Ken Powell
ken powell general mills
Company: General Mills
Fortune 500 rank: 169

A native Californian, Powell joined General Mills in 1979 as a marketing assistant on its granola account. Among his many roles since: president of the company's yogurt and cereal lines, Yoplait USA and Big G (Cheerios, Chex and Kix are among its brands). But the turning point for Powell came when he was sent to Europe to help launch Cereal Partners Worldwide, a joint venture with Nestle that now distributes cereal to 140 countries. The experience gave Powell insight into international business as well as the workings of another company. In 1999, when he was made CPW CEO, Powell assumed the reins to a global cereal company at 45.

By the time Powell was elected CEO of General Mills in 2007, he really knew the company—the organization, its people, products, customers and culture. That was critical, but so was his time in Europe and his insistence on having a team with diverse backgrounds: "The downside [to being a lifer] is you have blind spots because you've always done it this way. The question becomes 'what really needs to be changed?' when you've been embedded in it so long."

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated May 06 2013 11:34 AM ET
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