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Kellogg's representatives at The Consortium's OP conference

Business (Not) as Usual: Kellogg’s Takes Multidisciplinary Approach to Business, Employee Advancement

When it comes to the world of business, people like companies are diverse, with varied interests and goals. The best companies know that, rather than competing, these interests and goals are often in tandem with one another. This is true of the Kellogg Company, where a new initiative aimed at building employees’ capabilities through immersion in complementary disciplines — called the Commercial Development Program (CDP) — is contributing to the advancement of both the company and these employees. 

Gail Horwood, Kellogg’s chief marketing officer (CMO) of North America, says this effort is part and parcel to Kellogg’s people-centric approach. “I really truly believe that our people are everything,” she says, “and I want to make sure that we do anything we can to attract and retain the best, brightest and most diverse employee population.”

CDP helps Kellogg’s do this by creating a pipeline for MBA candidates and providing them opportunities for growth early in their career. The company leverages its partnership with The Consortium to drive this effort and attract diverse, top-tier MBAs. “What we’re saying is we value early-career, cross-functional move so that you build deeper understanding, knowledge and the ability to fluidly move between areas earlier in your career,” Horwood says. 

Launched in July 2019, this three-year rotational program helps bridge marketing and commercial career paths by giving MBAs exposure to both areas. Students begin as interns, serving in a marketing function as an associate brand manager for the first half of the program, after which they rotate into a commercial position. In this function, they work with account teams to develop an understanding of the commercial side of the business. 

“We can’t make decisions in silos and verticals. It’s no longer good enough to be a functional or a technical expert or somebody who understands the business side or the creative side in isolation,” says Horwood. “[In a] complex dynamic consumer landscape, we really need leaders who consider every aspect of the business as they’re making decisions.”

CDP allows Kellogg’s to effectively create more nimble business leaders with a comprehensive view of the end-to-end commercial planning process. 

“We want people who have experience in these different areas so that they can have a broader perspective as they’re bringing products to market, as they’re working with our retail customers,” explains Horwood. “We believe the only way to make that happen is to give them hands-on rotational experience in these areas.” 

For University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business Consortium alum Andoni Dieguez, who is currently a brand manager for Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms brand, CDP offers a unique opportunity to gain a broader perspective of the business “to better understand the sum of all parts,” he says. “This thinking carries over into your day-to-day as you learn to think how certain decisions impact the entirety of your business versus just your specific function.” Dieguez, who started as an intern on the Pringles team in 2016, was grandfathered into the program and will rotate into a commercial role this summer. 

In addition to the rotations, CDP includes a curriculum, developmental experiences and meetings with senior leaders. The latter is one aspect of the program Dieguez has particularly come to appreciate. 

“We get the opportunity to sit with senior leadership on a regular basis to better understand the direction of the company as a whole,” he says. “We recently sat with our CMO, Gail Horwood, to discuss how we can better improve Kellogg’s ‘Digital IQ’ and technological capabilities.”

According to Niki Ramirez, talent acquisition programs manager at Kellogg’s, this type of experience is atypical for MBAs — or any employee for that matter — and can help them accelerate “into positions of leadership and influence,” she says. “Historically, people come into marketing but never get experience outside of that, so it can be difficult for them to transition into other positions because they’ve been siloed.” 

At the conclusion of CDP, employees move back into marketing in a senior manager or director-level position. Horwood says that with the comprehensive knowledge they’ve gained, especially in a consumer packaged goods company, these individuals are better prepared to lead.

“We believe that the leaders now and in the future need that sort of full commercial, end-to-end understanding, experience and capability,” she says, “and we believe that this sort of rotational, intentional training early in their career builds stronger leaders.”

With this new understanding comes the freedom to make decisions and lead without the bureaucracy that’s typical of large companies. “One of the things that’s unique about Kellogg’s is both the scale and the autonomy to really drive impact,” Horwood says. “Here, you get to see the products you create, the programs you conceive, the ability to put things in the marketplace and truly see the outcome through that end-to-end commercial process because you’re trained across all of it.”

“Because we have beloved brands, because we have scale, because we’re so trusted and have such long-standing relationships with our suppliers and our retail partners, there is this immediate ability to make an impact in the marketplace,” she adds.

New to her position as CMO, Horwood attended The Consortium’s 53rd annual Orientation Program & Career Forum last summer and says she was impressed with the caliber of the students. The experience helped further solidify Kellogg’s commitment to The Consortium specifically and to diversity broadly. 

“For us, diversity and inclusion is something we’re trying to embed in all of our marketing efforts, starting with ensuring that our employee population is diverse and inclusive and reflects our consumers,” says Horwood. “It’s important that we also choose diverse partners to help us create and place our marketing messages.”

Although he has yet to complete CDP, Dieguez acknowledges, like Horwood, that Kellogg’s success is directly tied to the people who are leading it. 

“It sounds cliché, but it’s the people at Kellogg’s that make the company special,” he says. “Kellogg’s is a relationship-based company with an open-door policy. People here are not just incredibly smart and capable; they are also willing to share that expertise with their colleagues who wish to learn.”

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