What does ConAgra Foods CEO Gary Rodkin have in common with champion basketball coach Phil Jackson? It’s more than a mustache and more than you might think. 

The 2008-‘09 Los Angeles Lakers and ConAgra Foods are both winning organizations and Jackson and Rodkin are savvy, experienced coaches who work the X’s and O’s of planning and personnel. 

Experts acknowledge that although Jackson’s “triangle” offense is more time consuming and challenging to learn and implement, it is a proven winner (Bulls, Lakers) with plenty of scoring options. 

Rodkin’s strategic plan at ConAgra Foods also has taken time (years in fact) to implement. Moreover, because the company’s strategy emphasizes several new dynamics – functional “centers of excellence” (COE) and cross-functional planning and execution – it has required that industry veterans honestly and earnestly approach teamwork in a new way.

Having covered the company for nearly two decades, I believe ConAgra Foods now has the ideal structure, portfolio and personnel and game plan. Moreover, these factors are combining for ConAgra’s own version of the triangle offense, a flexible approach that delivers the most scoring options.
What I’m driving at is how ConAgra’s culture quickly and effectively rallies around worthwhile new endeavors. And it already has proved it by …

… becoming the first to use post-consumer recycled content in new plastic trays;
… developing a unique entrée steam-cooking process that’s been a hit with consumers;
… successfully combining new products, packaging and ads to “relaunch” Healthy Choice;
… developing a meaningful new marketing-sales link that benefits retail customers.

Among those “converted” at ConAgra is John Hanson, president of ConAgra’s Frozen Convenience Meals business and a 13-year company veteran.

“We work much more effectively than we used to,” he says. “In the brand team today, you are still responsible for brand growth strategy, delivering profit and loss reports, business integration and execution. But instead of doing everything yourself, you now have the highly capable resources in the COE personnel on your team that are aligned against the same objectives.

“I think a good example of this in action is our recent work on Healthy Choice,” he continues. “That was a total cross-functional team approach to understanding the consumer and re-designing the positioning, products, packaging, advertising and then flawlessly executing the re-stage with our customers to grow the brand and the category.  This is a good example of a collaboration model, in which one plus one equals three. Now, all parties involved bring their strong capabilities to the table and – by leveraging those combined capabilities – we’re getting great end results.

That would have been almost impossible to do in the old ConAgra Foods.”