Hugs, Handshakes and Betty Crocker

General Mills's logo.

Image via Wikipedia

General Mills Friends

Betty Crocker logo used until 2003
Image via Wikipedia

This time of year reunions are rampant. The events might be traditional high school and college milestone gatherings such as the “10 year” or the “25 year.” Or, they may be family centered activities accompanying a wedding or graduation. This weekend I attended one inspired solely by the passage of time.

The reunion was a gathering of people who had worked at General Mills Inc. in Marketing during the 1980s and 1990s. Technically speaking we were General Mills alumni. The face of General Mills Inc. (GMI) known to the public is the iconic American cook and household adviser, Betty Crocker. Betty was well into middle age long before Rachel Ray was born. GMI also has American favorites Cheerios, Hamburger Helper, Yoplait and the Pillsbury Dough Boy in its stable.

You may wonder why 200 former work colleagues would fly from all corners of the U.S. for a weekend in Minneapolis just to see each other. It can be summed up in one word: friendship.

None of the attendees had ever experienced an alumni gathering of this kind, but the greeting of old colleagues was met with wide smiles and more hugs than handshakes, despite the formality of the corporate setting. There was genuine happiness as we eagerly sought our former office buddies with rounds of “Can’t believe how good it is to see you.” And, there were many personal thanks given to each other for mentoring, friendship and encouragement offered years ago.

The official company mantra during my tenure at GMI was Speed, Innovation and Commitment.  In retrospect, the motto sounds like a tag line at the end of a commercial for the armed forces. In trying to recall these words I came up with a new trio to describe my time at the “Mills”:  Humility, Trust and Collaboration. There was always someone smart to turn to for advice (Humility). I knew my colleagues would work hard and deliver results in an ethical manner (Trust). Completing projects with a team was more efficient and rewarding than going solo (Collaboration). I wish I had utilized these tenants better in the early years of my career. They were the foundation for a great work environment and friendship.

Mills hired us all fresh out of MBA programs around the country. We were attracted to the training and the Minneapolis Midwestern environment known as “Minnesota Nice.” We worked long hours, but we bonded and made lasting friendships that went beyond “industry networking.”

I truly appreciated the work ethic and values of my colleagues and personal integrity remains a distinct cultural hallmark of GMI. The high level of trust we had in each other removed one of the major stressors that many work situations dish up on a daily basis.

I was also always grateful for the help of friends that extended beyond the job. Minneapolis was 2,000 miles away from my family, so when I was pregnant with my first child my friends were my support system. Anne provided me with the definitive list of what is needed to stock a nursery. Sarah gave me a list of questions for interviewing a babysitter or nanny. Vivian offered her full analysis of day care centers she had checked out in the Twin Cities.

After the formal reunion program ended I continued on to lunch with a group of girlfriends from GMI days (pictured above). Our current job descriptions post GMI range from promoting Georgia – the country, not the state—to large corporate roles, to small entrepreneurial ventures, to non-profit foundations to stay-at-home mom. Yet, the connection to each other transcended time, geography and profession.

In our blog Linda and I often talk about the importance of taking time for friendships in the course of daily life, and this includes work. During lunch time women are often the ones to eat lunch at their desk or run errands – a necessary reality of lives that are pressed for time. But, the cultivation of friendships within work can be critical to not only our careers, but also our well-being.

Good friends are vital in any setting.  Friends help lighten the load of solving work problems and can end up being our greatest source of personal support, too. Business lessons are learned, but friendships must be earned. Relationships take time to nurture and need to be a priority in the daily grind. So, my take away and advice I would give to my younger self is:

1. Develop a Wide Network of Friends. Run fewer errands and take more time for lunch with friends. You will have more support for work and personal endeavors.

2. Take Advantage of the Resources Around You. Use colleagues as sounding boards for business problem solving; they may offer insights that you haven’t considered. They are only a few steps away.

3. Cultivate Relationships Outside Your Immediate Work Circle – Exchange ideas often and freely, you never know when you can change the course of someone’s life or they can change yours.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

May 2, 2011

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