Women in Business: Ann M. Fudge

Ann Fudge, who rose through the ranks at Kraft General Foods before taking the helm at Young and Rubicam, explains how she approaches hiring and layoffs.

Ann M. Fudge is the Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Young & Rubicam Brands, a global marketing communications network. Fudge received a BA degree from Simmons College and an MBA from Harvard University. She served as the chairman and chief executive officer of Young & Rubicam from 2003 to the end of 2006. Prior to joining Young & Rubicam, Ms. Fudge worked at General Mills and at General Foods, where she served in a number of positions including president of Kraft General Foods, Maxwell House Coffee Company and president of Kraft’s Beverages, Desserts and Post Divisions. Ms. Fudge is a director of Novartis AG, the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation and is on the board of overseers of Harvard University.

Ann Fudge was interviewed back in 2006 by Randall Rothenberg, senior director of intellectual capital at Booz Allen Hamilton and editor of Strategy + Business.

Randall Rothenberg: I’d like to start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?

Ann Fudge: I grew up in Washington, DC. It was still a very segregated city, and there were times as a kid that I saw separate water fountains. So you’re looking at somebody who’s very much a product of living through the civil rights movement.

RR: You went to Catholic schools. How did that environment shape you?

AF: I went to an all-black parochial school, and then to a college prep school for girls, where I was one of 12 young black girls in a school of several hundred. So it was a very interesting educational experience on many levels. Being taught by nuns, combined with my own parents’ focus on education, I really had a feeling of self-confidence despite all the challenges that faced people of color at that time.

RR: What did your parents do?

AF: My mother worked in government, as did my father, so both of them had very good jobs, and we were fortunate, middle class. Right before I started college in 1969, they told me: “You’re going to have opportunities that we never had, so don’t think so narrowly about what your career opportunities are.”

RR: In the late 60’s, early 70’s, business was not something that was held in high esteem. Did you know you wanted to work in corporate America?

AF: When I went to college, my summer job experiences had been working in a department store, so I thought I would do something in retail. I worked as a buyer’s assistant for about three months, and I knew that I never wanted to be a buyer. The night before Thanksgiving, I was working in the store and I was thinking, “I’m supposed to be with my family.” Internships are fantastic. Even if they let you know what you absolutely do not want to do. In November of my senior year in college, my professor, Margaret Hennig, recommended I apply to business school. And it was probably one of the furthest things from my mind at the time. I got married in college and had a child, and all I could think about was getting a job and working. And so I applied to one school – Harvard – and I was accepted, and took a two-year deferment.

RR: You went to General Mills out of business school.

AF: The offer that I got from General Mills was the lowest offer I had, from a salary standpoint. But I was a married mom with two children, and so I thought both of what was going to be a good career and also manageable from a family perspective. My husband and I moved to the Midwest – neither of us had ever lived there. But Minneapolis is one of the best-kept secrets in America. I never thought I would leave. I moved back to the East Coast and came to work for General Foods much later because my mother got ill.

RR: What can a General Mills teach a young MBA that a Goldman Sachs can’t?

AF: At a consumer products company, you have to understand business from the inside out: buying your wheat at a good price, packaging, ingredients, working with the FDA. If you’re in a financial institution, you’re working a lot with numbers.

RR: Having a couple of little kids when starting a career just can’t be easy. How did you manage it?

AF: When you’re young, you can do anything that you set your mind to. A big part of it is having a great partner. At the time, my husband worked at 3M, and he was on the other side of town. We had split responsibilities. Nannies were nonexistent, at least for us back then. And the one thing you prayed is that if your kid got sick, they’d get sick on the weekend.

RR: So in 2001, you famously took time off to find yourself.

AF: I wasn’t lost. I moved back to the East Coast because my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Then my father got sick. And it takes a toll. When my mom passed away, a secretary who had worked for me for a very long time said, “I know you’re going to leave.” And I just hadn’t thought about it. But it took me two years from the time when I knew I needed to have a break to actually doing it. And then when I took the time off, it was less about finding myself and more about being able to express myself in ways you don’t when you’re working 24/7. I literally made a list of all the people that I wanted to see, the countries I hadn’t been to, and the books I wanted to read.

RR: Are you finding that it is a lot easier to be the CEO of a traditional company than a professional services company?

AF: I find it’s something that is challenging me as an individual. There’s something else going on, too, that’s particular to the kind of service we’re in. In the past, we’ve created advertising messages that people watched and they decided they were going to buy that product. Today, this generation wants to be involved in the creation of a message. So you’re no longer passive receivers of media. We use this phrase, “Above and beyond advertising,” which is why I keep coming back and talking about marketing communications because it’s no longer just about a TV spot.RR: Are you finding that it is a lot easier to be the CEO of a traditional company than a professional services company?

RR: Some people are just wedded to the 30-second spot. So it would seem that a real challenge for you as a leader is not just to persuade clients to think differently, but to persuade your own people to think differently.

AF: Fortunately we have an incredible mix of young people in the organization who live and consume media very differently. They’re helping us to think differently internally. And I’ve seeded a lot of them on different teams. I have a CEO breakfast once or twice a month, and I get young people from all the different companies in together so they can meet and have somebody else to talk to in another business.

RR: There seemed to be a period where ad agencies decided they were going to be entertainment companies. And now research seems to be playing a greater role. Can you talk about that?

AF: The differentiation for Young & Rubicam’s brand is that we have a very strong asset called the Brand Asset® Valuator. It looks at four pillars: differentiation, relevance, esteem, and knowledge. It’s a database of thousands of brands with four quadrants. The lower left-hand quadrant is when you’re starting out, and where you want to be is in that upper right-hand quadrant, where the differentiation is strong and the knowledge is strong and the balance is just right. Our clients want to understand how all this works in a world where they have to focus on their return on investment.

Audience Questions:

Q: Who are your role models and mentors, and could you describe your leadership style?

AF: I’m not sure I had that many role models. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me that I could look to and say, “I want to be like that.” But I had a whole range of mentors. Mentors don’t have to be people who are senior to you. You could have a very wise person who happens to be an assistant or a secretary in an organization who knows the ins and outs and can guide you. As for my leadership characteristics, I would like to think that I work at creating an environment where people know what to contribute and ideally create opportunities for people to collaborate. I try to be as inclusive as possible and to hear a lot of different viewpoints and then make a decision and move forward. Things are changing massively. You cannot afford to just keep analyzing the situation without taking action. And so I like to think that I’m decisive as well.

Q: At a large integrated company, do you think that most effective CEOs are ones with technical expertise of the industry or ones with more general worldly knowledge?

AF: I think it depends on the kind of business that you’re in. The most important thing the CEOs need to know is what they don’t know. You just can’t walk in tomorrow and decide that you’re going to be a managing director in a financial institution after doing marketing your whole career.

Q: I’m a first year MBA student. I have a child, and I just started this program a few weeks ago. What is your advice on juggling everything?

AF: I think you have to understand that you work to live, you don’t live to work. That includes your family and all those other things. I’ll never forget my mom saying once, before I went to college, “Whatever you choose to do, always put your family first. Because you can work at some place for 30 years, and when you die, they’ll sum up your career in two lines. But your family is going to love you.” And that just hit it all home again. Work hard. Trust me, I’m not trying to say don’t work hard. But if you can, keep it in context.

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