, we brought scaled innovation to the category in terms of health and wellness, variety, taste, and value. In addition, we innovated at the point-of-purchase with gravity-fed shelving that greatly improved shopability for the consumer. Collectively, these innovations revitalized the category during my tenure as CEO.”

2. Talk about the connection between culture and innovation?

Doug Conant:  “The key is to stimulate superior employee engagement. To drive engagement, we first must acknowledge the reality that every employee faces: they’re overwhelmed by life. Most large organization employees have over 200 emails per day and 20 to 30 text messages, not to mention they actually have to talk to real people on the phone and meet with real people in meetings. Employees in smaller organizations have similar challenges. For the most part, they are all diligently trying to meet the needs of the various constituencies within their organization and beyond, every day. They also have complex personal lives where they’re trying to meet the needs of their family, their children, their parents, their extended families, and the community-at-large. To me, the first role of a leader is to acknowledge the challenges every employee faces as they try to juggle all of these competing interests. Also, they are juggling these interests in three time zones – they are trying to deliver in the “Present,” while honoring the “Past” and simultaneously trying to set the table for an even more prosperous “Future.” Once the leader acknowledges these challenges, they need to earnestly and visibly help create an environment that better helps employees deal with them. In my experience, as the leader earnestly works to improve the environment for the employees, over time the employees more earnestly work to advance the agenda of the enterprise. This process creates a platform for superior employee engagement where employees get both their heads and their hearts fully “in the game,” attacking their work in a more spirited and collaborative way. I have found, the more engaged they become, the more creative and innovative they can be and the more value we can create together.”

Gerald Hassell:  “Here’s an example of what we did. We have an enterprise-wide innovation competition. We encourage people from around the company to form their own teams using our internal online social networks, and working across different divisions and areas. We encourage people to come with up with ideas by region, by business, by expertise. Then we have a judging process on a regional and business line basis, and ultimately, innovative ideas that have gone through this screening process are going to be presented to the senior leadership team, including me, and we treat it like a Shark Tank-style competition. We actually webcast it around the world. And if one of the senior executives likes the idea they step forward and they say, okay, I’m going to fund this and run with it. And it’s a great experience for the employees because they collaborate and see the power of innovation developing across the company. It’s a fantastic example of why innovation has become so important to our overall culture.”

3. What advice do you have for leaders about innovation?

Gerald Hassell: “A recommendation I would make is show your own personal intellectual curiosity about how the world and the markets and the products and the clients are all changing. Provide a safe environment for employees and your team members to collaborate and think about what’s possible rather than just doing it the old-fashioned way. We use a term here about ‘fast fail’.  I’d also advise leaders to get personally involved and work with the younger generation who by definition is thinking very differently than how we have been trained as leaders. And the markets are moving so quickly, that without the good ideas of the next generation being developed and employed today, you run the very real risk of being left in the dust.”

Doug Conant: “I learned a valuable lesson from studying an amazing woman, Margaret Rudkin, the founder of Pepperidge Farm. At the end of every meeting she held, she was known to say, ‘That’s good. What’s next?’ She became famous for saying, “What’s next?” I advise all leaders to bring this ‘What’s next?’ thinking to the table every day. It drives forward thinking, innovation, and ultimately success.”

Summing up the future of CEOs and innovation, Anthony Marshall, Global CEO Study Program Director, IBM said, “Business has never moved faster than it does today. With all of this constant change, innovation is absolutely critical to create and sustain new business value. Customers with rapidly changing attitudes need to be brought into innovation activities. To successfully innovate, business needs that right organization and the right processes, but mostly it’s about people—having the right incentives and the right organizational culture.  It’s critical for organizations to open up to be both systematic and systemic in the way they approach innovation.”

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This article was written by Robert Reiss from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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