AIB Featured Business Leader – Ilene Gordon
CEO and President of Ingredion, Ilene Gordon is certainly not one to follow the crowd, particularly when it comes to gender stereotypes. It is said that when she was in high school, she urged the principal to allow her to take carpentry class with the boys, rather than bake muffins with the girls. She then went on to be the only girl who studied physics in her grade, and challenged stereotypes again when she attended MIT years later, where the student ratio was 10:1 women. Today, Gordon is considered one of the most powerful women in business, with a wealth of experience that can teach us numerous lessons.
Gordon’s journey into business began when she went to university with the intention of becoming a teacher, but quickly changed her path when she realised there were more options than that on offer for women. Gordon told CNN that during her Bachelor of Science, “I met these incredible women that were going to be lawyers, doctors and PhDs in nutrition and science. It really influenced me, and that’s when I decided to go into business”. She earned her Bachelor, followed by her Masters at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and decided to go into manufacturing, as there were so few women in the industry.
After her studies, Gordon’s first role was as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. As the company expanded, she relocated to Europe with them and continued to grow her impressive rsum. Over the next 17 years, she went on to work in executive roles including Director of Strategic Planning at Signode, Vice President at Packaging Corp. of America and President at Alcan Food Packaging Americas, before landing her first CEO role in 2007 at Rio Tinto Alcan.
Two years later, Gordon joined Corn Products International (now Ingredion) as CEO and took on the challenge of implementing a new corporate strategy to diversify the organisation. Ingredion had previously received negative attention for its high fructose corn syrup, but under Gordon’s management, managed to grow revenue from $3.7 billion to over $6 billion. This paved the way to a spot on the Fortune 500 companies list, making Gordon the 21st female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Today, the Ingredion board also comprises of 40 percent women – an achievement that Gordon is proud to discuss.
When asked to explain her remarkable success at Ingredion, Ilene Gordon told SBN Online that she did not arrive at the 11,300-employee company with all of the answers. She said, “I had to rely on a very good team to understand the different dynamics” and noted that the company had not invested for a while in innovation. She understood that successful business leaders need to be willing to let people know that you do listen. She added, “You are seeking their input and it’s more than just to check a box. You’re really trying to synthesise the different views. As the leader, you have to have the confidence to make decisions. It’s about gathering the facts”.
Interested in Gordon’s advice to the next generation of leaders? She says, “Get the masters degree, because 20 years down the road, whoever has the masters will have the advantage. Get international experience early in your career. Find a mentor who will give you advice, who’s not emotionally involved and who isn’t going to be biased”. While Ingredion has experienced remarkable success in the past seven years under Gordon’s leadership, she recognises that there is a need to continuously innovate and work with your staff to keep up with demands. She adds, “Get out there. Get your hands dirty. Interact with people to understand the challenges of different people in the company.”
What do you think?
With a range of other affiliations and achievements under her belt, it seems that Ilene Gordon was destined to achieve great things. In 2015 she was placed #45 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list, she currently serves on several international boards, and she is the first female chairman-elect of the Economic Club of Chicago. Regardless of gender, her career is admirable from both a strategic and leadership perspective. I’m interested to hear – what do you admire most about her story? Comment below to share your views.
This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: SBN Online, Wikipedia, CNN and Bloomberg
Image Credit: SBN Online