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Ann M. Fudge: brewing success; the newest chief executive at General Foods USA is on a mission: to persuade young coffee drinkers to add the Maxwell House brand to their grocery lists.

Last spring, Ann Fudge spent her first days as president of Maxwell House scouring Seattle's specialty coffee shops, interrogating shop owners and tasting java.

It was all part of her homework. Charged with capturing a new market and increasing both market share and sales for the century-old coffee company, the newest chief executive at General Foods USA (the parent company for Maxwell House Coffee Co. in White Plains, N.Y.) may be chugging down lots of her own product to keep sharp.

Embracing the newest coffee craze, Fudge's 10-person team will "utilize terrific advertising, maintain a broad presence and keep Maxwell House contemporary," says Fudge.

Right now, Maxwell House is wrestling with Procter & Gamble's coffee leader, Folgers. Latest surveys show Folgers snatching 27.6% of the coffee market while Maxwell House is a close second with 24.6%.

To make the leap, Fudge must oversee Maxwell House's three coffee processing plants in Jacksonville, Fla., Houston and San Leandro, Calif., along with 2,400 employees. To ensure that Maxwell House maintains the highest quality, Fudge even checks in on the team of workers who select the coffee beans.

Attention to detail and dynamic leadership underscores why it took Fudge only eight years to join the top brass at the $9.8 billion Kraft General Foods firm. Fudge is modest about her appointment, citing her experience "resuscitating older brands," and her ascension chant: patience, perseverance and persistence.

But ask her boss, Robert S. Morrison, president of General Foods USA, and he'll commend Fudge's performance: "As a business leader, Ann combines a very forcefiil personality with a great sensitivity to people. She relies heavily on a team approach to achieving business goals. Ann has positively affected every area she's been in [at General Foods]."

Fudge served as an executive vice president for the $7 billion General Foods USA, the largest operating unit of Kraft General Foods, and as general manager of the KGF's Dinners and Enhancers (D&E) division. In 1991, BE labeled her a "Woman of Power and Influence." Last year, Fudge was promoted to vice president of the $600 million D&E division, ranking her one of BE's "Power 40" cast of black executives.

At the D&E division, Fudge was responsible for overseeing the manufacturing, promotion and sales of such brands as Minute Rice and Stove Top Stuffing Mix. Under Fudge's leadership, the division reached double digit growth in an already tight market.

A master at predicting the needs of her market, the 43-year-old Harvard M.B.A. explains that her key to being a good leader always hinged on giving the team basic direction and letting them run with the ball.

It works.

When health consciousness captivated Americans, Fudge's team developed the "Why Fry?" slogan for Shake N' Bake. When cost sensitivity reared its thrifty head, her team kept consumers loyal by offering special promotions and coupons. Of course, the slick ads didn't hurt.

Using tried-and-true methods, the Maxwell House team's next challenge is to convince generation X - those in their late teens and 20s - to trade in hot chocolate for cappuccino.

"Not surprisingly, she's made a fast start in getting her arms around the very big and very complex Maxwell House coffee business" raves Morrison.

The plan? Besides keeping GF's coffee staples, such as Maxwell House, Sanka and Brim in consumers' cupboards, a tight-lipped Fudge hints at working on increasing the distribution of General Foods International Coffees such as topseller French Vanilla and the iced cappuccino beverage Cappio. Why? Fudge's $1.5 billion food service division is competing with more than her grocery-shelf mates.

Starbucks Coffee Company, the Seattle-based instigator of the espressohouse craze, is the largest coffee retailer in North America. Each week, Starbucks serves over 1.5 million coffee drinkers in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. Starbucks president Howard Schultz takes responsibility for "rekindling America's love affair with coffee."

That's fine with Fudge. The "romance" is helping her latch onto her newest market: younger coffee drinkers who are lured by espresso-house ambiance. And why Coffees purchased in specialty shops are quite expensive, often reaching $21 a pound. By exploiting the low price and convenience of Maxwell House coffees in supermarkets, Fudge plans to persuade younger coffee drinkers to add Maxwell House coffees to their grocery lists. But this plan will cost her.

General Foods USA, a division of Philip Morris Companies, spent $49.9 million advertising its coffees in 1992. Fudge's competitor, P&G, shelled out $71.1 million. One of this president's first steps may be dipping into her multimillion dollar budget to catch up.

According to Ted R. Lingle, executive director of Specialty Coffee Association of America, keeping up with coffee houses will be a tall task because Maxwell House tried to enter this market before and failed.

Why? "General Foods did not give enough credence to consumers' ability to tell the difference between fresh and stale coffee. The marketing strategies did not have enough finesse. And [General Foods] does so much by committee," says Lingle.

But that was then. Fudge is now.

"Ann wears nice kid gloves that mask an iron fist," says Mannie L. Jackson, a senior vice president at Minneapolis-based Honeywell Inc. Over the last seven years, the two have worked together on several community service boards and committees. He says Fudge's experience will crack any bureaucratic challenges that arise. "She's eminently qualified and a terrific leader," Jackson adds.

Serving as vice president of the Executive Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization of black senior-level managers and directors; and on two corporate boards, AlliedSignal Inc. and Liz Claiborne Inc., Fudge stresses her desire to utilize these positions to increase the number of minorities in the executive ranks. Fudge says that corporations are finally hiring people based on their qualifications, and that "black women are seeping through the pipeline."

What's next at Maxwell House? Strategies remain hush-hush. Suggestions are rampant. And even Lingle admits that despite former pitfalls, Fudge should be able to bring the needed "finesse" to keep Maxwell House a contender in the coffee wars.

Fudge herself is not worried about the doubters. "Previous assignments prove I can do it. And I will."
COPYRIGHT 1994 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Reynolds, Rhonda
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 1, 1994
Words:1025
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