Sean Connolly recently moved Hillshire’s headquarters downtown to be part of the Loop’s urban business scene.
On November 20 and 21, more than 250 business leaders from around the globe will gather at the Art Institute for the inaugural Bloomberg Business Summit, engaging in discussion sessions to examine how some of the world’s largest industries are changing. Among them will be Hillshire Brands President and CEO Sean Connolly, who is serving on a panel focusing on the global food market and recently chatted with Michigan Avenue magazine about the prestigious event.
What CEOs or speakers are you looking forward to hearing from or connecting with at the Bloomberg Business Summit? SEAN CONNOLLY: What I appreciate about the summit is that it’s a diverse lineup; we have leaders from different industries who are confronting different challenges right now, and it’s always great to cast the net a bit wider than your own industry and hear some of their challenges because often you discover that there are similarities that wouldn’t be obvious on the surface.
How does the business world in Chicago operate differently from other cities? SC: The business climate in Chicago is fantastic; we’re fortunate to have some very impressive companies based here. But to me, what makes Chicago unique is that the executives of these companies are not only committed to building their own company to be as strong as it can possibly be, but they’re equally committed to making Chicago stronger as a business hub. Hillshire enjoys being part of that. We’ve been thrilled to move our headquarters downtown and be part of that thriving urban business center.
How has the move affected Hillshire’s corporate culture? SC: The move to the city [last December] has been an important part of our transformation from being the old Sara Lee Corporation to being Hillshire Brands. Chicago is a high-energy city, and we aim to build a high-energy company. The other piece, too, is that Chicago is a true culinary Mecca, and we are a food company that aspires to always be on top of culinary trends. So immersing our employee base in an environment that really is on top of culinary trends just helps drive our innovation culture and our passion around food.
What do you think CEOs from elsewhere can learn from the way Chicago does business? SC: The business leaders I interact with in Chicago are very clear-eyed that we are competing with Dubai, San Francisco, and New York to land businesses and become a thriving global business center. What I find is, there’s a tremendous sense of collaboration among business leaders in the community for the greater good—even companies that typically would never partner and work together, [here] they tend to put aside their differences and their own agendas to work together. Maybe it’s a bit of our Midwest culture or maybe it’s just an intense passion to make Chicago as competitive as it can be in the global business community, but I think other cities can learn from that.
As a CEO yourself, who have been some of your biggest professional mentors? SC: One of my first key mentors was John Pepper, who was the CEO at P&G. John taught me about leadership and the importance of recognizing that performance in business happens through the people on the team—it’s not about you at the top, it’s about building a healthy culture and building a highly collaborative team. And then when I went to Campbell Soup Company, my CEO there, Doug Conant—a Chicago native who was just named to be the chairman of the Kellogg Leadership Institute at Northwestern—was a great role model because he was both passionate about the business and equally passionate about building a highly engaged employee base with a very healthy culture.