Ann Fudge Biography
Ann Fudge's estimable rise through the ranks of corporate power made her one of the most influential—and at the same time one of the youngest—decisionmaking women in American business. Her achievement is all the more impressive, wrote New York Times reporter Judith H. Dobrzynski, because she "had to crash through not merely the glass ceiling that stymies white women but an all-but-insurmountable 'concrete wall' that researchers say blocks blacks and other minorities from companies' upper echelons." For years her success went relatively unnoticed amongst media tallies of other female movers and shakers in high positions—but that's probably not something to which the dynamic and well-regarded executive gives much thought. Rising to the presidency of the $5 billion Beverages, Desserts and Post Division of Kraft General Foods, before she turned 50, Fudge never lost sight of her family duties nor her civic responsibilities. She even retired from corporate life in the early 2000s to devote more time to her personal life before being recruited to become the president of the advertising giant, Young and Rubicam Brands, in 2003. Her unique blend of business acumen and respect for her personal life made her a much sought after mentor to businesses and people alike.
Fudge was born on April 23, 1951, in Washington, DC, and attended the city's Catholic schools. Witnessing the urban riots in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968 helped her gain a focus. "They made me incredibly determined," she told Dobrzynski in the New York Times. "I wanted to do something that black people hadn't done before. When I hit roadblocks, that was what kept me going." After high school, Fudge enrolled at Simmons College to pursue a bachelor's degree. Fudge admitted to Business Week that she "didn't have a dream job growing up." However, in college she met Margaret Henning, author of the influential book The Managerial Woman, and later a founder of the college's school of business. As her adviser, Henning told the undergraduate Fudge that she recognized in her some of the skills crucial to becoming a corporate executive, and that she should pursue it as a career.
While at Simmons, Fudge also met her future husband, Richard, and the two married and had their first child while she was still an undergraduate. After earning her bachelor's degree in retail mangament in 1973, Fudge began work as a personnel executive for General Electric and took on the demanding lifestyle required of working mothers—her family now included a second son. A business degree was next. After graduating from Harvard Business School with an MBA in 1977, Fudge was hired by the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based General Mills company. She then set for herself a timetable of professional goals, including becoming the general manager of a brand by the age of 40.
In her first position at General Mills, Fudge was a marketing assistant for brands made by this sixth-largest food manufacturing company in the United States. By 1978, Fudge had begun moving quickly up the corporate ranks, becoming assistant product manager that year and product manager in 1980, and finally a director of marketing by 1983, responsible for four brands at once. During her tenure, she headed a team that developed and introduced to the consumer market a new breakfast cereal—Honey Nut Cheerios, which quickly became one of the division's top performers. On the verge of a promotion to general manager in 1986, Fudge instead accepted another job offer in order to be closer to her ailing mother on the other side of the country.
That job offer was at Kraft General Foods in White Plains, NY, a subsidiary of Philip Morris, Inc. and the nation's largest consumables manufacturer. For its products, the parent company had, at the time, an advertising budget of over $2 billion, one of the deepest pocketbooks in American business. Fudge became responsible for some of that ad budget when she was promoted to brand manager of the Dinners and Enhancers Division in 1991. In her new position, Fudge oversaw longtime company staples such as Log Cabin Syrup, Minute Rice, and Stove Top Stuffing. Such brands had a high consumer recognition factor, but were meeting fierce competition from cheaper private-label goods.
At Kraft General Foods, Fudge quickly became known for having a special skill for reviving older brands and repositioning them in the market. One example of Fudge's success in the Dinners and Enhancers division was Shake 'N Bake, a mixture of seasoning and bread crumbs that came in specially-designed pouches. Consumers added meat such as chicken drumsticks to the bag, tossed it around, and then removed the meat and baked it. The brand had not warranted a high-profile television advertising campaign in several years, and Fudge and her team came up with the slogan "Why Fry?" to reintroduce the product. They also revamped the print ad campaign. Within months, Shake 'N Bake sales saw double-digit growth.
A similar strategy was used with Stove Top Stuffing, which also yielded an immediate jump in sales. When Black Enterprise magazine named her one of the country's "21 Women of Power and Influence" in 1991, Fudge was modest about her achievements at Kraft General Foods. "I encourage my team to challenge the status quo," she told the magazine that year. "I'm convinced that everything we do can be done better."
Fostering that cooperative spirit worked well for Fudge. "As a business leader, Ann combines a very forceful personality with a great sensitivity to people," her then-boss, General Foods president Robert S. Morrison, told Black Enterprise writer Ronda Reynolds. "She relies heavily on a team approach to achieving business goals." He went on to say that Fudge had positively impacted every area she worked at within the company. In 1991, she was promoted to general manager of the brand division, a year ahead of her goal.
