Refashioning the Familiar - Page 4 of 6
Magazine Women

Refashioning the Familiar

Growing up in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, Matthews wanted to follow the path of most of the town and work at the local steel mill. She, however, intended to manage the operation. That aspiration led her to earn a degree in metallurgical engineering and administrative and management science from Carnegie Mellon University. The youngest of 18 children, this minister’s daughter was raised in a strict but loving household where trying to keep up with older siblings inspired a competitive streak. An avid math and science student, she became adept at solving problems and, as such, adopted cracking Sudoku codes as her favorite pastime.

Upon completion of her M.B.A. from Stanford University in 1986, the then 27-year-old Matthews was recruited by corporate star Ann Fudge to work at cereal maker General Mills. At the time, Fudge, now retired, was a director of marketing who earned the distinction of becoming one of the most powerful African American female executives in corporate America. The young professional gained an influential mentor.

As Matthews began her marketing career at General Mills, she followed Fudge’s guidance when it came to maneuvering politically charged corporate environments. “I had to learn how to operate in corporate America as an African American,” Matthews recalls, “because you face things in which you would be appalled. But you’ve got to learn how to handle them so you can constructively take it to the next level.”

Matthews’ mentorship, marketing skills, and empathy, a trait she inherited from her late mother, established leadership qualities that enabled her to ascend to top positions at the world’s most powerful corporations.

Although not especially tech-savvy, Matthews constantly relies on technology to power her marketing agenda. She’s enlisted the aid of tech guru Mike Edwards, director of digital and consumer experience marketing, who outfits her with the latest gadgetry– today it’s her iPhone–and crafts her digital strategy. Edwards asserts, “She is an advocate for the digital space and stays up to speed with the information. As long as we have the measurement to put in place, she’s pretty good about letting us go out and play.”  His team recently launched a viral philanthropic program in nine languages called the One by One campaign for children; it uses social and global networks to carry the message of Amway’s Nutralite brands. And he’s preparing to release a fully integrated iPhone application that will enable distributors to offer full presentations with graphics and videos and allow consumers to complete purchases.