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Denise Morrison: ‘Lead and live with intention’

Boggs, Morrison, Chenery

Denise Morrison, former CEO of The Campbell Soup Company, was able to integrate – not balance – work and life by setting priorities as they came and remaining intentional about her choices, she told more than 300 senior leaders at the NEW Executive Forum, August 2 at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.

“Leading with intention is how I was able to set a goal and get the goal — but it takes courage and resiliency, because it doesn’t always go according to plan,” Morrison said. “You need to have the ability to say, ‘Okay this happened. How do I stay on course, but twist and turn a bit?’”

Morrison was joined by her daughter Michelle Chenery, an Altria executive, for a candid conversation about life as a CEO — and CEO’s daughter. The discussion was moderated by NEW Board member Dagmar Boggs, president of the 7-Eleven global team for The Coca-Cola Company.

Chenery shared the career and life lessons she learned as the daughter of a trailblazing woman executive, one who spent a good deal of time traveling. “When I was in preschool, I had to tell the class what my mom did for a living. I said, ‘She works on the street.’ I meant ‘on the road.’”

At 13, she told her mother she wanted a stay-at-home mom “like all my friends’ moms.” Morrison replied, “Okay, I’ll go in Monday and resign. But keep in mind all of the time and energy I put into work — I’ll be spending that with you.” Chenery quickly re-thought the request.

Chenery, who leads Altria’s women’s business resource group, said women often share with her their feelings of guilt as working moms. “I’ve never had that guilt, because I truly believe my kids are benefitting from me pursuing a career, because I’ve benefited from my mother’s pursuing a career. If you are proud of what you are doing and who you are, that is what [your children] will share with their peer group.”

Feelings of guilt, Morrison said, “take a lot of energy. If you think I helped break the glass ceiling, the next generation has to shatter it. Take that energy and do that.”

Among the lessons Chenery said she learned from her mother:

Build a network and leverage those relationships at different points in your life.

“Those relationships will open doors for you and give you opportunities and sponsorship,” Morrison said. “I say networking is working — it has to be intentional.”

Be you.

“The way you know who you are and how you can give to others is by developing your mission, your personal brand and understanding your values,” Chenery said. “People need to connect to their leader. If you don’t know who you are, people can’t connect with you.”

Each generation has a role in reaching gender equality.

“I see it as a relay race,” Morrison said. “Our generation took it to a certain point and we hand the baton to the next generation — who must take it much farther. Culture change is slow. Don’t wait for everybody else to do it. You do it. Being a CEO is no easy task. But what propelled me was: ‘How do I make it better for the next generation and move women forward?’

“The women’s movement is about choices,” she added. “If you choose to stay home, It’s great. If you chose to work, that’s great. Just don’t let anyone else make that choice for you.”