Sneed, Paula A. 1947–
Paula A. Sneed 1947–
Company marketing executive
Paula A. Sneed joined corporate America when minority professionals were just gaining entry to its ranks. In her two-decade-plus career since, Sneed has risen to become one of the top marketing executives in the consumer foods industry in North America as senior vice president at Kraft Foods. When asked about the secret to her success by Chicago Tribune reporter Cynthia Hanson, Sneed—a onetime human services worker and current working mother—reflected, “I dream big and work hard… Obstacles only represent successes waiting to happen.”
Sneed was born in 1947 in Everett, Massachusetts. She earned a social science degree from Boston’s Simmons College in 1969, and spent the next few years moving through various human service jobs in that same city. These included working for an alcohol-rehabilitation program, developing programs and fund raising for youth, seniors, and families at the Roxbury Ecumenical Center, and heading Boston City Hospital’s Sickle Cell Center. Sneed believed she could develop her talents further and advance into a job with the state’s health and human services department; she dreamed of heading the agency by the time she turned 40. Realizing that astute management skills would be required for such a career path, she applied and was admitted to the prestigious Master’s in Business Administration program at Harvard University in 1975.
It was at Harvard that Sneed first became acquainted with the concept of brand management. “I remember we had a case study on a Dave Alpert, a fictitious General Foods product employee who wanted to develop a new pet food product,” Sneed recalled in a 1993 Black Enterprise interview. “I listened and thought, ‘Hey, I want that job. ’” Knowing that her Harvard degree would give her access to job interviews with some of the country’s top companies, Sneed made the switch and tested the waters with a summer internship at General Foods, one of the largest purveyors of packaged foods and makers of some of the country’s best-known brands.
Sneed was hired by General Foods, which later united with Kraft to become Kraft Foods Inc. as assistant product manager for Stove Top Stuffing in 1977. She spent a year and a half in the post, then was promoted to associate product manager for the division of the company responsible for “Shake ’N’ Bake” and similar
Born November 10, 1947, in Everett, MA;daughter of Thomas E. and F. Mary (Turner) Sneed;married Lawrence P. Bass, September 2, 1978; children: Courtney J. Bass. Education : Simmons Coll., B.A., 1969; Harvard Business School, M.B.A., 1977.
Career : Outreach Prog, for Problem Drinkers, educational supvr. and female coord., 1969-71; Ecumenical Center, Roxbury, MA, dir. of plans for Program Devt. and Evaluation, 1971-72; Boston Sickle Cell Ctr., Boston City Hosp., prog, coord., 1972-75; General Foods, began as summer intern, hired as asst. product mgr. for Stove Top Stuffing, 1977, became assoc. product mgr. for coating devt. and Oven Fry, 1979, became product mgr. for establish coatings and devt., 1980, became sr. proj. mgr. for Main Meals, 1982, became prod, group mgr. for Good Seasons Italian Dressing and New Product Devt., 1983, became category mgr. for dessert enhancers and ingredients, 1986, promoted for vp for consumer affairs and dir. of Consumer Ctr., 1987, became senior vp and vp of commercial and institutional food service div., 1990, became exec, vp of GF USA and general mgr. of desserts division in 1991, advanced to head of marketing services and senior vp, January 1995.
Awards: Named a Black Achiever by the Harlem (New York) YMCA, 1982; M.B.A. of the Year Award, Harvard Business School Black Alumni Org., 1987; Benevolent Heart Award, Graham-Winham, 1987; Honorary Doctor of Business Admin, honoris causa from Johnson and Wales Univ., 1991.
Member: Amer. Assn. of Univ. Women, Coalition of 100 Black Women, Natl. Assn. of Negro Business and Professional Women, Soc. of Consumer Affairs Professionals. Exec. Leadership Council, Inroads, Women’s Forum, Hercules Inc, dir., Westchester/Fairfield Inroads, board member, Howard Unv. Sch. of Business, board of visitors.
Addresses: Residence —158 Phelps Rd., Ridgewood, NJ 07450. Office —Kraft Foods, 3 Lakes Dr., Northfield, IL 60025.
products. She became a full-fledged product manager in 1980 and then senior project manger for Shake “N’ Bake and Oven Fry in 1982. The following year, she was promoted to Group Product Manager responsible for Good Seasons Italian Dressing and new product development in 1986, Sneed was promoted to category manager for dessert enhancers and ingredients. Her skills in this realm—managing market share and development for established brands such as Cool Whip and introducing new ones as well—led to her selection as the company’s new vice president for consumer affairs. During this stint, Sneed further demonstrated her executive skills by lowering the department’s operating costs.
In 1990 Sneed was promoted to president of the company’s commercial and institutional food service division, which sold Kraft and General Foods products to hospitals, schools, and the hotel and restaurant industry. Her challenge was to sell Kraft brands to away-from-home establishments. The following year Sneed was named one of Black Enterprise magazine’s “21 Women of Power and Influence,” and became an executive vice-president of KGFUSA and general manager of its combined desserts division. Returning once more to the world of Jell-O and Cool Whip—Sneed’s objective as to strengthen market share for certain products. Some of these decades-old brands faced competition from cheaper brands, and Sneed’s team sought to give the products “added value” through focused adversiting and promotion.
In early 1995 Sneed advanced to head of marketing services for the company, a post which required her to coordinate a herculean slate of product development, packaging design, advertising, media, marketing information, and promotion efforts for Kraft products. Some of these familiar consumer brands included Maxwell House coffee, Oscar Mayer meats, and Post cereals. In this top job, one of Sneed’s most important outreach efforts has been overseeing the development of the company’s Internet site, which can be visited for recipes, dietary information, and seasonal promotional efforts. The site receives over 90,000 visits per day from consumers, and also serves as an important market-research tool. Another important facet of her job is determining how the company’s products are used by various segments of the population—for instance, Sneed’s researchers determined that Latino households use more ingredients in recipes, so consumer information and product recipes for these markets reflect this variance.
Among her numerous civic accolades, Sneed has been named “M.B. A. of the Year” from the Harvard Business School Black Alumni Organization and again turned up on Black En terprise’s annual cover story on the nation’s most powerful African American executives in 1993 and 1997. She is a member of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, and sits on the Simmons (College) Leadership Council. Sneed credits what she calls a “mentoring mosaic” for providing her with a basis of inspiration and education—“I’ve learned a lot from secretaries and my own employees,” she told the Chicago Tribune’s Hanson. “When I was starting out, a guy in office operations helped me a great deal. He understood the company politics, and he gave me insights. It’s amazing how many people can give you help if you’re receptive to receiving it.”
Sneed’s employer is Kraft Foods, Inc., an operating unit of Philip Morris Companies Inc. Though headquartered at Kraft in suburban Chicago, Sneed still maintains her residence in New Jersey, which is also the home of husband Lawrence Bass, whom she married in 1978, and their daughter Courtney, born in the early 1980s. She credits her electrical-engineer husband for providing much of the support that has allowed her to advance so spectacularly in her career. “I say you can have it all,” she told Black Enterprise in 1991. “Just make sure you define what having it all means for you.”
Black Enterprise, August 1991, p. 84; February 1993, p. 128.
Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1995.
Sales & Marketing Management, December 1997, pp. 41-48.
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