In personal counseling, leaders talk about the people they seek advice from and how those people have shaped their perspectives and helped them succeed. Previous issues of this series can be viewed here.

Sally Grimes

a obtenu le poste de ses rêves l’année dernière lorsqu’elle est devenue PDG de Clif Bar & Co. In the midst of a global pandemic, this food veteran takes the helm.

When she arrived at the company in June, her colleagues were already tired of juggling caring for children at home and trying to protect the factories from an outbreak of the coronavirus. The company also had to contend with low demand for snacks – the pandemic reduced visits to stores, airports and other places where people usually buy Clif products, and increased competition from competitors.


  • Dude: 50
  • The perpetrators of the pandemic: Nespresso machine and training for the production of sourdough bread
  • The best part of the job: Every Thursday morning we have a business meeting that ends with a dance. Yes, I danced for the whole company… …to Lizzo.
  • A book you’ve read recently: Radical candor. I want to create a culture of compassion and openness. Call directly, but be careful in personal conversations.

Early in my career, I felt like I had to be the smartest person in the room right out of college, and that led to some mistakes, she says. Since then, she said, she has learned an important lesson: Humility is not the opposite of confidence. It’s a freedom to learn.

The C.E.O. grew up outside Chicago. Her interest in brand management and the food industry began in the late 1990s when she was a student at the University of Chicago School of Business. A presentation by a Kraft Foods executive sparked her interest and she accepted a job there. She was part of the Kraft team that marketed Easy Mac, the first microwaveable macaroni and cheese.

A reputation as an innovator has led to

Tyson Foods.

to lead the innovation lab and lead the entire North American prepared foods division, which has annual sales of $10 billion and employs 35,000 people.

In addition to owners Gary Erickson and Keith Crawford, Cliff has had two other bosses in its nearly 30-year history who returned as directors in 2018. Ms. Grimes usually gets up no later than 4:30 a.m. each day and must always have her camera on during a teleconference.

I never met most of my team members in person, she says. This requires a lot of planning in advance. It takes a little creativity.

She said she was inspired by her work on Clif. It was a place where my personal values, my professional experience and my strong desire to improve the food system came together, she says.

Under Ms. Grimes’ most trusted advisors:

Clockwise from top left: Sean Connolly, Betsy Holden, John Tyson and Mary Kay have



Betsy Holden
Former CEO of Kraft Foods

Miss Grimes met Miss Holden when they both worked at Kraft Foods. Mrs. Grimes was a young brand manager just out of business school. It was an incredible moment because I was surrounded by so many inspiring female leaders, she said. Ms. Holden, who became CEO in 2001, was a teacher before joining Kraft. It really comes down to the way she coaches and supports so well, Grimes said.

Ms. Holden has been a mentor for many years, and Grimes took Ms. Holden’s place. Holden in confidence as she considered transferring to Clif in early 2020. She asked me to think about the roles I’ve played in my career and why, Grimes said. It helped her decide on the job.

A few days later, Ms. Holden invited to join Cliff’s board of directors. It was an incredible support, Grimes said.

Mary Kay Have
Former President of Kraft Foods

Earlier in her career, Ms. Heyben was President of Kraft Foods and Managing Director of Ms. Grimes. I remember coming down the escalator at the Kraft Cafe and Mary Kay leading the Kraft cheese team, Grimes said.

Ms. Haben is the head of Kraft reunions and has kept the Kraft sorority alive over the years, a group of current and former Kraft leaders, including Ms. Grimes. She’s feisty, she’s energetic, she’s empathetic, and I try to emulate her.

During the many years that Mrs. Grimes worked for Mrs. Haben, she supported Mrs. Grimes not only in her career, but also in her life. She’s a mentor who helps you when you don’t know you need it, Grimes said.

Sean Connolly
Managing Director Konagra Brands

In 2012, Mr. Connolly asked Ms. Grimes whether she wanted to participate in what he called a $4 billion start-up. He was referring to Hillshire Brands, of which he was the CEO. It was an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurial approaches to innovation and stay ahead of consumer trends. He taught me to look at what was in front of me and always ask what’s next, she says.

Like Miss Grimes, Mr. Connolly rose early. Their Hillshire offices were next door when Grimes was Director of Innovation. We were always the first, she remembers. This served him well and helped create a camaraderie that continued even after their separation in 2014. For me, it was a chance to spend some time with the CEO before the day wore off.

John Tyson
Chairman of Tyson Foods

Ms. Grimes met Mr. Tyson when his company acquired Hillshire in 2014. Mr. Tyson is the third generation of the family business. Ms. Grimes said she learned from working with him to focus on the long-term brands she manages. These are not just short-term solutions, she said.

Ms. Grimes spent six years there, focusing on accelerating innovation and learning to work toward progress rather than perfection. She led a team that developed a new brand in just six months – a process that typically takes a year or two for food companies. I learned that greatness comes from a kind of leap of faith, she says. If you’re 100% sure, you’re probably not very brave.

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