Did This CEO Hit the Sweet Spot?

Kraft Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld is scrambling to persuade shareholders that her company’s $17 billion bid to buy British candymaker Cadbury is good for both companies. Her pursuit has drawn poor reactions from both Cadbury’s shareholders and Kraft’s biggest shareholder, Warren Buffett.

I’ll tie this career-defining move to the CEO’s habitual Tilt-A-Whirl head movements (see the photo on the right from a different event) in a moment. First, let’s get your head straight on the essentials.

Rosenfeld is seeking to transform the world’s No. 2 food company into an even bigger global juggernaut – but some feel she hasn’t hit the sweet spot with this takeover attempt.

After Cadbury complained that her price was too low, she told investors that she planned to issue new stock to help pay for the purchase. Buffett, America’s most influential investor, responded with a public smackdown; a press release warning her not to sell stock or increase her price lest it destroy value for Kraft’s shareholders. Don’t spend too much, he urged, as he tried to rein her in. She has until January 19 to make her final offer. Kraft shareholders will vote February 1 on whether to issue more stock. Cadbury stockholders will vote on February 2.

Now, in an effort to convince shareholders and save the deal, the 56-year old CEO is trying to placate both groups. Kraft has posted a video on its corporate website of Rosenfeld being interviewed by a British woman.

Her message in this video is influential but unfortunately, a distracting body language habit trumps the brilliant woman’s point of view. It’s a case of the eyes trump the ears. People must buy into the messenger before they buy into the message. Rosenfeld comes across as a human Tilt-A-Whirl, constantly tilting her head from side-to-side as she speaks. Left-right-left-right-left-right. In addition, in an apparent attempt to appear warm and likable, the CEO plasters on a smile throughout the interview, even when it’s not warranted.

Here are two quick presentation/media coaching tips to help you prevent undermining your executive presence with nervous body signals:

  1. Avoid tilting your head. It looks coy and cute. It’s not a powerful professional move unless you happen to work on the Las Vegas Strip. If that’s not your line of business, keep your head on straight.
  2. Plastered-on smiles don’t cut it. Yes, you’ve heard many times that you should smile, and in most cases you should. But here’s the real truth about smiling: If your smile doesn’t come across as genuine, it can backfire on you. Make sure your smile is heartfelt.

People monitor you for the signals you send. Project a balance of likability and credibility to hit the sweet spot. Don’t let nervous energy undermine your credibility. To learn more about how your energy level is tied to your ability to influence others, read chapter 12 of my book, Talk Less, Say More.

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Globally recognized as the leading voice in leadership influence, Connie Dieken helps C-suite and senior executives use scientific insights to elevate their influence and presence.


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