Kilts helps make success easier

November 15, 2007


Jim Kilts is one of the most successful corporate CEOs of our time.

His new book Doing What Matters: How to Get Results That Make a Difference -- The Revolutionary Old-School Approach (Crown Business, $27.50, 318 pages) was born on Chicago's South Side on the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago.

Despite the title and origin, Kilts' book is not for eggheads or revolutionaries, and it's not stuffy. It's an insightful account of how to manage in today's global business.

Doing What Matters is a must read for anyone who wants to achieve in business. Students seeking a business career should devour it. Young managers should take it to heart. Mid-level and senior executives should use it to benchmark their own performance.

Kilts' incredible career was nearly stillborn when as a young Chicago-based materials manager he failed to order enough cartons to keep the Kool-Aid plant running. A quick call from the plant manager to Kilts' mother who called Kilts to warn, "I think you're going to get fired," saved the day.

Kilts did what mattered. He called his supplier, rolled up his sleeves, and unloaded a truck of cartons that night. The line kept running, and Kilts kept his job. Kilts didn't shy away from responsibility, try to pass the buck, or point fingers.

Kilts went on to an illustrious career as a top corporate executive, turnaround specialist and deal maker. He rose to EVP of the $27 billion Worldwide Food group at Philip Morris responsible for Kraft and General Foods. In 1998 he became CEO of troubled Nabisco Co., revitalizing the business and selling it to Philip Morris (now Altria) for $14.9 billion in December 2000.

Then Warren Buffett and the board of Gillette recruited Kilts to turnaround the ailing razor blade maker. Under Kilts' management approach, Gillette sales increased, costs were reduced, and the stock price soared. In a move to diversify, Kilts and his management team approached Procter & Gamble and in October 2005 completed a $54 billion merger.

Doing What Matters was inspired by Kilts' experience as an executive in residence at the University of Chicago where he earned his MBA and where he endowed the Kilts Center for Marketing.

"I had office hours and saw a lot of students. They wanted to come in and talk. They wanted unvarnished advice," Kilts said. "In business, you need to think practically about how to prioritize. There is so much information." Kilts decided to write a book to show how to sort through the data, prioritize, and drive an agenda to get the important work done.

In Doing What Matters Kilts outlines a three-pronged approach to running a business: working on growth and innovation, productivity and costs, and developing a high-performing organization.

Doing What Matters chronicles the success Kilts and his team created at Kraft, Nabisco and Gillette. But it is not a corporate history. It is a manager's guide and inside look at what it takes to achieve success in today's complex and competitive business environment.

Kilts believes there are a set of core principles and frameworks that lead to business success. He sees himself as fortunate, but he added, "The harder you work, the luckier you get."

According to Kilts, "Success requires intellectual integrity, and figuring out what is really going on in the business. It takes enthusiasm to convince the organization that change is warranted. You need an action orientation. The final thing is just the love of consumers. Those are the things that helped me to be successful. I talk about each in the book," Kilts added.

Doing What Matters isn't perfect. At times the narrative is tedious, and Kilts' focus on consumer products might put off readers in other industries. My advice is to persevere. The chronicle and the content are worth the effort.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago.


 ©2007 Marion Consulting Partners