Mr. Conant is a leader in the new "cross-functional team" approach at Nabisco, and he says that's behind much of the company's vaunted success.
"The approach came out of adversity, not unusual in corporate America," Mr. Conant says. "We had a challenging 1992, and we needed to step back and reassess."
Nabisco, which had flat sales that year, created its team approach with a major focus on new products as the key to turning things around. All departments, from marketing to operations to technology, work closely to introduce items and reshape core brands.
The results: an 11% increase in sales for 1993, to $3 billion, and 1.3 share points gained, giving Nabisco 46% of the cookie/cracker market. In the last 24 months, 20% of all sales have come from new products, he says.
"I see my most important work as creating an environment where winning teams can thrive," Mr. Conant says.
As part of that effort, Mr. Conant, a prodigious reader, keeps a shelf in his office of books to give away. Many of the 30 to 40 titles he gives out each month are inspirational biographies; Theodore Roosevelt is a favorite subject.
A professional tennis player in the early 1970s, Mr. Conant has always admired a valiant effort more than winning or losing.
"We aspire to do great things here-building business, yes. But also helping to build people."