The woman who mentored 13 CEOs

Profiles in leadership
Profiles in leadership
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Irene Rosenfeld isn’t as good at self-promotion as Jack Welch, but she’s every bit as good at developing future CEOs.

Rosenfeld retired this month after 11 years as CEO and chair of Mondelez International and its predecessor company, Kraft Foods. In all, she spent 36 years as an executive in the food industry, and over that time supervised a baker’s dozen of future chief executives. Among them are Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Company, Michele Buck of Hershey, and Bob Gamgort of Keurig Green Mountain.

Image for article titled The woman who mentored 13 CEOs

“She was a creative thinker, but also really strong on data and analytics,” said Tom Reddin, the former CEO of online mortgage broker LendingTree, who worked under Rosenfeld at Kraft. “I think it helped her develop people under her, to get them to think creatively and think analytically.”

As CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch was legendary for developing his lieutenants into future CEOs, and burnishing his own reputation in the process. His proteges include his successor Jeff Immelt, as well as executives who went on to lead Home Depot, 3M, Fiat, and Conseco, among others.

Like Welch, who collected a $417 million severance from GE in 2001, Rosenfeld also mastered the art of executive compensation. She made an estimated $231 million over her career, not including her as-yet-undisclosed parting package.

A number of the CEOs supervised by Welch, like Bob Nardelli of Home Depot and Chrysler, became high-profile failures in their later roles. It may be just chance, but none of Rosenfeld’s has flamed out quite as spectacularly.

Rosenfeld pushed her employees to be ambitious and innovative, said Reddin, who managed the Country Time Lemonade brand while at Kraft. “She was hard on you, but in a very positive way,” he said. “You always felt like you were on her side, and she was on your side and she was rooting for you.”

She may have developed her leadership gifts early, while raising two daughters while she earned her PhD at Cornell. “Parenting is one of the best management training programs there is,” she told the UK’s Independent newspaper in 2015.