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MIT Sloan alumna shares thoughts on leading Fortune 500 firm

MIT Sloan alumna Ilene Gordon ‘75, SM ’76 opens semester's Dean’s Innovative Leader Series
Ilene Gordon
Ilene Gordon
Photo: L. Barry Hetherington

A late winter storm did not prevent students, faculty and staff from gathering in Wong Auditorium on March 7 to hear MIT Sloan alumna Ilene Gordon ‘75, SM ’76 speak about her role as chairman, president and CEO of Ingredion Inc., a multibillion-dollar manufacturer of starches, sweeteners and other food ingredients. Gordon was the first speaker of the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series for the spring 2013 semester.

Gordon, named to Fortune magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list for 2012, joined the Illinois-based Ingredion — then named Corn Products International — in 2009. There was little direction, global coordination or global expertise when Gordon first joined the company, she said. She quickly began to work with her team to develop a new strategy and a brand with just one voice.

She started by rebranding and changing the organization’s name to Ingredion, to reflect the company’s international presence and its efforts to diversify. Gordon then looked to expand Ingredion’s market in the food, beverage, brewing, paper and animal nutrition lines.

“We needed an umbrella brand for our company. We laid out a strategic blueprint … we needed one voice,” Gordon said. “We put together a strategy to grow our company and to be one brand. I think back to when I was at Sloan, and I took a lot of courses on planning … operational planning and strategic planning. And to this day, it has really served me well.”

Gordon then began to grow the company, broadening the portfolio of ingredient offerings and expanding globally. Ingredion acquired other companies, including National Starch, as part of these endeavors. She noted that everything she does is to increase shareholder value: The company’s stock price has doubled since Gordon took over. Last year, Ingredion’s sales topped $6.5 billion and the company joined the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations.

“It’s important to look at trends as well. People want healthier food, people want low calorie, and people want convenience,” Gordon said, noting that Ingredion now supplies low-fat and gluten free ingredients to food makers. “It’s about customer collaboration at all times.”

Lastly, Gordon offered several pieces of career advice to students in the audience.

“Get international work experience. Get it as early as you can in your career. Get out your comfort zone and grow,” she said.

She also advised that students find a mentor. Additionally, she noted that it is important to treat people well, wherever you are. Gordon also said that students should get on-the-ground experience once they are with their companies and suggested that factory tours and meeting people throughout the company were the best ways to do this.

“Respect cultural diversity,” Gordon said in closing. "It’s all about appreciating people’s differences. It’s about diverse opinions. Seek a balanced life. It’s all about choices and how you spend your time.”

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