NABISCO RECRUITS LENNY TO BOOST BRANDS' GROWTH: PILLSBURY, KRAFT VETERAN TAKES ON CHALLENGE OF BOLSTERING SNACKWELL'S

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While at Diagio's Pillsbury unit, Richard Lenny kept a copy of "The Little Engine That Could" on his desk.

Such inspiration may be sorely needed in his new post as president of the $3.55 billion Nabisco Biscuit Co., where his challenge will be to eke even more growth out of stalwart brands such as Oreo and Chips Ahoy! while trying to stem the sales slide of what was formerly Nabisco's growth engine, SnackWell's.

Nabisco Holdings executives weren't available for comment, including Mr. Lenny. But in the company's most recent earnings report, James Kilts -- the company's president-CEO who took over in January -- singled out the biscuit division as a weak point. "Yearend trends also were disappointing as the sales improvement anticipated for [the] biscuit [division] did not materialize."

ORGANIZATIONAL WOES

Part of Nabisco's disappointment with the division -- whose sales fell 4% for 1997 -- was directly attributable to Nabisco Biscuit's inability to successfully reorganize its sales force, an effort begun more than a year ago.

That's where Mr. Lenny, who has a strong sales background, comes in. Prior to his two-year stint as president of Pillsbury North America, where he worked until January, Mr. Lenny spent 18 years at Kraft Foods -- also Mr. Kilts' alma mater -- many of those years in sales.

During his time at Kraft, Mr. Lenny, 46, held positions including senior VP-sales and customer service; senior VP-marketing; VP-marketing and sales, Kraft International; and VP-trade marketing.

Former colleagues describe him as a "hard-charger," "workaholic" and, even, "control freak."

At Pillsbury, he was best known for turning around the company's $1 billion refrigerated dough business. Through sales and marketing initiatives, he managed to lift sales year-round for the business, which normally only sees big spikes in the fourth quarter.

SHAKING THINGS UP

He's also not afraid of shaking up the status quo. Coming in as president of Pillsbury in 1995, he shifted the marketing thinking from promoting individual brands to attempting a cross-branding approach aimed at building the portfolio as a whole. The move was controversial within the company.

Portfolio-building is what's needed within SnackWell's, a $150 million line that once broke new ground but now has lost its meaning as a sea of new, healthy snacks are crowding shelves from competitors.

Older brands have fared better, including Oreo, which has been posting encouraging volume gains behind initiatives such as seasonal-color Oreo's and an 85th birthday celebration for the brand.

REUNION WITH FCB

In his new post, Mr. Lenny will be reunited with Foote, Cone & Belding; the agency's New York office handles Nabisco's cookie business and its Chicago shop works with Kraft. McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, handles Nabisco crackers.

So don't necessarily expect an agency shakeup from Mr. Lenny.

"We had the Haagen-Dazs business about a year before he took over at Pillsbury," said Brett Shevack, president-CEO of Partners & Shevack. "He gave us every chance to prove ourselves, and we did." Mr. Shevack describes Mr. Lenny as "a really smart marketer with a passion for the creative product."

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