Crisscrossing the country to watch and learn

August 3, 2009
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One benefit of being a youngest child is to watch and learn from older brothers and sisters. Candace Matthews, chief marketing officer for Amway, had the opportunity to learn a lot from her siblings.

"I'm the youngest of 18," Mathews said. "My mother just had an uncanny way of nurturing children." Matthews' father was a minister; together, she said, "they raised this family on prayer and education."

Matthews often accompanied her siblings on college visits, where she learned about educational choices. Watching and learning from her siblings took her from basketball to piano to being a great Scrabble player.

"It was all this learning and exposing my mind to compete and stay up with them that really showed me that there was a lot out there. I believe the only difference between those who truly can succeed and those who don't is that somebody exposed them to what they could become."

Matthews grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania and graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a degree in metallurgical engineering.

"I wanted to be a musical theater major, but I didn't have the talent, so I had to settle for engineering," she said. "I thought I was going to run a steel mill. That was my goal. I entered college in 1977, and by the time I finished in 1981, many of the steel mills had shut down and moved overseas."

After graduating, Matthews was accepted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California to work on an MBA. She deferred her acceptance for two years in order to gain working experience and began taking classes at Stanford in 1983.

"That's where I was exposed to marketing and brand management and said, 'That's what I want to do,'" said Matthews. "It was great to combine my analytical skills and the interpersonal skills. Engineering — you didn't get to use your interpersonal skills as much as I wanted to, and brand management offered me the ability to combine that along with being creative."

After a year at Stanford, she traveled to New York City for a summer internship with American Express in brand management.

"That was the heyday of investment banking and consulting — Wall Street. Many of my classmates were doing one of those two things, and I wanted to see what that was like," said Matthews. "I got to attend many of the investment banking functions where they try to expose you to investment banking, and I realized this is not what I want to do."

Name: Candace Mathews
Company: Amway
Position: Chief Marketing Officer
Age: 50
Birthplace: New Brighton, Pa.
Residence: Ada
Family/Personal: Husband, Bruce, and three children
Community/Business Involvement: West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology. Biggest Career Break: Creating the "fridge pack" for Coca-Cola.
The overwhelming amount of work at Stanford, she said, taught her to rely on teammates for help. The school also broadened her experience.

"It was eye-opening because it was my first real exposure to students around the globe. It was also my first real exposure to children of executives," she said. "It was an extremely healthy learning environment and a beautiful place to go to school."

During her final year at Stanford, a General Mills marketing director paid her a visit.

"Her name's Ann Fudge and she is African-American, and she came out to Stanford to recruit me," said Matthews. "She said, 'I will teach you everything you need to succeed and the only thing I ask is that, in turn, you do that for somebody else.' And so I got a mentor the day I walked into my first job."

Matthews joined General Mills in 1985 and moved to Minneapolis. Fudge soon moved on and eventually became one of the highest ranking African-American women in corporate America. "Back then she was just a director grooming a young person coming in, and no one knew 25 years ago that she would become what she did — nor I," said Matthews. "It was a wonderful connection to have right away."

At General Mills, Matthews worked on a number of brand projects, including putting Michael Jordan on the Wheaties box. After three years, Matthews too moved on.

"I moved to Baltimore to what was, at that time, a private company called Noxell making Noxzema and CoverGirl, and while I was there, they were acquired by Proctor & Gamble," she said.

"That's where I got my first taste of beauty marketing. As they would tell me, 'We sell hope in a jar' and learning how important the imagery and the emotional side of marketing is."

Mathews worked on developing CoverGirl's first set of products for women of color.

"It was hard getting blue-eyed, blonde-haired CoverGirl, who had very few brunette models, to go the next step. I spent five years there and just loved beauty, but I started thinking, 'OK, I guess I have to start thinking about a personal life.'"

In 1993, Matthews moved to Atlanta, where she met her husband, Bruce. She took time to assess her career.

"I had an opportunity to sit back and say, 'You're 10 years into your career; what do you need?'" she said. "I realized I had very limited global exposure and very limited true strategic planning work. I had spent the entire 10 years in marketing and brand management."

To address some of those needs, Matthews took a job in 1995 with CIBA Vision, the eye care division of health-care solutions provider Novartis AG.

"The CIBA role had me traveling the world, speaking to eye professionals that were on the cutting edge of what they were doing." She coordinated with teams around the world to understand the future of eye care, building her skill set in strategic planning.

As she was coming up on her three-year mark at CIBA Vision, Coca-Cola was just starting a new program called General Managers Talent Initiative.

"They were sourcing talent to … groom them for their leadership roles," she said. "They were looking for people with classical marketing training and global exposure. I was looking to get back into something that was consumer marketing."

It was a perfect match, and when Matthews received a recruiting call from Coca-Cola, she took it and was able to stay in Atlanta. After a year of grooming, she earned an executive position running the new product and package innovation group. It was in this role that Mathews experienced what she referred to as her biggest career break.

"The claim to fame is that we developed the fridge pack," she said.

The new fridge pack, which changed a 12-pack of cans from a three-by-four can configuration to a slimmer, longer two-by-six, was not an easy sell to bottlers. Assembly lines had to be reconfigured, which meant spending a lot of money.

"If you want (bottlers) to invest the capital to do that, there's got to be a payout in the end," said Matthews. "We had to do a lot of research to show that by putting these things in something that sits in your refrigerator, stays cold and is at your disposal, it will actually have more usage — people will drink it faster. And that's what we did, and now you can see the whole world has changed. Those little things in marketing are fun to have."

In 2001, she was recruited to run a division of L'Oréal in New York City.

"I remember when I was leaving business school that I wanted to be a division president by the time I was 50, and I was 42 and this opportunity was coming to my lap," she said.

She became president of L'Oréal's SoftSheen-Carson division, which specializes in ethnic hair care.

"Totally running a division is different than running a function. You really learn all the aspects that are driving your business and how they impact the profitability of your business," she said. "That's made me a really financially astute business woman. I would say that those six years took my financial acumen about running a business to a whole new level."

At the end of 2007, Matthews was recruited for the position she currently holds at Amway. "I said, 'Amway? How big are they and what's going on?' They said, 'You really just need to come and see it.' It's private, so I wasn't aware of the global nature or how much it had grown," said Matthews. "The first day here I interviewed with eight people, and I was impressed with how big the company was, the company culture — the beliefs that the founders create throughout this company.

"You could just feel the goodness-to-the-core of the people. It comes through. Having been in New York, when you come here, you immediately feel it — the contrast is so great."

On the East Coast, the demands of her career on her family were a strain. Just commuting back and forth from New York City to her home in Connecticut took three hours each day. The family values presented by Amway were a draw, and "as we talked about the opportunity, the more intriguing it became."

Matthews moved to Ada with her husband, three children and their horses. "I'm learning how to horseback ride. As a Michigander, I feel I'm a bit obligated to do that," she said.

The family spends a lot of time outdoors. She is involved in her kids' lives, whether it's baking, helping them in school, or playing duets on the piano. The children have all been adopted and the family has fostered many other children. Matthews' husband, Bruce, is a stay-at-home dad, after a successful career as a mechanical engineer. Coming from a big family, Mathews loves having kids around.

"We always have somebody else's kids around. I think innately there's a bit of my mother in me, so I think I have to have a houseful of kids all the time," she said.

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