A 45-year-old turnaround artist who reinvigorated Kraft's Kool-Aid and Shake 'n Bake brands, Ms. Fudge now runs the company's $1.5 billion coffee business and acts as exec VP for Kraft.
Such a lofty corporate position is hard to attain for any executive, let alone an African-American woman. But Ms. Fudge's reputation is that of a highly capable, team-building manager with a passion for the business and a keen eye for ideas. She's also received commendations and honors from numerous organizations such as Ebony, Adelphi University and Advertising Women of New York.
Her people skills may have sprung from a short tenure in human resources at General Electric in 1973, which she joined directly after receiving her B.A. from Simmons College. After two years at GE, she enrolled in Harvard University's Graduate School of Business and then, in 1977, signed on at General Mills, where she began as marketing assistant-helping to introduce Honey Nut Cheerios. While there, Ms. Fudge shattered her first glass ceiling, becoming the company's first-ever female and first African-American marketing manager.
In 1986, she joined General Foods USA (later to be merged into Kraft) as associate director of strategic planning. A year later, she moved to marketing director of the beverage division before becoming VP-marketing and development for the dinners & enhancers division in 1989. Ms. Fudge became exec VP of General Foods USA and general manager of dinners & enhancers before moving to her current post in February 1994.
Ms. Fudge's first official acts at Maxwell House were to return promotional dollars to advertising and focus on brand heritage in a new campaign that revived the company's famous perking pot.
Ad spending in the first nine months of 1996 climbed to $54 million, from a mere $4.8 million in 1994, according to Competitive Media Reporting. As a result, the company's ground caffeinated coffee sales grew from $545 million for the year ended Dec. 1, 1994, to $655.1 million for the same period in 1995, according to Information Resources Inc.
Her work is cut out for her this year, as Maxwell House ground caffeinated coffee sales fell 10.4% to $595.6 million. But for Ms. Fudge, whose "Wacky Warehouse" campaign for Kool-Aid and "Why Fry?" effort for Shake 'n Bake changed those brands' fortunes, the challenge is well taken.
"If I ever work for a business that is not problematic, I don't know what I'd do," she told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last year.