When Denise Morrison was a kid, her father, an AT&T executive, took unusual steps to pass on his business skills. When she wanted something like a stereo, she had to create a business plan for it. She and her four sisters took chores out of a “chore jar” and negotiated with each other for who had to do what. When they were in grade school, he taught them the importance of maintaining profit margins.
“My father had a vision that the business world was going to open up for women, and he wanted us to be ready for it,” she says. “He did ‘take your daughters to work’ before it was fashionable. He would take us to his office in New York, and he would take us to the New York Stock Exchange. He was training us and teaching us. He ignited a passion for business.”
It’s safe to say the training worked. Morrison is currently the CEO of Campbell’s Soup in Camden, and her sisters are also successful businesswomen. At one point, she and her sister, former Frontier Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter, were both in charge of Fortune 500 companies, the only time that has ever happened.
Her mother, a housewife, also taught her that leadership was part of femininity. And as a woman CEO, Morrison has taken steps to make Campbell’s a better place for women (and family men) to work by starting a family leave plan program that is generous by the standards of corporate America.
Morrison will speak at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s NJ Conference for Women on Friday, October 28, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Westin Forrestal Village. Along with Morrison, two other prominent businesswomen will speak. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of the Ellevate women’s business network, earned the nickname “the last honest broker” as an executive at Sanford Bernstein (U.S. 1, January 6, 2016.) Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls who Code, is a lawyer, politician, and advocate of women’s STEM education. There are also panels and professional development workshops. Tickets are $125. Call 609-924-1776 or visit www.princetonchamber.org.
Campbell grew up in Elberon, earned a bachelor’s in economics and psychology from Boston College, and began her career in sales at Procter & Gamble. She rose through the corporate ranks at companies like Nestle, Nabisco, and Kraft Foods, where she was responsible for brands like Planters, Life Savers, and Altoids. She joined Campbell’s in 2003 as president of global sales and was made CEO in 2011. She is married to her second husband, an investment banker. The couple lives in Princeton and has two grown children.
Morrison announced Campbell’s new family leave plan in April. It gives 10 weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers and two weeks to secondary caregivers, making no gender distinction. “We have a number of millennial families, and when we announced the new parental policy they were incredibly excited about it,” Morrison says. “It is a policy that works not only for women but for men too. I would say it addresses a huge concern that new parents had have when you are starting a family.”
The policy is an improvement over the one that Morrison had to deal with when she had a child while working at Procter and Gamble. She got six weeks of paid leave, the same as a worker on disability. “Pretend like I broke my leg,” she remembers telling her boss. “I often thought, ‘Gee, it takes you nine months to get this way, and you have to be back at work in six weeks.’ I was very motivated to make this change at Campbell’s.”
She has made other changes at Campbell’s also, expanding the offerings of the soup company’s now numerous product lines. Founded in 1867, Campbell’s built its name on selling simple, cheap canned soups. Today those soups are still its mainstay, with chicken noodle, tomato, and cream of mushroom remaining its bestsellers. (Morrison says the classic chicken noodle is her favorite, along with squash.) Over the years Campbell’s has acquired several other brands, including Goldfish crackers, V8 vegetable juice, Pepperidge Farm bread, Prego pasta sauce, and Swanson broth.
Since taking the helm, Morrison has added more than 50 products. Campbell’s Go soups come in a microwavable pouch in flavors like golden lentil with Madras curry, chicken and quinoa with poblano chiles, and creamy red pepper with smoked gouda. The company has also launched a line of refrigerated soups, touting fresh ingredients and organic vegetables.
In addition to developing its own products, Campbell’s has bought California-based Bolthouse Farms, which sells vegetable juice and specializes in selling baby carrots. Another recent acquisition, Plum, makes organic baby food. “This is a response to consumer trends towards health and wellbeing, but also gives us a window into millennial parents and training babies to eat healthy from the first bite,” Morrison says.
Garden Fresh Gourmet, a maker of salsa and hummus dips, helped Campbell’s create its Campbell’s Fresh refrigerated food division. The most recent acquisition was Kelsen Group, a Danish company that sells cookies in the U.S. under the Royal Dansk brand that also does a brisk trade in China selling cookies at Chinese New Year.
Campbell’s has invested in high tech marketing to go along with its ambitious product line expansion. In October Campbell’s partnered with IBM and its Watson cognitive platform to offer customized ads to people who visited weather.com. The ads took into account local weather and the user’s food preferences to offer customized recipes. It’s the kind of thing that other companies have been doing with social media for a while, but the food industry has been slow to catch on.
“There has been a seismic shift in digital marketing and also e-commerce,” Morrison says. “It’s very small in the food business right now, but we expect that will increasingly grow over time. We are testing and learning a number of different business models for digital commerce. Obviously we have soup products and products that respond to different weather conditions, so working with IBM and artificial intelligence, we’re able to in real time talk to consumers about our products.”
Marketing efforts are also proceeding on a more human level, with a team of chefs in the R&D department working to predict food trends and figure out ways for Campbell’s to capitalize on them. For example, a few years ago the team identified a gourmet burger trend. In response, Pepperidge Farm launched a line of larger burger buns that were suitable for the Bobby Flay-sized ambitions of backyard chefs.
The company has jumped on other hipster food trends as well. “We sighted the trend in Korean barbecue, and at the time we were working on Campbell’s sauces in pouches, so we developed a Korean barbecue slow cooker sauce and that has been really well received in the marketplace,” she says.
Much of this work has come from Campbell’s Camden headquarters. In 2007 the company committed to staying in the city despite its lack of other major employers and generally downtrodden reputation. Since then, Campbell’s has been part of an effort to revitalize the city. “Campbell’s is incredibly committed to Camden,” Morrison says, citing a number of employee volunteer programs designed to help the city.
The relationship to the city, however, has been tested by New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he intended to end a decades-old tax agreement that allowed workers crossing the Delaware River to pay income taxes in the state where they live, not where they work. The company issued a statement in response:
“We are committed to Camden, which has been our home for nearly 150 years,” the statement said. “But we are disappointed that the Governor is considering abrogating an agreement that has served both New Jersey and Pennsylvania well. Our headquarters is about two miles from Pennsylvania and more than 40 percent of our full-time employees based in Camden are Pennsylvania residents. Campbell strongly supports the reciprocity agreement and we hope the Governor decides to overturn the decision.”
The recent static notwithstanding, Campbell’s has continued to expand its Camden headquarters. “We’ve been going floor by floor to open the office and make it a more collaborative place for people,” Morrison says. “We have also been working with Brandywine to develop the Knights Crossing office park, and Subaru was attracted to this and are currently building a headquarters on the property that will bring in more jobs. We are definitely committed to Camden.”