Mini Case Innovation at International Foods2 2 Smith, H. A., and J. D. McKeen. “Innovation at International Foods.” #1-L09-1-002, Queen’s
School of Business, December 2009. Reproduced by permission of Queen’s University, School
of Business, Kingston, Ontario.
Josh Novak gazed up at the gleaming glass-and-chrome skyscraper as he stepped out of the cab. “Wow!” he thought to himself. “I’ve hit the big time now.” The International Foods Group (IFG) Tower was a Chicago landmark as well as part of the company’s logo, which appeared on the packages of almost every type of food one could imagine—breakfast cereals, soft drinks, frozen pizza, cheese, and snack foods, to name just a few. Walking into the tower’s marble lobby, Josh could see displays of the company’s packaging from its earliest days, when its dairy products were delivered by horse and wagon, right up to the modern global entity it had become.
After signing in with security, Josh was whisked away to the 37th floor by an efficient attendant who walked him down a long hall of cubicles to a corner office overlooking Lake Michigan. On the way, Josh passed display photos of the company’s founder, old Jonas Wilton looking patriarchal, and several of the family scions, who had grown the company into a major national brand before the IPO in the 1980s had made IFG a public company. Josh, having “Googled” the company’s history last night in response to this summons, knew that IFG was now the largest purveyor of food products the world had ever known. While many decried the globalization of the food business, IFG kept right on growing, gobbling up dozens of companies each year— some because IFG wanted to stomp on its competition and others because it wanted their good ideas.
Josh’s own small company, Glow-Foods, a relative newcomer in the business, was fortunately one of the latter, but Josh was a little puzzled about this command performance. After all, he himself wasn’t anyone important. The owners of the company all received multiple millions and were sticking around—as per contract—during the transition. The next level, including Josh’s boss, had mostly jumped ship as soon as the “merger” was announced. “This isn’t my thing,” drawled Nate Greenly over beer one night at the local pub. “Corporate America isn’t going to let us stay as we are, no matter what they say. Get out while you can,” he advised. But Josh, with a freshly minted MBA in his pocket, thought differently. And so here he was, walking into the CIO’s office hundreds of miles away from the cramped loft in Toronto where Glow-Foods was headquartered.
As the office door swung open, two people dressed in “power suits” turned to meet him. “Uh oh, I’m not in Kansas anymore,” thought Josh as he mentally reviewed his outfit of neatly pressed khakis and golf shirt, which was a big step up from his usual attire of jeans and a T-shirt. A tall man with silver hair stepped forward with his hand held out. “You must be Josh,” he boomed. “Welcome. I’m John Ahern, and this is my associate, Tonya James, manager of IT marketing. Thanks for coming today. Please, have a seat.” Josh complied, slinging his backpack over the corner of the leather chair while taking in the rich furnishings of the office and the panoramic view. After a bit of chitchat about the