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Innovation creates can-do culture at Campbell Soup

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Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison said the company's new culture of innovation drives product launches and acquisitions.
Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison said the company's new culture of innovation drives product launches and acquisitions.

One of the first business decisions Denise Morrison made in 2010 as the new CEO of the world's largest soup maker was to travel cross-country to observe a Palo Alto, Calif.-based innovation house develop and execute new ideas.

"From the way IDEO made innovation happen so fluidly, I learned a big business needs to make sure innovation is the focal point, not a hobby … and if you're going to be an innovative company, you have to be comfortable firing bullets, and be ready to put money down on a cannonball," the Campbell Soup Co. chief said today at an event centered on business advancement through technology that was sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth and the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "By appointing a czar of innovation with cross-functional breakthrough teams, we're able to act like a small business with big company resources and stream through a lot of ideas."

Taking a deep dive into growth opportunities driven by consumer insight led Morrison and other Campbell executives to recognize a shift towards healthy products and fresh foods, which steered the company's $1.55 billion purchase of Bakersfield, Calif.-based natural food and beverage distributor Bolthouse Farms Inc.the largest acquisition in its 140-year history.

Since then, Campbell, in Camden, has invested in producing and shipping out new lines of skillet-friendly sauces and to-go soups in a pouch form instead of the company's traditional cans — both of which Morrison said originated from ideas fostered within Campbell's new culture of innovation.

Though small businesses in the state don't have the same access to research and development investment dollars as large corporations like Campbell, Morrison said the "fire bullets" concept still applies.

"The premise is to have multiple ideas going at the same time and place your bets on the opportunity that is the most viable. Then, you can expend whatever resources you have available to ensure its success, making it a cannonball," Morrison said in an e-mailed response to a follow-up question. "Small companies might have fewer bullets and even fewer cannonballs, but the goal is to have many ideas in the pipeline."

At the event's panel discussion of corporate evolution and revolution over the next year, Somerset Medical Center President and CEO Kenneth Bateman said the health care group's "cannonball" came in the form of a system-wide database purchased to replace the medical center's 14 separate information technology systems in the early 2000s, which later served as the foundation for the group's transition to electronic medical records.

"I had recently become CFO, and I told our CIO this was either going to be best decision we ever made or the quickest career we ever had," Bateman said. "But we knew that, being corporate leaders, sometimes you have to step over the line if you know in the long run it will pay off, and today that system has enabled us to become the second hospital in New Jersey to certify the first stage of meaningful use for electronic medical records."

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