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The One Thing Every CEO Should Be Doing

A good idea can develop anywhere, you just have to be present to hear it

My first post-school job was in the marketing department at General Foods USA, where I learned the importance of company culture. I had received an undergraduate degree and an MBA, but in many ways, I viewed General Foods as a post-postgraduate education. After 17 years at the company, I left a member of the senior management team, so the leadership skills I learned there continue to serve me today. Above all, my experience at General Foods taught me how important it is to spend time on the ground floor of my company with both consumers and employees.

At jobs since then, I’ve focused on creating an environment where my employees take initiative, develop new ideas, try new things and don’t feel punished when those experiments fail. A good idea can develop anywhere, and that’s something I learned to value during my time at General Foods. While there, I received an award called “Miles of Aisles,” because I spent so much time wandering the aisles. I would talk to consumers about new projects and ask them for their opinions and feedback. My philosophy—that understanding the consumer is the most important thing you can do as a company—drove me in every aspect of my career.

I walked down the aisles of stores, but this also included the aisles within the office. I developed a reputation for wandering the floors of the company, not sitting in my office but touching the organization on every level. If I were running a manufacturing company, I’d be down on the line. You can’t truly understand what is happening in an organization until you spend time with the people.

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