One could say it runs in the family.
When Denise Morrison took command of food giant Campbell Soup Co. last year, she became part of a sibling pair running large U.S. public companies. Her younger sister, Maggie Wilderotter, is chief executive of Frontier Communications Corp. Two other sisters also became executives.
Morrison sat down with The Wall Street Journal's Laura Landro to discuss the importance of women setting career goals and learning how to leverage relationships and opportunities to achieve them. Here are edited excerpts:
LAURA LANDRO: Is it true that your father was an AT&T executive who told you in grade school about the importance of profit margins?
DENISE MORRISON: Absolutely. And we had to do a business plan to get a bicycle.
LANDRO: And you had a job jar.
MORRISON: We did. My parents had job jars because my father would say, "Kids today have too much time, too much money and no responsibility. You're going to have no time, no money and a lot of responsibility." We were like, "Gee, thanks, Dad." But they invented the job jars, and they would put the family chores in. And [my father] would talk about the family as a team and everybody had to pull their weight. And so my sisters and I would look at our job jars, and we could negotiate and barter the jobs, but they had to be done by the end of the week.
LANDRO: Did you envision starting out in the 1970s and '80s that you would one day be a CEO?
MORRISON: I knew at a very young age I wanted to run a company, and in school and beyond I was training all my life for what I do today.
I wasn't afraid to declare it either. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal did an article on our family, and they put in that I wanted to be CEO. I remember getting phone calls from people saying, "I can't believe you said that. What if you don't get it?" And I'm like, "The thought never crossed my mind."
The thing that I learned early on is you really need to set goals in your life, both short-term and long-term, just like you do in business. Having that long-term goal will enable you to have a plan on how to achieve it.
We apply these skills in business, and yet when it comes to ourselves we rarely apply them. And so the insight was what do you want to be when you grow up? I want to run a company. Then, what are the kinds of things that you need to do to prepare yourself to do that?
LANDRO: You had said one problem is that women expect the corporation to sort of take care of them and do it all for them. But they can't rely on that. Is the problem that corporations don't have enough setups to get people into those next levels? Is it more up to the individual?
MORRISON: I think it's a two-way street. Most corporations have human-resources processes that involve discussions with your manager, performance evaluations, calibrations for performance and potential succession planning.
However, if you think about the amount of time women invest in writing their performance review, it's like a half-hour, whereas they'll spend weeks doing a business plan. Women have to take those processes seriously.
LANDRO: A big theme of this conference is sponsorship. Was there one sponsor who you think of as the model sponsor?
MORRISON: I can cite numerous sponsors at different places in my career that made a huge difference for me just in terms of pulling me aside and giving me a tip or some coaching, or just watching what I was doing and not being afraid to tell me the truth about it.
Sometimes the truth hurt. I remember one time at Nabisco when Doug Conant, who I've worked for many years, [including at Campbell, where he was CEO,] pulled me aside and said that I was so results-driven and so transaction-oriented that I wasn't taking time to build relationships. He said that "when you build those relationships of trust, you can then bring your ideas to those relationships and you'll get more done. You'll have more influence."
I had been so conscious about being a working mother, of time spent on the job to deliver results and time spent at home to make sure the kids were OK, that I interpreted time spent building relationships as fooling around as opposed to, no, that's serious business. That was a huge "aha."
LANDRO: Your career took you through many companies before you arrived at Campbell Soup. How did you decide when it was time to leave a place?
MORRISON: I always looked at my career as, "Where have I been? Where am I now? And where am I going? And what are the right assignments to get there?" And if the company would work with me on delivering those assignments, I was all-in. But if that didn't happen, [I would look at other options.]
LANDRO: Did you have to reach out for those job changes or were you always recruited?
MORRISON: In most cases I was recruited. But when I was a vice president and general manager at Kraft, I pounded the pavement to understand how to get myself on a board of directors. I talked to a lot of recruiters to understand the criteria and skill sets that were required to be a good director.
At the time I was told politely that, "Well, we're looking for sitting CEOs." And I said, "Well, there are only a couple women. They're going to be really busy."
ALAN MURRAY (Wall Street Journal Deputy Managing Editor): What recommendations do you have for how women can approach building relationships?
MORRISON: You always know somebody who knows somebody. So call somebody that knows the person you want to network with and have them open the door. And then walk through it. And then really understand the quid pro quo—that if they do this for you, you say to them, "At any point, if I can do anything to help you, let me know."
Women do it all the time in their personal lives but just don't bring those skills to the business world.
This story first appeared on WSJ.com