CIO Spotlight: Lesley Salmon, Kellogg Company

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “Be confident in yourself because your company believes in you. And finally, to lead people is a privilege and if you do it with empathy, you will see the rewards.”

Headshot of Lesley Salmon, Senior VP & CIO at Kellogg Company
Kellogg Company

Name: Lesley Salmon

Company: Kellogg Company

Job title: Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: February 2019

Location: United Kingdom

Lesley Salmon was appointed to Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Kellogg Company, in February 2019. Salmon joined Kellogg in 2014 and served as the European CIO, with geographic coverage of all European countries, plus Russia, Egypt, and UAE. She had regional accountability for Information Technology, Global Business Services and the European Enterprise PMO. Prior to Kellogg, Salmon had more than two decades of experience in the Consumer-Packaged Goods industry. Throughout her career, she has been a passionate leader and ally in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I). She believes in creating a culture and teams where everyone feels they belong; amplifying her voice to support the advancement of women in technology. This year, Salmon also proudly takes on the role of Executive Sponsor of the K Pride and Allies Business Employee Resource Group (BERG) which advocates for equality for LGBTQ+ communities around the world.

What was your first job? I landed my first job right out of school; it was a finance clerical role.

My favourite part of the job was processing checks from Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace – apparently, she is partial to a chocolate digestive!

Did you always want to work in IT? I soon realised I wanted a career and not a job and found my path into the IT world, with a Director who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to join the company’s graduate program.

I studied Computer Studies at school and as well as enjoying it, I was really good at it – so when an opportunity for a role in the IT function came up, I jumped at the chance.  My first interview for a job in IT, was also the first time I experienced discrimination due to my gender – when I was informed that ‘even the men’ found the shifts very difficult.  That was it – from that moment I was determined to prove that females could be successful in IT – and anything else they choose to do!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I “grew up” in the IT industry, learning on the job, so not a traditional education background. Everything I bring to the boardroom table I have learned, gained, or experienced while working at the job. As part of the Executive learning program in Kellogg, I had the opportunity to complete a Harvard Business Development Program.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I have been working in IT for 30 years. Early on I realised my passion for people and business and I knew I could make a difference, elevate more women working in STEM fields. I love my career and pinch myself every day because I feel like I’ve won the lottery of life because - it never feels like work to me.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the fastest-growing data-driven technologies being used all around the world, transforming every industry and every function in business. Legacy companies and start-ups alike must adapt AI and machine learning if they want to be a competitive force and drive sustainable growth.

That said, anyone who has ever worked for a large organisation knows that information silos are a challenging fact of doing business. Our biggest priorities, beyond keeping us up to date and safe, are breaking down those silos and partnering with the business to understand and prioritise which data is most important and how we can work together to turn those insights in to growth opportunities for the business.  

To achieve this, we’ve begun to host quarterly Internal Data Summits in partnership with our commercial colleagues to maximise supply chain efficiency, create better and more efficient experiences for consumers and build better service and relationships with our customers. Specifically, we’re focused on creating:

  • Automated & optimised search for e-commerce;
  • Better execution at point of sale with customers;
  • Increased efficiency and accuracy in joint business planning and forecasting;
  • Increased agility and accuracy in supply chain planning;
  • Improved assortment, reduced out of stocks, increased sales;
  • Optimised experiences across multiple phases of the customer journey;
  • And personalised and targeted content to consumers.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, technology and the IT function has come to the forefront, kept operations running and our colleagues running the business from their kitchen tables. As we return to a more normal operating environment, our CEO is focused on our journey to power digital innovation that drives our commercial growth agenda.

To do so, my team and I are continuing to….

  • Help various functions realise the benefits of AI and machine learning, prioritise which data is most valuable, how to turn insights into actions.
  • Test, learn and recalibrate. Being a data driven company is a continuous journey, not a destination. I believe it’s critically important to test and learn and work out loud as that’s how IT will continue to drive better business outcomes.
  • Advocate for ED&I, women in IT, ensuring that the Kellogg IT team has diverse representation and inclusive culture with a place at the keyboard for everyone. This is all aligned with our broader ESG strategy.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? My team and I are responsible for the end-to-end technology for the 33,000 employees to the millions of global consumers and partners engaging with our brands. As Global CIO, I report directly to our CEO and manage our regional CIOs to determine regional specific IT needs, yet still drive a mantra around us being one team, ensuring we collaborate and squash silos.

From a global standpoint the core responsibilities are focused around three key pillars – operational, tactical and strategic. This includes Cyber Security, Integrated Delivery & Sustainment, Data & Analytics and bringing our Global Business Relationship Managers together with a real customer centric focus. Ultimately, our time is split in half – one half focused on keeping us safe and up to date and the other half focused on driving business priorities.

