retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld is interviewed by Forbes about the leadership strategies that have gotten the company through the recession. Excerpts:

• “Rewiring the organization--it has been the underpinning of everything else we've done. It started with getting the right people. In the course of my first year, I changed over half of the top two levels of management. Some of them were new to Kraft; some of them were new to their positions. It was necessary to do this in an effort to jump start the organization and put the employees on a new growth trajectory.

“The second part was ensuring we had the right structure. We had been a highly centralized organization, which led us to be slower than we needed and, more importantly, not responsive enough to local market conditions.

“And the third piece was getting a simplified set of metrics in place that are well-aligned to shareholder value: organic revenue growth, operating income growth and cash flow. As a consequence, we had a tremendous increase in our performance overall. I am particularly pleased in terms of cash-flow improvement.”

• "’Servant leadership’ is the most important aspect of a successful leader – the recognition that I am here to help the organization accomplish its objectives rather than they are here to meet my needs. Once you recognize that, you are able to engage the hearts and minds of your followers, and they are able to just deliver the kind of results that you are looking for.”

Meanwhile, reports on a “40 Under 40” celebration in Rogers, Arkansas, at which former Walmart CEO Lee Scott offered 10 “points of leadership”:

1. Hiring people better than yourself is an effective way to build a career.
2. Ego is the biggest enemy of leadership.
3. When people know what you want, they will often give it to you.
4. The ability to give honest constructive feedback is essential.
5. Very few people ever feel like they are on top of things.
6. What you say and how you say it is not nearly as important as what is heard and how it is heard.
7. Even if you feel very strongly about something, there is a possibility you could be wrong.
8. Your harshest critics may be the most helpful voices you hear.
9. Sharing praise is a compromise; give it all away.
10. Integrity is the single most important characteristic.
KC's View:
Both the comments by Scott and Rosenfeld remind me of something often said by former Starbucks CEO Jim Donald, who always says that it is critical to remember in any organization that the CEO is only as successful as the people on the front lines…who end up being the most important people in any business.

Whether practicing “servant leadership” or giving away all praise, it strikes me that these are enlightened and enlightening lessons.