CHICAGO – Sally Grimes’ career has evolved from successfully marketing and innovating macaroni, markers and now meat products. This past year, her career culminated when she was appointed to the executive leadership team at Tyson Foods Inc. by President and CEO Donnie Smith as part of the 2014 acquisition of The Hillshire Brands Company. As president and chief global growth officer, she oversees insights, innovation, R&D, retail sales, marketing services and international strategy with the goal of growing the company’s consumer and foodservice brands.
Tyson Foods not only acquired legacy brands that included Ball Park, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Aidells and recently acquired Golden Island gourmet jerky, but the people behind those brands. The corporate courtship to recruit Grimes and several other Hillshire Brands execs was led by Smith.
“As excited as I am about our new brands, I’m equally excited about the combined talent of the two companies,” said Smith last August.
“We all had the opportunity to connect with Tyson leadership during the acquisition,” says Grimes, adding that her decision to join the Tyson team was fueled by Chairman John Tyson’s inspiring vision for the company and Smith’s proven commitment to servant leadership. “Donnie is such an authentic, genuine leader,” she says.
Grimes, 44, didn’t begin her career in marketing, but rather in the banking industry after earning a finance degree from Valparaiso Univ. She went on to earn a master’s degree in business from the Univ. of Chicago, “fully intending to stay on the finance route,” she says, but discovered brand management along the way and a light went on. “This was an opportunity to bring the art and science of business together.” At that time her goal was to run her own business or brand with the resources of a big company backing her. This led Grimes from the Univ. of Chicago to a brand management position at Kraft Foods. While working up through the ranks at Kraft for 10-plus years, she learned many of the skills and gained knowledge she applies every day in her current role at Tyson. Her first brand assignment at the diverse company was on its iconic Macaroni and Cheese product line.
“Then I got a call to go global,” Grimes says, referring to the job offer to lead the marketing team at Newell Rubbermaid’s writing business, which included the Sharpie product line. “How fun was that,” she laughs. Under Grimes, Sharpie was rebranded from a permanent marker most associated with professional athletes signing autographs, to what she calls “an advocate of self-expression,” and took the marketing effort global, targeting Europe and Brazil.
After more than five years at Newell Rubbermaid, Grimes realized what she learned marketing markers could apply to meat, a leap she never considered until receiving a phone call from Sean Connolly, then CEO of Hillshire Brands Company, in 2012. Grimes remembers Connolly saying, “‘Hey, we’re starting a $4 billion start-up. Do you want to be a part of the team?’” She had breakfast with him a few days later and after hearing his plan and vision for the “new” company, Grimes realized, “How many times in your career do you get to be a part of a $4 billion start-up?” Her decision was swift. “Literally within days I said, ‘I am in,’” says Grimes, who considered it a privilege to work with Connolly and the leadership team he assembled.
Read more about Grimes and her role with Tyson Foods in an exclusive cover story that will be published in the June issue of MEAT+POULTRY, available online and in print next month.