To answer your question around “should my role have additional responsibilities,” while it’s not obviously stated in my job description, partnering with the business to unlock growth is paramount. When the entire organisation realises that a partnership with IT helps to drive their KPIs we all win.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I think it is safe to say that I have been leading a digital transformation throughout my career in an ever-evolving landscape. As a 116-year-old legacy company, the investments in capabilities like AI and machine learning are key to driving sustainable growth in the next century, and fortunately our executive committee agrees and continues to make investments in tech enabled capabilities.   

From a global standpoint the core responsibilities are focused around three key pillars – operational, tactical and strategic, so rather balance on two parts those are our core focus areas.  This includes Cyber Security, Integrated Delivery & Sustainment, Data & Analytics and bringing our Global Business Relationship Managers together with a real customer centric focus. Ultimately, our time is split in half – one half focused on keeping us safe and up to date and the other half focused on driving business priorities.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Traditionally, IT has been seen as a cost centre, with savings initiatives being the primary focus.  We have been working hard to change the mindset by categorising initiatives into 2 buckets

  • Enterprise Risk Management (reduce technical debt/upgrades/cyber etc) – these projects are critical and are the cost of doing business.
  • Business value driving (e-com solutions/AI powered forecasting/RGM tools etc) – these are the projects which truly drive value for the business, and are very much a partnership between the various functional leaders.

This brings a new level of transparency and ownership into how we invest in technology.  A culture focused on value is a new muscle for us, and we’re working hard to build this across our function.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? In Kellogg IT, we are always learning. New data and insights shape our work, challenging projects stretch us, and diverse opinions help us see things from another perspective. In response to what our teams are telling us through our listening surveys, we are investing in their skills for now and for the future. We support life-long learning, and we are creating a function where personal development is valued and encouraged, a place where colleagues are supported to flourish in their career and are ready to take the next step, when the time is right.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The pandemic has turned the job market upside-down, in tech and almost every other sector. Technology is probably one of the most ‘pandemic-proof’ sectors as we work to solve many of the post-pandemic problems. There is definitely growth in key areas like AI/Machine leaning and Data & Analytics which means increased competition for talent in those disciplines.

What's the best career advice you ever received? People matter most so treat them with the care and respect you would treat a family member. People are a big part of a career in technology and creating a diverse and inclusive culture is a key ingredient in a recipe for success. We believe there is a place at the keyboard for everyone.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Absolutely. I believe in hiring people that are better than you are in certain tasks, that you can learn from, and that you’d be happy to work for. I have ongoing conversations within our leadership team that the next Global CIO is currently sitting on our team, is invested in the strategy we’ve all helped create. The worst thing for any organisation is to start from scratch, so we’ve invested the time to ensure our leadership team is championing the same strategy. When it comes to succession, it’s an easy solve for another leader to pick up the baton and carry the strategy forth, the company and all its team members wins.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Understand how you want to show up as a leader, what outcomes you want achieve and what your personal brand is. Be confident in yourself because your company believes in you. And finally, to lead people is a privilege and if you do it with empathy, you will see the rewards.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I’m a business leader and happen to be a technology specialist as well. Ultimately, I’m on the hook for creating maximum value for the Kellogg Company by marrying our IT goals with our business strategy to drive impactful business outcomes, but much of that is focused on growing the talents of your team.

When I came into the Global CIO role, my number one task was creating our “One Team” mantra, ensuring we were all operating from the same roadmap. I began by consolidating our vendors and partners globally, created a global set of guiding principles for our team and rallied my team around the Kellogg Vision and Purpose – creating better days and a place at the table for everyone through our trusted food brands. Our consolidation efforts saw an annual $12M in savings, and also allowed us to keep high quality people we were able to invest more time in.

This past year we launched a growth development program – YODA (Year of Development, Always). YODA’s vision is to venture to new horizons by cultivating our childhood curiosity to learn and grow and its mission is to give everyone a #YODAMOMENT. We created a number of tracks in the program for technical training, career strategies, and virtual programs around how to best use the company’s vast set of data and analytics to break down silos. We recently hosted our first YODA Growth Festival which included 10 training sessions built around the topics we knew mattered most to the team, and we had more than half of my IT team join each of the sessions live – the Teams chat was on fire! Followed by hundreds of visits to our YODA SharePoint site and 100+ downloads of our career mapping tool.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I don’t really believe in looking back – I live by this quote:

Every day you reinvent yourself.

You’re always in motion.

But you decide every day: 

forward or backward

James Altucher

What are you reading now? I’m currently reading a book titled Unfear about transforming organisations and creating a learning culture of engaged employees. An especially important topic following the pandemic when my global team mates all experienced some form of fear and anxiety. The book gives strategies on how to reframe those feelings in the workplace, I’ve used many of the learnings in my leadership and in programs like YODA.

Most people don't know that I… am terrified of flying.

In my spare time, I like to…walk on the beach, read, and spend time with my family.

Ask me to do anything but… eat prawns 😊.