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Top 10 30-Something 2017: Leilani Harbeck

Top Ten 30 Somethings
Recently we opened submissions for the Top 10 30-Something Awards for 2018. To inspire you to make a nomination, each Friday we’ll post a 2017 winner’s profile until submissions close on December 15, 2017. Click here to learn how to become one of ACC’s 2018 Top 10 30-Somethings.

Three years ago, Leilani Harbeck decided to go in-house. She liked the idea of being a strategic partner and seeing a project through from start to finish. When she joined ConAgra Foods, she found that opportunity. Less than 18 months after she joined, the company started a seismic shift — it moved toward divesting its private brands business, announced the spinoff of an approximately US$3 billion business unit, relocated its headquarters to Chicago from Omaha, and rebranded to Conagra Brands.

The transition, which also included an aggressive cost savings plan that involved a large-scale reduction in force, meant that Harbeck had to strategize with the business to find solutions. She led and managed a voluntary retirement offering, with no prior experience, by working closely with the human resources department. While that project was underway, she continued to provide legal advice on employment and labor concerns impacting the company’s then 30,000 plus employees.

It is an exciting time to work at Conagra Brands, Harbeck says. “We have a lot of iconic food brands that are part of our branded portfolio” — like Peter Pan peanut butter and Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn — “and we are looking at fresh opportunities to really modernize those brands and add emerging brands.” The move to Chicago aligned the business with other major consumer brand goods companies.

As part of the shift, Conagra Brands (then ConAgra Foods) spun off its major food-service portfolio of frozen potato products, offered as Lamb Weston, which primarily made frozen potato, sweet potato, and other vegetable products that were sold to restaurants. Harbeck helped that process by advising on labor and employment matters and reviewing the associated legal documents tied to the spinoff. She also had a major role in the company’s legal preparations for employee regulation changes that resulted from reforms to the US Fair Labor Standards Act. These projects, combined with the massive headquarter move, kept her extremely busy over the past year.

Conagra has more than 40 locations, including offices and production facilities, in the United States, as well as in different international locations. They are incredibly varied. “Throughout the United States, we have some unionized production facilities, some non-union, so a large part of my time is spent tracking how federal or state level changes will impact us and making sure we’re compliant,” Harbeck says. “It’s not like there’s a one-size-fits-all approach for us.”

Many of those plants concentrate on one particular food product. She has visited many of the plants. “By far the predominant and most important part of the visits are to help build relationships,” she explains. Once the relationship is established with the plant’s leadership and on-site support, she can work toward solutions.

Having the relationship helps when she delivers on-site trainings, something that she enjoys because she gets to interact with the employees who are helping to make the product. She shares the same sense of satisfaction when she sees the products head to market. Every time she sees someone enjoying a Conagra product, she feels like she’s done her job.

About the Author

Joshua Shields is the associate editor of the Association of Corporate Counsel.


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