Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'I'm living my dream' says Fortune 500 CEO Ilene Gordon

From Poppy Harlow, CNN
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilene Gordon is one of only 21 women running Fortune 500 companies
  • She grew and diversified the firm after controversy over high-fructose corn syrup
  • Gordon entered manufacturing to be a "pioneer" among women

Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

(CNN) -- Since she was a college student, Ilene Gordon dreamed of running a Fortune 500 company.

She finally achieved that goal last year when her company Ingredion exceeded sales of $6 billion for the first time, making her one of only 21 women to run a company in the coveted Fortune 500 list.

"Over a 35 year career, I got there," said Gordon, chief executive, chairman and president of Ingredion. "When we became a Fortune 500 company a year ago when our sales hit over six billion, I have to say that was my dream, it was very satisfying to fulfil that dream."

In the four years since Gordon joined Ingredion -- which makes food additives such as starches and corn syrup - its share price has gone from $25 to $60.

"We're a very global company with over 11,000 people," she said. "So really my job entails not only running the company from our Chicago base but really getting out into the field and to our 40 different factories. "

I've built on my whole career to be ready for a position like this.
Ilene Gordon

"It's a 24/7 job. I love it, and I've built on my whole career to be ready for a position like this."

Read: Best-selling female authors with male pseudonyms

Her achievement is even more remarkable given the company has faced a public backlash over one of its staple products, high-fructose corn syrup, which many people blame for rising obesity.

When Gordon joined the company -- then called Corn Products -- in 2009, she quickly diversified into other products, acquired National Starch and changed its name to Ingredion to reflect its new focus.

"We really diversified and actually only 14% of our sales globally are focused on high fructose for the soft drink industry," said Gordon.

"It is a perception problem and high fructose and sugar are really the same dynamics," said Gordon. "Consumers really want healthy food, and so it became clear that to grow the company why not grow with this trend of people looking for health and nutrition type ingredients.

"So we've made acquisitions, and we've diversified away from that and really have grown the company with modified starches that really provide a very healthy ingredient."

Gordon, born in 1953, studied math at MIT in the 1970s, originally intending to be a high school math teacher.

Read: Lessons from a self-made billionaire

It is a perception problem and high fructose and sugar are really the same dynamics
Ilene Gordon

"Instead I met these incredible women that were going to be lawyers, doctors, and PhDs in nutrition and science," she said. "It really influenced me to say 'Wait a minute. I can do more than teach.' which was a traditional field. And that's when I decided to go into business."

Gordon earned a Masters degree in business and decided to go into manufacturing because there were so few women, and she felt it was an opportunity to be a "pioneer".

This eventually led to her first CEO role, heading up Alcun Packaging, a division of Rio Tinto.

"They wanted me to move to Paris and make a decision in 48 hours. My family was in Chicago, and I didn't know quite how we would make it happen. But it was a great opportunity to be a global CEO of a six and half billion dollar company, and I said 'I'll take it, and I'll figure it out."

Gordon has never been afraid of standing out.

At school, she complained to her principal about being forced to take sewing and cooking classes with the girls, and instead took shop lessons with the boys.

Later, at MIT, she was outnumbered by more than 10 to one by men.

"I've always pushed ahead and been a pioneer in everything that I've done," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
CNN set out on a hunt to find the women who excelled in their professions this year and we found some of the most inspiring women of 2014.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Jane Fraser is often cited as one of the most powerful women in banking. She tells CNN's Poppy Harlow how women lead differently.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Women's-only private members clubs are becoming more popular, offering spaces to work, socialize and relax, albeit with hefty membership fees.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
A new social network for women claims to be 'troll-proof' and was created by Karen Cahn, former Google, YouTube, Aol executive.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
She's the daughter of a Beatle and counts Kate Moss among her friends, but she had to create her own mark in the fashion world.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Alli Webb always loved having her hair done, so she decided to bring that happy feeling to millions of women worldwide with her business, Drybar.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
NASA's chief scientist Dr Ellen Stofan wants to land humans on Mars by 2035, but there are some serious challenges to overcome before then.
November 4, 2014 -- Updated 1041 GMT (1841 HKT)
The Design Museum hosts a power dressing exhibition, from Joan of Arc's short tunics, to Joan Collins' eye-gouging shoulder pads.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1520 GMT (2320 HKT)
Opinion piece from architect Zaha Hadid on growing up in a very different Iraq, to close Leading Women's month of STEM coverage.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Leading Women ran an iReport assignment which resulted in some amazing images of girls in STEM from our readers.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1108 GMT (1908 HKT)
Robots can be many things -- knowledgeable, dexterous, strong. But can they ever be genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious?
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1830 GMT (0230 HKT)
Victoria Beckham has come a long way from Posh Spice. She has now been named Britain's top entrepreneur, by magazine Management Today.
ADVERTISEMENT