Authentic Leadership'

Sara Lee exec offers advice at Chicago NEW event

Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP

CHICAGO -- More than 250 women and men from the retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries came together on Tuesday to network and ponder "authentic leadership," at an event sponsored by the Network of Executive Women (NEW).

The event, the first of its kind in the Chicago area for NEW, brought the group together for a few hours of networking and an interactive interview with Kim Feil, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Downers Grove, Ill. Feil has worked for 25 years in the CPG industry at companies such as Frito-Lay, KFC, Cadbury [image-nocss] Schweppes, Information Resources Inc. and Kimberly-Clark.

Helayne Angelus, president of NEW and vice president of global customer business development diversity for Procter & Gamble, welcomed the crowd to the event and asked everyone for a moment of silence in honor of the day.

Alison Paul of Deloitte & Touche moderated the interview with Feil, who discussed her view of authentic leadership, encouraging the group to build strong teams and have an open mind about solving problems.

Feil cited three aspects of authentic leadership:

Getting results—and articulating the importance of getting results without causing more stress to yourself or your team. Support of a team. Big jobs can’t get done with just one person; you need a supportive team. “Find a way to connect with your people,” she said. “As a leader, genuinely care about them. Be fair. Be even-handed. Make sure they know what their role is. You as a leader cannot read their minds.” Being true to yourself. In any work environment, you have to adapt, but you also have to “look inside yourself and figure out the absolutes”—what you will do, and what you won’t, she said. Also, don’t be afraid to share your flaws with your team; that way you can get them to help you fill in the gaps and get results.

Another important aspect of leadership: not being afraid to delegate. It doesn’t mean you’re relinquishing authority or that you won’t get credit. “Let go of it!†she said. “It does the opposite of what you think: You build trusting relationships with your co-workers.”

When asked what one needs to be an authentic leader, Feil said there’s no set formula. “You just have to be passionate about what you do,” she said. “You have to like your customers, or want to engage your manufacturers. You have to love your products. If you don’t, find an industry where you do.”

Be true to your values, but be an adaptive, flexible person, she said. “See that there are creative ways to do things in this industry, such as [manufacturers] partnering with retailers,” she said. “Be open to new ideas, even being told you’re wrong.”

Also, have a clear understanding of what it means to be successful in this industry. “You have to be able to triage, to know what’s important,” Feil said. And even though you have to triage, you also have to do deep, critical thinking, she said. “If we don’t say, ‘Time out! This needs deep thought,’ it might get off our desk, but it’ll come back,” she said.

After the event, NEW executives expressed elation at the turnout. “We were so pleased to have a standing-room-only crowd turn out for our inaugural Chicago event,” said Joan Toth, executive director of NEW.

Founded in 2001, NEW is a nonprofit organization promoting diversity and professional development in the consumer packaged goods and retail industries.

By Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP
View More Articles By Jennifer Bulat