When I grow up, I want to be the boss

DeniseMorrison1
Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup Co.

When Denise Morrison was growing up, most women who didn't want to be stay-at-home mommies or secretaries thought they might be nurses or teachers. Not Morrison, 62, chief executive at Campbell Soup Co. Even as a little girl, she knew she wanted to be the boss. It all started with her father.

Question: Did you always want to be a CEO?

Answer: I did. I didn’t know they called it that, but I knew I wanted to run a company.  I knew that as young person.  So, everything that I did was about getting the experience and the skills to be able to do that, not only to get the job, but do it really, really well. 

Q:  Denise, why did you want to run a company? 

A:  Because I fell in love with business at a very early age, and it was the influence of my father.  My mother too, but my father, in particular, having four daughters. He was talking to us at a very early age that he thought the world was going to open up for women and he wanted us to be prepared.  So, he taught us business.  Our dinner table was a focus group.  He’d bring new products home.  We’d discuss them.  It wasn’t just a pat on the head.  He was really interested in what we had to say. 

Q: What did he do?

A:  He was at one point vice president of marketing for AT&T.  He went on to be CFO of Cincinnati Bell and president of a couple of their subsidiaries. 

Q: What kind of products would he bring home? 

A: The Trimline phone?  Do you remember the princess phone? 

Q:  Yes, I remember it. 

A:  That was one of the products I vividly remember.  We actually had video text in our house, which was the precursor to the Internet.  He bought that home to see what we thought of that.  So, those are two examples, but he took us to work before Bring-Your-Daughters-To-Work was fashionable.  He took us to the New York Stock Exchange.  Not only that though.  Our outings every Saturday were going to the library and picking out a book to read.  All the time we were walking he would say, `It took somebody years to write this book and in one week you’re going to get all of this knowledge.  How lucky are you!'  Then we had to give him a book report, either oral or written.  We could choose.  We had job jars and they contained our chores for the week.  So, he would talk about the importance of the family as a team and everybody on the team had to pull their weight.  We had to get the chores done.  We could barter the chores so we’d learn negotiation skills.  They had to be finished; goal achievement.  We were given an allowance, pay for performance.  I mean all of these lessons.   

Q: Did you have to prepare a budget?  I had to prepare a budget for my allowance, a written budget.

A: I didn’t have to do that, but I remember specifically I wanted a stereo and I had to write a business plan for it.  I had to save the money from my summer job to buy it.  I remember my sister Andrea put a horse on the grocery list every week.  She had to create a whole business plan of not only how to buy the horse, how to get the horse from where it was to where we lived, where to board it, how she was going to take care of it, very intricate plan.  She was 11. 

Q: Even so, one can be involved a lot in business without being the CEO.  There are a lot of things that you can do in business.

A:  Absolutely, but I was always a pretty high achiever in school.  I loved multi-tasking.  I loved being involved in a lot of things.  To me, the more complex the better, and so being a leader of a business to me was like `Wow, that’s what I want to be.'