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General Mills CEO on Leading the Company Through Rough Times

September 1, 2017, 4:58 PM UTC

Running a Big Food company isn’t easy. But Jeff Harmening is excited to be the new CEO at General Mills, the maker of everything from Cheerios and Betty Crocker cake mix to Yoplait yogurt and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

He says he has big plans to change things at the struggling food giant. “We decided not to develop a long range plan,” he says. “We developed a plan to win.”

Just two months into the CEO job, Harmening has been giving pep talks to the company’s 39,000 employees. He doesn’t sugar coat the challenges. Sales have been falling for the past two years and 2016 revenues tumbled 6.5% to $16 billion dollars.

Harmening’s leadership approach is having what he calls “candid” talks with employees. “We didn’t have the kind of year we wanted,” he tells them. “Let’s be candid about that. Let’s develop a plan that we believe can get us to winning.”

So how does a 150-year-old company play to win? Harmening’s recipe calls for a large scoop of innovation. “I think one of the keys for us to be successful is making sure everybody in the company knows they can innovate,” he explains. “And innovation doesn’t necessarily just mean new products. It’s doing things differently. It means adapting to the change that’s around us.”