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When To Disrupt Your Own Company (Before Someone Else Does)

October 13, 2017, 6:31 PM UTC

What sustains a legacy company as the tech revolution barrels through every industry from soup to dolls? If you ask Margo Georgiadis, the CEO of Mattel, evolving an iconic brand is as much about rediscovering a shared motivating principle as it is tapping into new technology. “Over seven decades you lose that passion and that edge,” she says.

Georgiadis took the brand back to its roots and the concept of purposeful play. “Now Mattel means something,” she says. “People come to work knowing that their work is in service of the kids.” That focus has helped them adapt to a generation of digital native moms and what she calls “glass kids”—children born after the advent of the iPad, who don’t remember a time before touch technology. “We’re the front edge of the spear,” she says. “We have to be more adaptive.”

When Denise Morrison took over as CEO of Campbell Soup in 2011, the digital revolution was well underway, but Campbell wasn’t prepared. “I felt like Rip Van Winkle. The company went to sleep and the world changed,” she says. Her leadership team did a deep dive to see what cultural shifts were affecting the food industry—and it was clear that the digital tsunami was coming their way. “We knew we needed to disrupt ourselves,” she says. That meant creating a personalized diet startup within Campbell. “To do a start up company inside a Fortune 500 company is pretty interesting,” says Morrison.

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The disruptors themselves have to evolve too. One of their biggest challenges is battling start-up burnout. “If you say every day and every week matters, you then can get to the brink,” says Jennifer Berrent, COO of We Work, the shared workspace company.

Moj Mahdara, the CEO of Beautycon Media, a company that is upending the beauty industry with a blend of content and commerce, was initially surprised by the brand’s success in the event space. Who would have guessed that ten thousand people would line up for a beauty conference?

And then there’s the explosion in video tutorials. “I don’t think that anyone expected YouTube and Instagram to be this giant vortex of change for the beauty industry,” says Mahdara. “Everyone’s having a a bit of a freak out.”