Campbell’s Continues to Invest in Employees with its CEO Institute

Campbell'sIn recent weeks Campbell’s has enjoyed a slew of good press and praise on several fronts. Corporate Responsibility Magazine gave Campbell’s the number two spot on its 12th annual 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, Fast Company’s Alice Korngold chatted with CEO Doug Conant about employee engagement and philanthropy, GreenBiz interviewed Conant and successor Denise Morrison, and In Good Company’s Aman Singh talked to AnnMarie Gulian, Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition, about Campbell’s HR and recruitment practices. So what is at the root of Campbell’s success? A heavy investment in people.

Campbell’s latest effort is the CEO Institute, developed internally and facilitated through the Campbell University. Campbell’s employees can further their skills through taking classes about a myriad of topics through the Campbell University, but the CEO Institute is a unique, intensive, two-year program only open to 20-24 participants per year. Candidates must be submitted for consideration by their business unit president or functional leader. Nancy Reardon, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer, details this unique program to the American Society of Technical Developers (ASTD).

Campbell’s not only invests heavily in its employees, it takes the long view. Reardon wrote for ASTD, “we need to cultivate a cadre of world-class leaders who can deliver business results today and also steer the organization into the future. It’s about today and tomorrow.” The CEO Institute is a lengthy, well-thought out program. Although it’s impossible to tailor a program for each individual, Campbell’s comes close by letting individuals customize their experience as much as possible. Beginning with a handwritten, personal commitment letter, “through the program, we give our best and brightest the gift of time,” Reardon says.

The program has five modules consisting of intensive multiday meetings for each, with subsequent time to process the information and study new material. The most unique aspect? The CEO Institute participants have sustained and prolonged access to CEO Doug Conant, since he is one of the main instructors, and was heavily involved in all aspects of designing and delivering the courses. He does not give a short, one-time, go-get-em speech, but invests a substantial amount of time teaching and communicating with participants.

Reardon says that “Campbell’s leadership model is rooted in inspiring trust.” To that end, the program takes a “holistic approach” focusing on the whole person – “the time they spend at work, the time they spend at home, the work they do in the broader community, and what inspires them. We work hard to integrate all aspects of leadership: physical and mental health, personal and professional relationships, and work-life integration.”

Participants get to know each other extremely well during the program, with an eye on building lasting relationships as coworkers and perhaps friends moving forward. The class also gets to know the instructors, themselves senior management, very well on the personal level. As one of the major class events, the participants attend the World Business Forum as a group and uses it as a team-building exercise.

Reardon explains that although the focus of the program is to guide the class to be better leaders, networking and relationship-building are crucial to the process. Increased levels of trust lead to more collaborative working relationships. At the conclusion of the two-year program, the participants look back and reflect on what they’ve learned, and look ahead and contemplate how they will use their new skills and relationships as leaders in the future.

Now in the midst of its third group of participants, the CEO Institute stands to lose its most prominent designer, developer, and instructor personality – CEO Doug Conant himself. Conant steps down in July 2011. However, Conant told GreenBiz that he is confident that successor Denise Morrison won’t miss a beat and that Campbell’s employees nearly lead themselves. “When you make sustainability central to the way people do their work, the principles stick no matter who is leading. Our employees are passionate and engaged.”

Gauging by the goodwill and warm feelings that Campbell’s has inspired lately, its philosophy of investing in its employees has already paid off and will continue to do so into the future.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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