The promotion was also teamed with Fudge's ascension to executive vice president at Kraft General Foods. Her rise up the corporate ladder was not without sacrifice, however. She once turned down a top job offer that entailed a move to another city. "It would have meant relocating just as my son was entering his senior year in high school," she told National Executive writers Deborah J. Swiss and Judith P. Walker. "I didn't think it would be right to move him that year. And I did not want to be a commuter wife and mom."
In 1993 Fudge's success in the Dinners and Enhancers division—which included double-digit growth and an increased market share for many of the products whose images she retooled—was responsible for her promotion to executive vice president within the company. The following year, her skills brought her an even tougher assignment—taking over the presidency of Kraft's ailing Maxwell House Coffee brand. The canned coffee product held the number two market spot, after Procter & Gamble's Folgers, but such supermarket coffee products were becoming increasingly overshadowed by a consumer preference for more sophisticated beans and specialty brands.
Fudge started off her new job by visiting the nation's home of the nineties' coffee craze, Seattle. Younger consumers are more apt to buy pricey beans from specialty gourmet coffee retailers such as Starbucks than to purchase a can of Maxwell House. Fudge's plan was to revamp advertising and reposition the brand to make it more attractive to this segment of the market. She faced a tough job—Maxwell House had tried this approach before, and failed, in part because their "marketing strategies did not have enough finesse," Ted R. Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America told Reynolds in Black Enterprise. "And [General Foods] does so much by committee." Fudge's plan was to emphasize the durability and retro-chic of the brand by bringing back some elements of its old advertising campaigns, a position opposed by Kraft executives above her. Lingle, however, noted that Fudge's qualifications and previous successes gave her the edge to make her strategy a success.
Fudge's achievements caused some to predict that she would be the first African American woman to run a major company in the United States. Many large companies attempted to add diversity to all facets of their workforce, including the highest corporate offices. Fudge's astounding success and business demeanor attracted attention from corporate headhunters. But it was another offer from Kraft that she accepted in 2000, when she became president of the Beverages, Desserts and Post Division.
The division flourished under her leadership, but after one year Fudge decided to retire. She related to Business Week that her choice to leave Kraft was based on a number of reasons. She had had a goal of retiring before age 50; she had dealt with the recent illness and death of her parents, some close friends and relatives. "To be honest, I still haven't figured it out," she told Business Week. "It was definitely not dissatisfaction. It was stepping back and saying, 'What are you really here for? What do you really want to accomplish?'" She spent two years reconnecting with friends and family and delving into community work. Her charitable work included work with a number of organizations, including the Executive Leadership Council, a non-profit group of high-level African American leaders in business, the Boys and Girls Club of America, Partnership For a Drug-Free America, and the United Way, among others. From her time away, Fudge became inspired by the power individuals have to make a difference in the world.
In 2003, Fudge returned to the world of work, becoming the chairman and CEO of Young and Rubicam Brands, a major communications company. The company included a medley of advertising, communications, and marketing companies owned by the WPP Group. With the top position, Fudge also became the first head of a major American advertising firm, Young and Rubicam Advertising. Fudge was "brought in as a change agent-one that would change the culture and future direction of Y&R Brands," Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, a Chicago-based research company told Black Enterprise. Fudge related to Business Week that her hiatus from work gave her needed perspective and that this position she took on as a way of serving others, not to boost her own ego. By 2005, Fudge had brought about positive change for the company, stepping down from leadership of the advertising arm in April, but remaining at the helm of the larger Young and Rubicam Brands.
Throughout her career, Fudge has used her skills and experience to increase African American presence in the upper ranks of corporate America. "Ann wears nice kid gloves that mask an iron fist," a colleague of hers on the boards of some professional and charitable organizations told Reynolds in Black Enterprise. "She's eminently qualified and a terrific leader." With her unique perspective on her work as service to others, Fudge seemed on track to be remembered as she hoped, as a person who "made a difference in how people view themselves individually and how they view themselves collectively," as she told Business Week.
Black Enterprise, August 1991, p. 52; February 1993, p. 94; June 1994, p. 63; August 1994, p. 68; July 2003; April 2005.
Business Week, April 25, 2005, p. 44.
Ebony, July 2003.
Essence, May 1995, p. 114.
Fortune, November 14, 2005, p. 169.
National Executive, November 1993, p. 44.
New York Times, May 11, 1995.
"Ann Fudge on Making Choices," Business Week, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_13/b3876011_mz001.htm (January 2, 2006).
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