My story is the story of an average American girl growing up in an average home. Yet my success in business turned out to be substantially above average.
Substantially above average? I guess it is all relative, but I am currently the CEO of a $100MM+ food company and I have run $1 billion divisions of big, well-known companies like Frito-Lay, Bestfoods and Heinz.
But more interesting than my resume is what I have learned over the course of my career. I have years of experience doing lots of things right and equally many things wrong! And through these work-life lessons, I hope to help you avoid some of the traps that I have fallen into. This website and my upcoming book, Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success), are targeted to help you navigate your way through the tricky world of big business.
Let me tell you a little bit of my background to set the stage. I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, the daughter of a sheet metal worker turned bowling alley manager and a stay-at-home mom. My mom got pregnant with me when she was a teenager and as such never had the chance to progress beyond a high school education. After me, she had four boys over the next ten years, so she was always a bit overwhelmed with managing the household, especially given that my dad was never there.
But I was truly lucky because in the midst of a lot of confusion and not a lot of direction, I had my grandfather. Poppy, as he was called, was the person who influenced my life at a very early age. He was a self-educated man who grew up to be the Treasurer of Bradley University. He believed that I could do whatever I wanted to do in my life—just as he had done. And so from an early age we started reading together and he instilled in me the belief that education was the secret to escaping the path that my parents were on.
Lucky for me, he put me on the path of being a smart girl because clearly evidenced by this picture of me at age 8, I was not on the path to being a beauty queen! And, unfortunately, the beauty and the wardrobe did not improve as I aged!
My little academic accomplishments as a girl could have been easily derailed when I was thirteen. Poppy died suddenly of a stroke and left me to my own devices! His death triggered a series of events that would indelibly mark my future. First, my folks got divorced as my dad ran off with his long time girlfriend (who knew?). That was not the worst of it because he was never around anyway. But when he left, he took his money with him and in those days it was perfectly acceptable to be a deadbeat dad. My mother had to manage four children while she tried to find work to support us. She did everything back then from driving a bus to working as a 911 operator to being the activity director at a nursing home. She always had a couple of low paying jobs and we still needed food stamps to keep us afloat.
We went from lower middle class to just plain poor in a very short amount of time. This had a profound influence on me—I would not be poor and education was the only way to escape!
I graduated second in my high school, continuing the really poor wardrobe choices evidenced in my earlier years. I was fortunate to get both academic and financial scholarships to go to a prestigious liberal arts school, Knox College. I majored in Russian studies with the idea that I was good with languages (German and French in high school and I was a foreign exchange student to Turkey). I figured that if I was good at something, then I would get good grades, which would once again result in scholarships to law school.
I was going to be a lawyer. Not that I had any interest in the law, but I knew that lawyers were rich. Rich was my dream.
Now let me fast forward a bit. I graduated Knox, got married the next day, drove down to Dallas as my new husband was going to get his MBA at SMU. I eventually ended up going to SMU to get my MBA due to simple math—I got a full scholarship to get my MBA whereas I would have to pay to go to law school.
I started in banking after I got rejected by Frito-Lay. But Frito came back a year later and offered me a job and from there my career was on a major positive trajectory. For a while. I eventually rose to the position of President at Frito by the time I was 36 and from there it got really interesting.
But, the interesting bits can be found in the advice on this site and in my book. The lessons about being great one day and a corporate loser the next. And while I am proud of my accomplishments, my stupid moves will probably help you more as you navigate your journey.
The most important thought is this…your path is your path. Let’s make it a great one!
About Jane Knows
Jane Knows about choices. Good choices. Bad choices.
Today I have the best job…for me. I am the CEO of Rudi’s Organic Bakery based in Boulder, CO. It is my perfect job because I run a company with products that I believe in, I live in a location that nourishes my soul and I have time for a personal life. What is so interesting about that statement is this—
I have worked for many companies where I did not care about the products;
I have lived in many locations that I hated;
I know what it is like to not have time for a personal life.
And there is nothing wrong with that. A career is all about choices.
Jane Knows was born out of the idea that the business world can be difficult to navigate and the choices can seem insurmountable. To be blunter, it can really suck. Politics, unwritten rules, mean people—it is all out there. But that is just the external stuff. What happens when you do things to sabotage yourself? Self-sabotage happens a lot and many times you don’t even know you are doing it…until it is too late! So after thirty years in business, making lots of mistakes and then rebounding, I decided it was time to help the next generation of leaders avoid the School of Hard Knocks. Let’s face it: life throws obstacles at us all the time, shouldn’t there be a way to know how to deal with the obstacles based on someone else’s experience?
But now you are asking yourself: why Jane? Why should I listen to her?
Because I care and I know.
First to the caring part. I care because I love to see people being successful. To be building a career that they are proud to say is theirs. Most of us get up every day and have to go to work. We have bills to pay and mouths to feed. We spend more waking hours at work than with our family. If you are going to be at work more than with your family, how can that work experience be as satisfying as possible? How can you be in control of that environment as much as possible? You might just have to trust me on the caring part.
Now to the knowing part. You won’t have to trust me here because I will share the facts with you. I was a President of a $1 billion division of Frito-Lay at age 36. I ran a division of Bestfoods (Oroweat and Brownberry Breads, Thomas English Muffins, Entenmann’s Cakes) that was over $800MM in sales. I was the President of Heinz in London and that was a $1.5 billion business. I was part of a team that got Hostess out of bankruptcy… the first time. For almost the last twenty years I have been the most senior woman at every company I worked for. So you can see that my resume has lots of prestigious jobs and titles.
But what you won’t read on my resume, but you can read in my upcoming book, Sleep Your Way to the Top, is that my career path has been a roller coaster. I have managed to make many poor choices along the way. Choices that I think make me uniquely qualified to advise you on how to AVOID the really stupid, self-inflicted stuff. Stuff like getting demoted and quitting a job without having a job. Here is the good news—you can rebound and excel. But why rebound? Why not just excel?
Welcome to Jane Knows.
BTW, Jane Cares was never an option. Too wimpy.
Contact Jane Knows
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