Leadership and Change
From Soup to Negligee: Success According to Victoria's Secret's Lori Greeley and Campbell Soup's Denise MorrisonPublished: May 04, 2011
This is a tale of two women in business, and how each found her way to the top. One became the head of a national lingerie chain by following her passion. The other wrote a recipe for success, and served it with soup.
Lori Greeley is the CEO for Victoria's Secret, the $5 billion intimate apparel retailer with more than 1,000 stores across the nation and abroad. Denise Morrison is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Campbell Soup, the 140-year-old, nearly $8 billion food giant that sells soup, crackers and beverages in more than 100 countries worldwide. Morrison is slated to become CEO in August this year.
Both women grew up in supportive, business-oriented families that encouraged them to succeed. Both found strong mentors and learned to prioritize conflicting demands between work and family. Beyond that, their journeys offer a study in contrasts -- a lesson that for women today, there are many roads to success.
Their paths diverged early.
"I would never have dreamed of having a master plan to be a CEO," Greeley told a group of about 200 women at the recent Wharton Women Business Conference, where both delivered keynote speeches. Morrison expressed the opposite view. "I knew I wanted to be a CEO, ultimately. I had that goal very early on," she said. "I think an idea just formed that I really wanted to be in business. And then, if I was going to be there, I would want to be on the top."
Morrison grew up in South Belmar, Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J., the eldest of four daughters in what she describes as a "high-achieving" home. Her mother, a stay-at-home mom and later a real estate agent, taught her that "ambition is a part of femininity." Her father, a high-level executive for AT&T and several regional telephone companies, decided that since he did not have any boys, he would raise his daughters as sons. He took them to his office in the summer and arranged field trips to the New York Stock Exchange. The can-do upbringing groomed Morrison for success as a woman in a man's world. "I was born in 1954, so that was really a different orientation for a man to say, 'I think the world is going to open up for women and I'm going to make sure you're ready for it,'" Morrison said.
Greeley, on the other hand, became aware from an early age that she was different from the boys. Growing up in a big German family in Lehighton, a tiny Pennsylvania town, she was doted on by her grandmother because she was the first granddaughter in the family. "There were 10 grandsons before me, so you can imagine how special I was," Greeley recalled, "My 'nana', my grandmother, made it all about me."
Business was in the blood. Her grandfather owned the local lumberyard. Her father, not wanting to follow in his father's footsteps, started an excavation and construction business. The lumberyard became Greeley's childhood playground; her father's name-emblazoned trucks were a reminder of her family's status in the community. "I saw my family name almost in lights," she noted. It was "a subliminal reinforcement for really going after your dreams."
In between odd jobs at the local department store and nearby restaurants, Greeley crammed her high school years with sports, clubs and after-school activities. "In a small town, you can do everything, and I was doing it," she said. "I just always tried to do my best, get involved and learn as much as I could."
Greeley graduated as valedictorian, and won a full scholarship to play field hockey at Bucknell University, about 100 miles away in Lewisburg, Pa. She remembers the excitement of leaving her small town. "I felt like a lot of people were counting on me. It was a really big deal. I think I was the second person in our town to go to Bucknell."
The excitement soon soured as Greeley went from being "a big fish" to "really feeling inferior" at a large university. Unsure of what to study but knowing she liked math and science, she picked biology, figuring she could become a doctor. At the time, it sounded sexy -- but she soon found the classes were not. "I didn't even like dissecting baby pigs and looking at the eye color of flies," Greeley recalled. "It just wasn't my thing."
Her grades suffered. Scrambling to recoup after a disastrous first semester, Greeley abandoned the thought of med school and decided to become a teacher. Her grades improved to a 3.8 average, but she was bored. Ultimately, a major in psychology offered the right challenge. "I didn't know what I was going to do with it," Greeley noted, but the study of human behavior "turned me on." She received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1982.
Strategies and Serendipity
Morrison, too, earned a degree in psychology, plus a bachelor of science in economics from Boston College in 1975. The economy was in a recession, but through a friend she found a job at Procter & Gamble, becoming the first woman to join the company's sales force.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she often had to sell herself before she could sell the company's products. Morrison recalled one buyer who literally turned his back on her and said, "I don't do business with women." She countered with "'Well, I work for Procter & Gamble, I have $11 million of your business, so if you want to do business with Procter & Gamble, I guess you'll have to do business with me.' He turned right around and did business with me."
Morrison decided to view the obstacles as opportunities, and developed detailed plans for how to surmount them and build her career. "Don't just let your career happen to you," she advised. "You need to be strategic about how you define your leadership journey and where that takes you."