What’s the first thing you should do when you take over a legendary company as the new boss? For Steven Cahillane, he went to the company’s cereal cafe and had a bowl of AppleJacks on his first day as CEO of Kellogg (K).
“I just sat there waiting for somebody to come talk to me. Eventually a few people came,” he says, laughing. “I’m your new CEO,” he told them, adding, “I’m here to listen. I want to know what’s on your mind.”
Before Kellogg, Cahillane was CEO of Nature’s Bounty, the health and wellness company. He had also held executive positions at Coca Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev. He was tapped for the top job of the 113-year old iconic cereal maker in 2017 with the task of getting it to grow again. With revenues of $13 billion, the Battle Creek, Michigan company is ranked on the Fortune 500 as one of America’s biggest companies. It is known for many famous brands including Corn Flakes, Special K, Pringles, Rice Krispies Treats and Pop-Tarts.
As an outsider to Kellogg, Cahillane says he spent the first two months as CEO meeting employees all around the world and listening to their ideas.
“I had a lot of questions for everybody,” Cahillane says and then rattles off a bunch of them. “What do you love about this company and what do want to make sure stays part of the fabric of this company? What do you want to change in the company? What are we missing? Why is the company not growing? If you were me what would you do? What stands in the way of success?”
That listening tour helped Cahillane design a turnaround strategy. Already, he has stabilized Kellogg’s sales declines and he believes Kellogg will be one of the Big Food enterprises that will succeed in this era of changing consumer tastes toward health conscious food choices. And that’s the message he keeps telling Kellogg’s 33,000 employees.
“I think you have to keep painting a picture of something that is worth going for,” he says. “If you can paint that picture that we’re going to be one of the winners and then give them the reason to believe because we have great brands, because we have great people, because we have a great history.”
Watch the video above for more from my interview with Cahillane.