Pop quiz: What is the motto for the Sara Lee Bakery?
1. Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee!
2. Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee!
If you chose number two, you are absolutely wrong. Despite the egregious double negative, number one is in fact the company's motto. At least you're not alone - the vast majority of people wrongly interpret the motto.
In 1949 Charles Lubin introduced a cheesecake named after his daughter, and the name "Sara Lee" quickly became synonymous with yummy frozen desserts. Two years later, an entity named the Consolidated Food Company acquired Lubin's Chicago bakery, retained Lubin, and established the Sara Lee name as an enemy of dieters everywhere. Although best known for its trademark baked goods, Sara Lee's $20 billion business is divided into five lines of Sara Lee Foods, Coffee and Tea, Household and Body Care, Foodservice, and Branded Apparel. With headquarters in Chicago, the Sara Lee Corporation has branded products in more than 140 nations. As for Sara Lee herself, the company reports she is both a grandmother and a computer enthusiast.
Keeping abreast of the situation
Sara Lee's brands include some of the best known in America: Ball Park, Jimmy Dean, Brylcreem, Champion, L'eggs, Hanes, Endust, Playtex, Spaulding, among others. The company is the nation's leader in frozen baked goods, packaged meats, gloves, hosiery, intimate apparel, and shoe polish. One of Sara Lee's most uplifting products is surely the Wonderbra, which has boosted breasts, earnings, and egos everywhere. As for global products, the company's Kiwi brand leads the pack. With a 30 percent share of the world market, it is the undisputed leader in shoecare. Kiwi is found in 122 countries. Currently, Sara Lee enjoys profitable growth in Europe, where it is the second leading retail coffee company; it is also a supplier for Burger King.
Michael Jordan has been company spokesperson for both Hanes underwear and Ball Park hot dogs. His national television campaign for Ball Park Singles was first aired in September 1998. Jordan isn't the only celebrity who has joined Sara Lee's list of fame. He has shared the limelight with such stars as Tina Turner, Joe Montana, Jimmy Dean, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Sara Lee goes on a diet
In September 1997, Sara Lee announced it would be shedding its manufacturing facilities to focus on product development and brand. The change forced Sara Lee to shed around 10,000 jobs worldwide, and reduced the company to a "virtual brand" that outsources its production to generic manufacturers. Sara Lee intends to use the income generated from the sale of its manufacturing arm, as well as the estimated $3 billion to be generated from cost-savings, to re-acquire its stock in the open market.
A new look for a new day
In 1998, hoping to emphasize its brand appeal, Sara Lee decided to use its familiar red cursive logo on the majority of its products. Once seen exclusively on Sara Lee bakery products, the logo now appears on Sara Lee deli meats, pot pies, and prepared meals. Nevertheless, the logo isn't likely to appear on hats or handbags. "I don't see the likelihood we'll take it out of the food category," a company official declared. Sara Lee may, however, enter into the retail coffee industry. "Given how horrible retail coffee is here," said the chairman and chief executive officer in a 1998 address, a major entrance into the coffee circuit is "not entirely out of the question."
In 1998, Sara Lee sold its highly profitable - but until that point, virtually invisible - tobacco unit. The carcinogenic brand, Douwe Egberts Van Nelle Tobacco, turned a comely profit of $110 million in fiscal year 1998. Nevertheless, Sara Lee decided to sell it off to Britain's second largest cigarette company, Imperial Tobacco Group PLC. There are several theories behind Sara Lee's decision - the most popular one being that the tobacco 'biz has become too taboo for Sara Lee's squeaky clean reputation. In other news, Sara Lee announced in early 1999 that it planned to expand its branded apparel manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico. With an investment of approximately $45 million over the next three years, the company will add $2,000 high-tech jobs at its manufacturing operations there.
Stripping down to the skivvies
The restructuring has not stopped there. After 25 years as CEO, John H. Bryan steps down to be replaced by C. Steven McMillan in July 2000. McMillan will head a series of sales and acquisitions with the intention of scaling the company down to underwear, foods, and household goods. This means cutting out its food services and fashion and retail sectors; already Sara Lee is looking to sell Coach, the maker of leather accessories, PYA/Monarch, its food service operation, and the Champion athletic business. Also on the market is the recently acquired U.K. apparel manufacturer and marketer Courtlands Textiles. These sales are expected to raise $2.5 billion for strategic growth in the company's three concentrated areas. Sara Lee has already purchased Brazil's largest coffee producer, Uniao, as well as Argentina's manufacturer of intimate apparel and men's underwear, Sol y Oro. In sore need of beefing up the company's meat business after numerous breakouts of Listeria, which caused at least 15 deaths, were linked to its Bil Mar Foods plant in Michigan, Sara Lee has acquired a minority stake in Johnsonville Foods Inc. The company hopes to eventually buy the rest of the popular bratwurst producer.
The Sara Lee Corporation, say insiders, tends to ask "run of the mill, why do you want to work here questions." Luckily, the company has "the foresight to take people in from outside Sara Lee to introduce new points-of-view," so employees don't "feel calcified." "Be prepared to move anywhere," as Sarah Lee is a major diversified corporation with locations "all over the world."
Sara Lee accepts resumes by mail and keeps them on file for one year. Some job openings are listed on the company's web site at www.saralee.com/careers/index.html with online applications. When sending a resume directly to the company's headquarters, be specific about the position you are seeking. Sara Lee also conducts some on-campus recruiting. If an offer is made, negotiate your salary from the start. "I learned the hard way," one financially impaired insider complained.
In the past Sara Lee has been a "fairly conservative, quality driven, and traditionally managed" corporate entity, says one forthcoming insider. But since Sara Lee is in the process of "transitioning from a vertically-integrated manufacturing company to a marketing entity," the firm is entering "a major period of flux." This evolution has led to "high turnover," and the perception of a "lack of continuity." Another informant confides: "Because we are a publicly traded company there is more of a short term focus than most of us would like."
Baseball and apple pie
Disgruntled employees say "this is a 'real American company' in the sense that you have no security for life." Make no mistake: Sara Lee is a company "where money is the most important thing" and where "there seems to be an aversion to long-term research." Despite shedding multiple divisions and focusing on developing new brands, some people think the changes have been purely financial, and that the company "is not really working towards the future."
Always in school
Sara Lee "values training, particularly in computers," and contacts boast that the company is "a good five years ahead of the competition in technology." While some employees feel that the company's environment may be too "highly structured" (and "flattened with layers of management"), they also say that they receive more corporate support than those in similar positions elsewhere. Leadership styles will vary because "each company is largely autonomous and takes on the culture of the leader." Thus, while hours average around 50 to 80 a week, dress is "how the boss dresses." Some sources complain that Sara Lee has "too many chiefs with their own agendas." The result is "a lack of focus on the real objectives."
An issue of responsibility
Management turnover is high and employees note that "any manager that lasts more than two years has the ability to distance himself from company problems." One uneasy insider notes: "No one takes responsibility." Several insiders also note that promotions at Sara Lee sometimes go to the least qualified applicants - "to get them away from the production end." The company asks employees to "adjust quickly to changes," but employees complain that Sara Lee is "slow to recognize the needs of its employees and to implement policies to that effect." Looks like somebody "doesn't like Sarah Lee!"
Baked goods;Coffee and tea;Packaged meats;Intimate apparel;Household and body care;Branded apparel
More Company Profiles
For more career information, go to Vault.com
©2000, Vault.com Inc