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Campbell’s Global Growth—M’M! M’M! Good!

April 1, 1998
Related Topics: Managing International Operations, Growth, Featured Article
You’ve seen its red and white label. You’ve slurped its chicken noodles. You may have even crunched a smiling Goldfish or two. Creating new products and making what’s great even better is what Campbell Soup Co. is all about. Below, Edward F. Walsh, vice president of human resources, describes how the food product company is souping up for global growth in the 21st century.

How did you initially get into the HR profession?
I came across an ad for a recruiter while I was a toothpaste and shampoo sales representative for Procter & Gamble in Rochester, New York. The hiring company, Celanese, was then a 2,500-employee manufacturing plant in Narrows, Virginia. I had several assignments: recruitment, general personnel and labor relations. That started an HR career that has included stints with Clairol, a New York-based employment agency, 13 years at Pepsico Inc. and five years in consulting before coming to Campbell more than five years ago.

What market factors have driven recent changes at your company?
Globalization is the greatest factor. We want to drive our soup business around the world. Within the last two years, we’ve bought soup companies in Malaysia, Germany and France. We’ve also made special efforts to expand our market in Japan. We think we understand soup and what consumers of soup want better than anybody else. Currently 20 percent of our soup sales come from outside the United States. By the year 2000, our goal is 30 percent. That’s why we’re constantly creating soups, from broth to condensed, ready-to-serve to frozen, in cans and in glass jars.

What implications does that have for HR?
The biggest concern is to build a stronger pool of global talent. [We’ve already begun the process of finding] ways to identify the most talented people inside the company and to identify the positions for which we need to go outside for special expertise and talent.

What has HR discovered in the process?
We reconfirmed that we have a lot of good people at Campbell Soup. Many are now in key jobs around the world. For example, the person who runs Mexico for us was identified in the Mrs. Paul’s food division. The person who runs the United Kingdom operations is from our U.S. soup business. And the person running Godiva was found in our Pepperidge Farm division. We learned you always want to work with your people inside first. But when you do go outside, you do so for two reasons: to fill in missing expertise or to add talent that helps the company grow. Our current workforce includes those who have worked for the company as many as 36 years or have worked less than one year. That mix of inside and outside experience ensures a diversity of opinions and expertise.

How would you describe the company’s core values?
That’s a timely question because we’re in the middle of a process that will result in a comprehensive set of value statements. I can say that "building shareowner wealth" will remain our prime purpose and that our values statements will make it clear that we at Campbell Soup believe people create value.

What are HR’s key issues today?
In some ways, they’re the same as when I arrived five years ago. We need more talented people, especially in the commercial areas such as sales and marketing, around the world—Asia, Europe and South America. A second issue we face is managing the negative impact of constant change, such as unacceptable employee workloads, career confusion and changing priorities. We, like most companies, are struggling with the fallout from constant change. We don’t have all of the solutions yet.

What employee skills are required for growing your global company?
The ability to analyze data and sort through clutter. We have lots of data, but not much information. That’s where younger skilled workers come in. They’re certainly computer literate enough to meet the challenge of taking available information and manipulating it in a way to be usable. It’s incredible how in a global company you can instantly get information from everybody all over the world.

So what kind of training will HR institute?
The more we teach our employees about our values, our business principles and most importantly, about leadership, the stronger we will be as a company. And that’s our three-pronged training model for the future: values, business principles, leadership. Over the next year we intend to introduce a program for executives built around these three themes. In short, we want to create a teaching (vs. learning) organization.

What are some of HR’s biggest goals for the future?
The first one is to introduce self-directed teams (SDT) among our hourly employees. We were slow to put the team concept into our plants. But now that we’ve seen the results, we’re committed to putting SDT in place throughout the world. Second, we want to develop a grooved process for bringing talent into the company. Recruiting to fill vacant jobs isn’t the answer. To meet our global needs, we have to do constant proactive talent hunting at all levels of the company, using college recruiting and search. And last, within our HR organization, we plan to automate and outsource as quickly as possible. We in HR must free ourselves from day-to-day people management and administering processes if we’re to make a real strategic contribution to the business.

What’s the biggest HR lesson you’ve learned about growing the business globally?
I’ve learned that a cornerstone of ensuring a sound global business is building a solid infrastructure with local talent. Sending in a U.S. expatriate for a two- to three-year assignment is great development for that person and may provide short-term help, but in the end, outstanding global organizations have hired outstanding local people in every business around the world. The biggest HR lesson for me is to actively recruit locally for the best talent.

Workforce, April 1998, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 27-28.

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