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Former Pepperidge Farm CEO is living her dream life on Bird Key

Irene Chang-Britt, the former CEO of Pepperidge Farm, shares her tales of success — and why retiring on Bird Key is the sweetest part.

Irene Chang-Britt’s story is one of personal growth and reinvention.
Irene Chang-Britt’s story is one of personal growth and reinvention.
Photo by Nancy Guth
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Irene Chang-Britt’s story is a tale of personal growth and reinvention. She’s a highly accomplished former Fortune 500 C-suite executive, with a long track record of transforming businesses to achieve industry-leading growth.  

Chang-Britt’s resume includes serving as president and CEO of Pepperidge Farm and leadership positions with Kraft Foods/Nabisco and the Campbell Soup Co. While at Campbell’s, Chang-Britt, 60, ran the non-soup division and grew the 75-year-old brand by 30% annually. 

But let’s get back to Chang-Britt’s backstory.

After her freshman year at the University of Toronto, she and her older brother, Howard, were both unemployed that summer. The siblings were competitive cyclists and investigated opening a high-end bike shop. The concept looked lucrative and, with hardly any capital, they launched the shop. Their concept worked. By the end of three years, they had a million-dollar grossing business. During that time, Chang-Britt earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology — but her grades had suffered along the way. She knew her GPA alone wouldn’t get her into the prestigious Richard Ivey School of Business in Ontario, Canada, so she included the startup’s profit and loss statement with her application. Needless to say, the “Harvard of Canada” accepted Chang-Britt and she graduated with honors.

Her next feat was climbing the corporate ladder as a wife and mother of two. Chang-Britt specialized in corporate turnarounds — which meant long hours and unpredictable, 24/7 demands. Thanks to a supportive husband and a helpful mother, Chang-Britt didn’t put her career on pause. Since then, she’s made it her mission to help other women do the same. Twelve years ago, she and a few other powerful female colleagues launched Women in America, a professional development and mentoring program whose goal is to enable promising female executives to fulfill their highest potential. 

Eight years ago, Chang-Britt and her husband Tony decided to retire and move to Florida and are now living their dream life on Bird Key. Well, “retirement” might not be entirely accurate. Thanks to her game-changing perspectives on corporate governance, Chang-Britt is in high demand. She currently serves on the boards of several national companies, including Brighthouse Financial and Victoria’s Secret. Chang-Britt is also a sought-after speaker on the best practices of corporate governance.

Chang-Britt recently sat down with Key Life to discuss everything from bad bosses to Tai Chi. Here’s some of her pearls of wisdom.

Irene Chang-Britt loves exploring the region’s rich arts and cultural offerings.
Photo by Nancy Guth

An anthropology degree lets me think laterally, which is very interesting. I didn’t grow up in business. 

My mom grew up thrust into poverty by the war. She said, “The woman on the street with her little kids begging is no better or worse than the guy being chauffeured around. They just have different circumstances.” 

I had a fairly horrible boss once. He knew the daycare opened at 7, so he started the team meetings at 6:45 a.m. I said the way I’m going to get through this is to shield my team from him. I thought of myself as an umbrella. We did a fabulous turnaround, and no one was demoralized on my team. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and she grew up well adjusted, despite the emotional strain from the abuse from that boss.

Corporate people often say, "What are you talking about?" "Why can’t you be 'normal?'" I’ve been lucky enough to have some fabulous sponsors and mentors over my life who let me be “abnormal,” thinking differently than everyone else, which has allowed me to achieve the business turnarounds that I have done.

When you use humor, perspective and a little bit of humanness, you get to a deeper truth.

Success is building something that matters to others. That transcends business and is also part of giving back.

When choosing a board, I start with a skills matrix. Then, I want the Rooney Rule like in the NFL. I want a diverse slate. I want male, female, people of color; I want to see them all. 

Tai Chi helps me ground myself and live in the present moment versus what’s the next thing.

My husband gave up his career for me and the kids, and we’re better for it. He would take none of their whining and complaining when they were little. I would’ve been a pile of mush and given them everything. 

The fun fact I read about Sarasota was that per capita, we spend second only to New York on the arts. When we got here and saw there was opera and ballet and the Van Wezel and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and The Ringling, we were thrilled.

We live on one of the canals. It’s amazing to put the kayaks into the water and go paddling through the mangroves whenever we feel like it.



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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