Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of $40 billion snack-food company Kraft, jumps to the coveted No. 2 spot on this year’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list, up from her No. 6 position last year. As the world’s second most powerful woman, she comes in just behind Michelle Obama (No. 1) and ahead of both Oprah Winfrey (No. 3) and top competitor PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (No. 6).
It’s been quite the year for this Mac & Cheese lover. After receiving a $26.3 million compensation package in 2009, closing a $19 billion purchase of British candy-and-gum-maker Cadbury in February, and publicly brawling with Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett last spring, she collected 3,304 total press mentions.
As the largest shareholder of Kraft, Buffett’s open criticisms may have been Rosenfeld’s biggest challenge. In short: He called the Cadbury deal “dumb;” she went ahead; he sold 33.1 million shares (a third of his 9.4% stake); she held her ground, and Kraft recently reported second-quarter revenue growth of 25.3%, largely due to the takeover. So did Rosenfeld win this one? I spoke with her to find out.
Forbes: How does it feel to be the second most powerful woman in the world?
Rosenfeld: I don’t think a lot about that designation. I am mostly focused on ensuring that our business is delivering. But if there’s going to be a list, it’s nice to be on it.
Despite early criticism, you made a bold decision this year to acquire Cadbury. How were you sure it was the right move?
Over the last couple of years we had done a lot of work to transform Kraft: We sold the cereal business and bought the biscuit business, made significant investments in innovation and changes in our leadership. The Cadbury acquisition was an opportunity to take the next step and to transform the portfolio more significantly. The ability to ship to faster-growing geographies, particularly developing markets, and to faster-growing channels of distribution, particularly convenience stores, gave us the next leg to accelerate our growth.
How did you react when Kraft’s biggest stakeholder, Warren Buffett, said the deal was “dumb” and sold 33.1 million of his shares?
I respect the opinion of all of our investors, including Mr. Buffett, and we took that feedback very seriously. We have dramatically changed the prospects for the company as a result of this transaction. I think our investors will be quite pleased with the results over the long term.
Second-quarter results show net revenues up 25.3% to $12.3 billion—almost completely driven by the Cadbury takeover. Have you proven Buffett wrong?
Obviously, I’m very pleased with the outcome. We’ve delivered very strong results, in every geography of the world, in the face of a very challenging economic environment. We continue to make very good progress. In fact, we took up our synergy estimate from $675 million to $750 million. Our base businesses, both Kraft and Cadbury, have good momentum.