Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld says innovation is key

A: The biggest problem I faced as I came back to the company was that the cost focus had overtaken so much of our decision making. Our reaction was to centralize more of our functions, to take quality out of our products and to cut into overhead, like sales, because they were viewed as costs rather than capabilities.

And so probably the most important thing I did as I came back was to try to get a better balance. Costs will continue to be a critically important focus area for us, particularly in the face of the challenging economic environment. But we need to be as focused on effectiveness as we are on efficiency.

So we invested over $400 million over the last two years in product quality, in our marketing efforts and in our innovation pipeline. We have invested heavily in our sales infrastructure, because I do believe it can be a source of competitive advantage. And probably one of the most significant things we've done in the last two years is to decentralize our organization so our local managers have far more authority to be able to make the decisions affecting their local markets.

Glass ceiling?

Q: Few big corporations are run by women. Is there still a glass ceiling?

A: I was most encouraged, when I and a number of my colleagues moved into the CEO roles, that there wasn't a lot of talk about the fact that we were women. There was a lot of discussion about the fact that we were very competent business people. The good news is we've got a lot of that behind us.

Having said that, there's still not enough diversity of any kind in our boards, in our companies and certainly in our leadership, and we all have a particular obligation to continue to bring those behind us along with us. There's no question that our companies will benefit as a result.

Q: Is there anything institutionally that's holding women from getting those top jobs?

A: The biggest institutional challenge is that in so many businesses there isn't enough discussion along the way as part of succession planning about the kind of experiences that one needs to reach the top jobs. A big part of Kraft's advancement-planning process is to talk about who our top talent is, what sorts of experiences they need to have in order to move up to the jobs that they aspire to. And then we spend a lot of time talking about what we need to do to give them those jobs.

Q: Lots of people think they can't get the right balance between their personal life and their work life.

A: Well, I think all of us are multitasking a little more today than we used to or than we would like to. And I think that the issue of work-life balance is a critical issue for every company around the world. We have found the issue of work-life balance is not about a policy. It's about our ability to listen and be flexible.

Q: Is that a luxury in this economy?

A: No. The first piece of advice I give is to know what you want, know what's important to you and make sure you're taking care of that. The rest of it will fall into place.

Leadership

Q: You're reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. That's had a big impact on President-elect Barack Obama. It's an interesting concept, getting your enemies to be on the same team.

A: I don't view that book as actually talking about getting your enemies on your team. I think it is getting people that might have had a diverse perspective from you on that team.

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