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Amazon’s Carla Vernon Is Taking the Business World by Storm—And She’s Just Warming Up

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Vernon sat down with longtime Sports Illustrated Associate Editor Don Yaeger on our Corporate Competitor Podcast to discuss how competitive dancing shaped her professional trajectory.

As Amazon’s Vice President of Consumables—a $56 billion portfolio including grocery, household products, and beauty—Carla Vernon is the highest-ranking woman of color at one of the world’s largest corporations.

She has been honing her talents as a performer since she was a young girl, chosen to be the ballet partner of the famous Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet and somebody Vernon calls “the Jackie Robinson of classical dance.”

Today, she is the one breaking through barriers.

A dance protege and daughter of a microbiologist, Vernon took her talents to the American Academy of Ballet in Buffalo and then danced at Princeton, where she majored in ecology and evolutionary biology and continues to serve today as a one of that university’s Trustees. At Princeton, she developed “a lifelong passion for the environment,” which she applied in the corporate world as the president of General Mills Natural & Organic.

Vernon joined General Mills in 2008, leading business strategy for a $1.5 billion portfolio of snack brands including Nature Valley and Larabar. While in Snacks, Vernon continued her track record of business turnarounds and growth acceleration by driving unprecedented results on Larabar, quadrupling growth from +16% to +70% in six months. She also restored growth to the Nature Valley brand (the world’s top selling granola bar brand) resulting in the highest level of unit sales in the brand’s history.

Vernon says she is “fascinated by models of high performance teams,” particularly the high degree to which “unity and trust are resources” every bit as influential as money or technology in boosting organizational performance. In the Corporate Competitor Podcast, Vernon melds together her experiences as a dancer and corporate executive to elaborate on such practices as using corporate “warm-ups” to align individual and team strategy, goal-setting and execution, correcting errors on the fly by staying true to the training that got you where you are, and implementing strong cultural signifiers to build and preserve team unity through thick and thin.

The competitive dancer in Vernon never forgets the role confidence plays in the performance of individuals and teams alike, saying, “Remember that you are your own fiercest rival. We are the only thing holding us back, and we are the most important competitor we can compete against.”


• 11:00  The lessons she learned from partnering with the “Jackie Robinson” of ballet.

• 16:00  The “warm-up” exercise your corporate team should do at the beginning of a new season

• 36:30  How to carry yourself with confidence and not let your mistakes show.

• 41:00  Carla’s key factor in a strong team and how to implement it.

• 57:30  How to create synchronization, unity, and team alignment.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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