Kraft’s kosher queen will boost Cad­bury

The Jewish Chronicle - - Business - ALEX BRUMMER

IRENE ROSEN­FELD is as far from the tra­di­tional im­age of the all-pow­er­ful, all-con­quer­ing Amer­i­can board­room ty­coon that you can imag­ine. Yet, as chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Kraft — the food com­pany with rev­enues of $42bn and 98,000 em­ploy­ees — she is just one of 12 women CEOs run­ning a top 500 US cor­po­ra­tion. Forbes mag­a­zine has listed her among the ten most pow­er­ful women in the world for two years run­ning.

Un­til re­cently, when Kraft launched an au­da­cious £10.2bn bid for con­fec­tionary gi­ant Cad­bury, she was a rel­a­tively un­known in Bri­tain. A smartly dressed, unas­sum­ing, pur­pose­ful 56-year-old, she is just the kind of woman you would ex­pect to meet in the kid­dush af­ter syn­a­gogue.

There is very lit­tle of the power dress­ing, big shoul­dered, platinum blonde me­dia im­age of a com­mand­ing boss about her. She is pe­tite, dark haired, ar­tic­u­late and fear­somely an­a­lyt­i­cal. A psy­chol­ogy grad­u­ate of Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, she is also a Mas­ter of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion and holds a PhD in mar­ket­ing and statis­tics. When I met her re­cently on a fleet­ing visit to Lon­don, to at­tend a Mer­rill Lynch in­vestors’ con­fer­ence and meet share­hold­ers, her grasp of mar­ket­ing and fi­nan­cial de­tail quickly won me over de­spite my nor­mal scep­ti­cism about for­eign takeovers of Bri­tish firms.

Rosen­feld rose to the top in the com­pet­i­tive Amer­i­can world of con­sumer goods be­cause she ac­tu­ally be­lieves in brands, in what they rep­re­sent and in their in­trin­sic value. It is this which at­tracted her to Cad­bury, re­sult­ing in the first sub­stan­tial transat­lantic bid of the post-credit cri­sis era. She said: “I do think that Cad­bury has a sta­ble of iconic brands, in fact that is the ba­sis of our in­ter­est in the port­fo­lio. We have shown our­selves not only will­ing but able to hon­our those brands, to make sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in them. That would be our in­tent here.”

Rosen­feld has some his­tory to back her prom­ises. In her quest to build a global con­fec­tionary gi­ant to ri­val Nestlé and the re­cently merged Mars-Wrigley, she has been fo­cused on tak­ing tra­di­tional Euro­pean brands such as Milka — the orig­i­nal cre­ation of choco­latier Philippe Suchard — and mod­ernising them.

She also cre­ated an al­mond bar, moved the brand into dark chocolate and came up with the idea of a re­closeable pack­age. But at no point has she risked in­ter­fer­ing with Milka’s main sell­ing point of us­ing milk from Swiss cows alone. “Milka is a good ex­am­ple of the recipe for suc­cess.”

The Kraft boss is never more en­thu­si­as­tic than when talk­ing about brands.

She is anx­ious to demon­strate that what Kraft have been able to do in con­ti­nen­tal Europe can be re­peated in the UK. Un­der her au­thor­ity, Kraft brought back the right to man­u­fac­ture Amer­ica’s fa­mous Oreo cook­ies in the UK from United Bis­cuits. It has sub­se­quently been able to bring the Oreo to the Bri­tish mar­ket — some­thing which its pre­vi­ous owner, the French firm Danone — had nei­ther the re­source nor in­cli­na­tion to do.

Rosen­feld’s climb to the top of the branded con­sumer-goods tree has been grad­ual and me­thod­i­cal rather than me­te­oric.

It all be­gan in ad­ver­tis­ing at the New York agency Dancer Fitzger­ald Sam­ple. She then moved to Amer­ica’s Gen­eral Foods (now sub­sumed within Kraft), work­ing on con­sumer re­search. Much of her ca­reer has been spent at Kraft, where she worked on the re­struc­tur­ing and turn­around of key op­er­a­tions in the US, Canada and Mex­ico. In 2001, Rosen­feld led the team which brought Kraft back to the pub­lic mar­kets af­ter it had been swal­lowed by to­bacco gi­ant Philip Mor­ris. Her big break came in 2004 when she was re­cruited as chair and chief ex­ec­u­tive of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay snacks off­shoot, where she de­vel­oped a whole range of health­ier and well­ness of­fer­ings. When she was poached back by Kraft in 2006, she could not re­sist.

De­spite her un­usual sta­tus as a woman at the head of an Amer­i­can con­glom­er­ate, Rosen­feld is not in­clined to make much of ad­vance­ment in a man’s world. She told the news­pa­per USA To­day: “I was most en­cour­aged when I moved into a CEO’s role that there wasn’t a lot of talk of the fact that we are women. There was a lot of talk of the fact that I and my col­leagues were very com­pe­tent busi­ness peo­ple.”

Rosen­feld’s Jewish­ness is an im­por­tant part of her life. In 2005 she re­ceived the Mas­ter of Ex­cel­lence award from the Cen­tre for Jewish Liv­ing at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, her alma mater. Dur­ing her speech she re­called the chal­lenges of keep­ing kosher at Cor­nell while a stu­dent in the 1970s, how she had ar­ranged for a Chanuchia to be placed next to the Christ­mas tree at Gen­eral Foods head­quar­ters and con­fessed a “life­long love of Ju­daism which played a key role in my de­ci­sion to keep a kosher home”.

She re­cently said: “It a good time to be a Jew in the food in­dus­try,” not­ing that there are more than 10 mil­lion cus­tomers which in­clude Jews, Mus­lims, veg­e­tar­i­ans and those who are lac­tose in­tol­er­ant.

Cad­bury, hav­ing at first re­jected Rosen­feld’s ad­vances as “un­ap­peal­ing” — both in terms of price and tra­di­tions — has now re­luc­tantly con­ceded that a deal could make some “strate­gic sense” given the com­pa­nies are strong in dif­fer­ent grow­ing mar­kets: Kraft in China and Rus­sia; and Cad­bury in In­dia and Mex­ico.

And if Rosen­feld pulls off the takeover of an em­blem­atic Quaker founded com­pany, it is not just the share­hold­ers who will kvell.

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