Michael Foods CEO Advises Planning for the Unplanned

By Dave Hendrick

Michael Foods President and CEO Jim Dwyer’s (MBA ’82) resume paints a picture of a steady progression to the C-suite, with each new position at leading consumer goods firms bringing new roles and responsibilities.

The “unedited” career path, however, would show the detours along the climb, with the occasional poor corporate fit leading to premature exits and personal reassessments, Dwyer told University of Virginia Darden School of Business students at a recent Leadership Speaker Series event.

"What really matters is to do what you discover you like to do and try to learn at every stop along the way."
Jim Dwyer

“It’s not how I planned it, but what happens may not be in your control,” Dwyer said. “What really matters is to do what you discover you like to do and try to learn at every stop along the way.”

Along his way, whether working as the marketing lead for Kraft’s Tombstone Pizza brand or running sales at Tropicana as that company merged with Quaker Oats or briefly running his own consulting firm, Dwyer said he took away key lessons, including:

  • Culture matters more than work content, and culture can change, for better and worse.
  • You’re going to fail. What’s important is that you get up and keep moving.
  • Assume everyone has good intentions and that things will work out, because they usually do.
  • Doing what you love is more important than money.

As president and CEO of Michael Foods since 2009, Dwyer and his team have helped grow the food company into a more than $2 billion business through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. The expansion of the Minneapolis-based company reinforced the part of his career he has enjoyed the most, namely, that it’s “damn fun to grow business.”

Dwyer said he continued to use the skills he picked up as a Darden student more than three decades ago, when he first began to use the “power of analysis” to understand and evaluate a business without being in it. He also absorbed lessons from the courses then-known as “Analysis and Communications,” notably the value of concise communications and the importance of listening twice as much as you talk.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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