Oct. 09--When it comes to keynote speakers, the International Economic Development Council's choice of Denise Morrison on Tuesday was inspired.
Few Fortune 500 CEOs are as qualified to speak about bolstering a business' backyard as Morrison, who is two years into a tour of duty as head of Campbell Soup Co.
As Campbell's CEO, she has remained committed to keeping the retail food giant squarely in the corner of its struggling hometown.
"I believe in the future of Camden," she told a packed IEDC conference at the Philadelphia Marriott, "and so does Campbell."
Morrison balanced Campbell's achievements under her watch -- improved profitability at home and growth overseas -- with the company's investment in improving Camden's sagging fortunes.
"In our role in the revitalization of Camden," she said, "we are applying the same principles we apply to our business: Think big, think bold, and focus on the consumer."
Bold, the company has done.
Anchored in a city increasingly mired in poverty and crime, Campbell weighed its options about seven years ago and considered, for a time, pulling up stakes.
Instead, the company dug in.
Since 2007, Campbell has invested $132 million in Camden, revitalizing the company's campus while building an 80,000-square-foot employee center.
"Barbed wire and chain-link fences that once ringed our offices have been supplanted by green space," Morrison said. "When we first began discussing this project, we were solely focused on our expansion, but we have since challenged ourselves and our partners to think bigger."
"Bigger" is Campbell developing a 15-acre office park adjacent to the company's 50-acre campus, "to attract other companies to Camden and increase the city's tax base," Morrison told attendees of the three-day conference.
The company's motives are not completely altruistic, she acknowledged. A revitalized Camden would make it easier for Campbell to attract and retain the best and the brightest in the food industry, she said.
"I believe in making a profit and making a difference," she said in an interview after speaking.
Making a difference has included leading a citywide effort to reduce childhood hunger and obesity and funding other community activities through grants from the Campbell Soup Foundation.
But it is Campbell's commitment to the community as a business leader that might have the biggest impact, particularly in partnership with the city's other stakeholders.
"We are not doing this by ourselves," Morrison emphasized. "We have a collaboration with Cooper University Hospital, Rutgers University, the city, and the State of New Jersey. We don't bear 100 percent of the burden of fixing Camden, but we contribute our fair share.
"We believe that, over time, this is something that can be done. And is worth it."