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Kellogg Chairman & CEO: The Top 5 Leadership Lessons From a 116-Year-Old Company

Kellogg Company Chairman and CEO, Steve Cahillane, recently shared his top five leadership lessons that have contributed to Kellogg’s longevity as the company celebrates its 116th anniversary on Kellogg Company’s Social K blog and on his LinkedIn profile.

Social K: Kellogg Company Blog
As I navigate my fifth year as Kellogg Chairman & CEO, I am humbled to celebrate the company’s 116th anniversary. Since February 19, 1906, when W.K. Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, Kellogg has endured through World War I and II, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything in between.

It’s humbling to think of all the company has achieved throughout the past 116 years, and as I reflect on my own experiences at Kellogg, there are five key leadership lessons that emerge that have contributed to Kellogg’s longevity.

1. Agility is key to standing the test of time
When Mr. Kellogg discovered toasted corn flakes cereal, he created a category and shaped an entire industry. And while that was our genesis, what’s kept us in the game has been our agility and ability to adapt to ever-changing tastes and trends, not to mention evolving economic environments.

At Kellogg, we are designing the future of food. Our state-of-the-art Innovation Design Studio is an incubator for creativity and collaboration, and we’re investing in next-generation food companies through our investment fund, eighteen94 capital. We’re also leveraging rich data and analytics, including Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, to get ahead of changes in consumer attitudes and preferences.

2. You can’t be a one trick pony
Before joining the company, I associated Kellogg – as many do – with my morning bowl of Corn Flakes, and as a primarily U.S.-based company. And while we are proud of our cereal heritage, like anything that has lasted 116 years, Kellogg has evolved into so much more.

Our developed markets cereal is less than 1/3 of our portfolio and U.S. cereal is less than 1/5. Our snacks, frozen foods and emerging markets make up 70% of our portfolio, and we are competitive in these categories with big, differentiated brands like Pringles, Cheez-It, Eggo, MorningStar Farms and more. And our emerging markets continue to be a strategic focus for us – they represent more than 20% of our net sales.

3. Lead with purpose
Mr. Kellogg was an early conservationist and a leading philanthropist, as well as an original wellbeing visionary. We continue his legacy by leading with purpose through our Better Days ESG strategy, which is addressing the interconnected issues of wellbeing, hunger relief and climate resiliency to create Better Days for 3 billion people by the end of 2030.

Kellogg’s first cereal boxes were made from recycled paper board and today, we have one of the smallest plastic packaging footprints among our peer food companies and are committed to achieving 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by the end of 2025. We’ve reduced GHG emissions by the equivalent of taking nearly 2.5 billion vehicle miles off the road and, since 2015, fed nearly 200 million people facing hunger or crisis, globally. We’re driving purposeful growth to create better days, a better world, and better tomorrows for everyone that we share this planet with.

4. Evolve for the future while embracing your legacy
Five years ago, during my first earnings call, I remarked that it was not lost on me that I had joined the original wellbeing, plant-based food company. Protecting this legacy while evolving the business to meet the needs of our consumers is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Mr. Kellogg founded our company based on his belief in wellbeing. We have sustained a legacy of health and wellness, social responsibility, great-tasting food and world-class brands. Globally, we’re proud that the vast majority of our recipes are made from plants – from cereal to snacks to plant-based meat alternatives – enabling us to have a positive impact on people and the planet, while still bringing to market innovative, on-trend and delicious foods.

5. People must be your heart and soul
When interviewing with Kellogg, I spoke with many team members from across the organization and regardless of their level or background, there was always one common theme – the mention of Kellogg’s truly special culture. And they were right. There is an intangible quality about our people that is unique. From the very beginning, Mr. Kellogg believed people must be the company’s heart and soul, and I credit his commitment to laying the foundation for what is truly our secret weapon, our people.

Which is why there is no better investment than in ensuring a workplace that is unequivocally committed to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion; learning and development through programs such as LinkedIn Learning; wellbeing through benefits such as flexible work schedules, and a focus on employees’ holistic wellbeing.

Leading Kellogg is one of the greatest honors of my professional career. When I accepted the position, I was optimistic and confident, with big goals for the future. I couldn’t have predicted what the next few years would bring, none of us could. However, since day one, one thing remains clear – our global Kellogg family is passionate, determined and resilient. Together, we’ve been through a lot, we’ve come a long way, and the best is yet to come.


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