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Conant: What Derails Most CEOs Is the ‘Soft Stuff’

Douglas Conant samples some of the Campbell's reduced sodium soups during an in house tasting in 2006.
Douglas Conant samples some of the Campbell's reduced sodium soups during an in house tasting in 2006.Photograph by Mel Evans/AP Photo

When Douglas Conant became chief executive in 2001, Campbell Soup was in trouble. Over the next decade, Conant reinvigorated both the corporate culture and the company’s iconic soups. Now the former CEO and author of Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments is getting ready for a new role: As head of the new Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University’s management school, he’ll help prepare executives for the challenges of leadership in the 21st century.

Conant, 62, spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek about the changing set of demands on CEOs, women in leadership roles, and the return of A.G. Lafley to Proctor & Gamble. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.