Four Sisters, Two CEOs, Two Executives: One Amazing, Super-Intense Family

How’s this for a family business: Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison (on the right in this photo) and her little sister, Maggie Wilderotter (left), are both CEOs of huge publicly run companies, and two other sisters are executives, too. (Wilderotter runs Frontier Communications, a multi-billion-dollar communications company.) Morrison talked with Wall Street Journal reporter Lauren Landro this weekend about how women can bring their social skills into the boardroom, and why she needed a not-so-gentle reminder from a mentor to focus on relationship-building, not just profits.

I was struck by a few things when reading the interview. For one, Morrison has excellent brass-tacks advice on getting ahead. But the interview also emphasizes how getting to the C-suite of a major corporation takes a person made of a very particular kind of stuff.

Start with her family: Morrison’s father was an AT&T exec who made her produce a business plan in order to get a bicycle. He told her, “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.” The family’s solution was a “job jar,” in which each daughter’s chores would go. The girls could negotiate and barter their chores, but they all had to be completed by the end of the week. Morrison says her dad “would talk about the family as a team and everybody had to pull their weight.” That’s pretty cool — but also super-intense. But I guess you don’t produce a family of executives without a little intensity.

Morrison didn’t disappoint her parents. “I knew at a very young age I wanted to run a company,” she says, “and in school and beyond I was training all my life for what I do today.” In 2007, she audaciously told the paper she wanted to be a CEO, three years before she was named the successor to Campbell’s outgoing CEO. Morrison apparently doesn’t believe in the “jinx” principle of success.

With every career step Morrison has taken, she’s had her eye on what’s next:

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.]

Morrison also provides solid practical advice for women at all career stages, even those who haven’t been planning their ascent to the C-suite since they were in diapers. For example, she talks a lot about the importance of relationship-building, a skill she neglected early in her career because she was so focused on numbers and results. A mentor pulled her aside and set her straight, telling her that she had to invest time in building relationships with her team. “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,” she explains. “That was a huge ‘aha.’”

Photo: Wall Street Journal

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