Fortune 500 CEO, MIT Sloan alumna speaks about global growth and offers career advice to students

March 12, 2013


Ilene Gordon, SM ’76

A late winter snow and ice storm did not prevent students, faculty, and staff from gathering in Wong Auditorium last Thursday to hear MIT Sloan alumna Ilene Gordon, SM ’76, speak about her role as chairman, president, and CEO of Ingredion, Inc., a multi-billion dollar company manufacturing starches, sweeteners, and other food ingredients. Gordon, who has a both an undergraduate degree from MIT and a master’s degree from MIT Sloan, was the first speaker of the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series for the spring 2013 semester.

Gordon, who was named to Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list for 2012, joined the Illinois-based Ingredion, which was then Corn Products International, in 2009. She has since doubled the price of the company’s stock, working to improve and grow the company with a simple business model.

She started by re-branding and changing the organization’s name to Ingredion, to reflect the company’s international presence and its efforts to diversify. Gordon then looked to expand Ingredion’s market in the food, beverage, brewing, paper, and animal nutrition lines.

There was little direction, global coordination, or global expertise when Gordon first joined the company, she said. She quickly began to work with her team to develop a new strategy and a brand with just one voice.

“We needed an umbrella brand for our company. We laid out a strategic blueprint … we needed one voice,” Gordon said. “We put together a strategy to grow our company and to be one brand. I think back to when I was at Sloan, and I took a lot of courses on planning … operational planning and strategic planning. And to this day, it has really served me well.”

Gordon then began to grow the company, broadened the portfolio of ingredient offerings, and expanded globally. Ingredion acquired other companies, including National Starch, as part of these endeavors. She noted that everything she does is to increase shareholder value. Last year, Ingredion’s sales topped $6.5 billion and the company joined the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations.

“It’s important to look at trends as well. People want healthier food, people want low calorie, and people want convenience,” Gordon said, noting that low fat and gluten free are two trends Ingredion has addressed and now supplies such ingredients to food makers. “It’s about customer collaboration at all times.”

Lastly, Gordon offered several pieces of career advice to students in the audience.

“Get international work experience. Get it as early as you can in your career. Get out your comfort zone and grow,” she said.

She also advised that students find a mentor. And noted that it is important to treat people well, wherever you are. Gordon also said that students should get on-the-ground experience once they are with their companies and suggested that factory tours and meeting people throughout the company were the best ways to do this.

Gordon closed her talk with these pieces of advice, “Respect cultural diversity. It’s all about appreciating people’s differences. It’s about diverse opinions. Seek a balanced life. It’s all about choices and how you spend your time.”