Irene Rosenfeld runs a $70 billion international conglomerate that makes everything from Cadbury chocolates to Oreo cookies to Tang. Mondelez (MDLZ) is one of the world's largest food companies with more than 100,000 employees in 165 countries, so you can go ahead and assume that Irene Rosenfeld is a very busy lady.
But while you'd maybe expect Rosenfeld's day-to-day to be spent in meetings about the margins on Oreos, or touring a Toblerone facility in Asia, the WSJ found out that she spends a lot of time dealing with sh!t like this:
After Halloween, Nelson Peltz, one of two big activist investors holding Mondelez stock, called to tell her that his 12-year-old twins had rummaged through their treats and tossed their bags aside. Children were eating less candy, he said, and Mondelez had to adjust.
Another activist, William Ackman, has been pestering Ms. Rosenfeld, a veteran marketer, to slash the number of products and change her advertising plans.
At least Ackman spared her from sharing his kids thoughts on Oreos.
But this wasn't just an isolated incident, Rosenfeld puts up with this all... the... time.
She has fielded their suggestions on everything from global strategy to shelf space for the company’s Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers and Trident gum. She says addressing their concerns consumes one-quarter of her time.
That's 25% of her life. That's... a lot.
It also seems that Rosenfeld got a little lucky by learning on a curve. First, she had to deal with Peltz:
In 2013, Mr. Peltz’s Trian boosted its stake to 2.5%. He publicly urged the company to merge with PepsiCo Inc. to combine with its snack business, Frito-Lay, and criticized Mondelez’s profit margin as too low.
Ms. Rosenfeld began meeting with Mr. Peltz, but not in a public way. So they arranged to talk in out-of-the-way spots in the New York suburbs.
At a Tarrytown restaurant, Ms. Rosenfeld arrived with a large brooch attached to her jacket. “You don’t have a microphone in there, do you?” Mr. Peltz joked.
Rosenfeld spent a lot of times listening to Peltz and heading off a proxy battle by giving Trian a seat on the Mondelez board. That has gone as well as could be expected.
Mr. Peltz continued to scrutinize management. At a board meeting last year, he quizzed Ms. Rosenfeld on Mondelez’s multibillion-dollar capital expenditure for global plant modernization. The activist insisted on knowing the expected return on the investment, and on getting regular updates on actual returns.
“We’ll have the returns,” she said. “I’m not backing down.”
During a break in the meeting, directors heard a piano in the lobby of the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va. Ms. Rosenfeld was at the keys, playing John Denver’s “Rhymes and Reasons” to relieve her stress.
But it all paid off. And Rosenfeld even got to take a vacation!
Early the next month, when she was on vacation in Iceland, Ms. Rosenfeld got a jolt: Mr. Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital had built a $5.5 billion Mondelez stake.
When she called Mr. Ackman from Reykjavik, he told her Mondelez needed to increase its profit margin, fast. Ms. Rosenfeld phoned her CFO and lead director. “Here we go again,” she told them.
Nothing ruins a relaxing moment like the phrase "Bill Ackman likes your business."
So how absurdly difficult is it to deal with two of Wall Street's most vocal activist investors at the same time?
To prepare for a board meeting last week, Ms. Rosenfeld held a 6 a.m. “dress rehearsal” one morning for the senior executives who would make presentations. Ms. Rosenfeld peppered them with likely questions, mimicking the activists’ perspective.
One day recently, Ms. Rosenfeld made a recruiting visit to the University of Michigan business school. At a class that had done a case study on Mondelez, she watched students acting out the corporate drama.
One student playing Ms. Rosenfeld touted the company’s mission, trumpeted in its promotional materials, of creating “delicious moments of joy.”
Another playing Mr. Peltz barked: “I’m not joyful. You didn’t merge with Pepsi. You haven’t taken zero-based budgeting far enough.”
The Mr. Ackman role-player said: “I’m not impressed. Where’s your cost-cutting? Why can’t you be like 3G?”
When they were done, Ms. Rosenfeld told the class with a chuckle: “You really captured what I hear every day.”
That's good Ackman!