Leveraging ‘big’ as a force for good

Ken Powell speaks into a microphone.

Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills, spoke at the U recently about the company’s emphasis on reinvention and service. The talk was part of the Carlson School’s 1st Tuesday Speaker Series.

General Mills, one of the world's largest food companies, is a familiar name to Minnesotans, with brands that include Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Häagen-Dazs, Old El Paso, and the cereal giant Cheerios.

It’s an important employer, too. Powell and Carlson School dean Sri Zaheer point out that the company has more than 700 U of M alumni as employees, including more than 500 Carlson alumni.

The company is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, and Powell says its continued success is due largely to its ongoing focus on reinvention. A current motto is to make food people love, and the company aims to hear firsthand—beyond focus groups—what will get them there. Says Powell: “We now set up what we call lemonade stands in grocery stores and shopping malls to test new product ideas and hear immediate unfiltered feedback.”

He says General Mills is also dedicated to service, with a focus on three areas: increasing access to food for families and communities in need, sustainably sourcing the ingredients that go into products, and “strengthening the communities where we live and work around the globe.”

Companies are expected to play an active role in helping to solve societal issues, he adds, “and we are lucky that these principles have been baked into General Mills since our founding.”

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities