Article By: Neal St. Anthony , Star Tribune Updated: May 2, 2015 – 7:20 PM
Marc Belton grew up in New York City. After graduation from Dartmouth College and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Belton took a job at General Mills in 1983, expecting to get a couple of years experience before returning east. He stayed for 32 years, rising through a variety of marketing, operating and management posts. He retired in April as executive vice president of global strategy, growth and marketing innovation. He was one of the top-ranked black corporate executives in the United States. At age 56 (on May 6), he is ready for his second career.
Q: Your parents were working-class folks who moved to New York City from the South. Did they have expectations for you?
A: They pushed me and my sister. It was about education and working hard. My dad was a New York City Police Department motorcycle cop, until he was injured in an accident, hit a fire hydrant doing 30 miles an hour. And then he was a private investigator for an insurance company. They wanted a good education for us. They expected my sister and I to work hard and succeed in school. I remember when my sister was in college at Harvard, I was in high school and playing too much ball and out at the nightclubs playing music until 3 a.m. My sister was concerned that I was not being prepared and fully challenged. My parents really put the thumb on me. They got results. I ended up getting into Dartmouth.
Q: What did you learn at General Mills?
A: The great thing is that you are constantly challenged to grow and you get to work with so many talented people. My favorite jobs were the ones that really stretched me … while allowing me to work with world-class people. I loved starting the snacks division, as its first president. I also enjoyed creating the new ventures division. While there, we led the acquisition of Small Planet Foods, which has become the cornerstone of our natural/organic growth portfolio. My last assignment as EVP of strategy, growth and new business also was a favorite because I was at the hub, setting strategic direction in the most challenging industry dynamic in the last quarter century. I also had the privilege of doing this with the best leadership team in the business. It can’t get much better than that.
Q: Why did you decide to retire at this point?
A: At some point you realize that it is time. Time to explore new things and challenges and time for the company to move in new directions. If you haven’t made your impact after 32 years, something is wrong. I mean, I thought I would be here for two years and be gone. But it worked out. For me the concept of retirement is a bit outdated. I am actually not “tired” at all. It is, however, time for me to look at the next decade, to refresh and to reframe things around my core interests, motivations and gifts. Things couldn’t be more exciting.
Q: You sound like a grateful man.
A: I have been afforded the privilege to make the choices I want. I’m smart enough to recognize that I have been blessed. I did the work. But I didn’t just get here on my own. I was helped and mentored by others. I’m grateful for all that has happened.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I am still in the refinement process, but I do have some ideas and interests that I believe best fit who I am and my gifts. I am hoping to create a mosaic of activities. The core construct centers upon expertise, service and things that feed the soul. I am starting a small consulting firm called Wisefellows Consulting. Our focus will be advisory services in marketing, strategy and new business development. Our target is small and emerging new businesses. I plan to do some governance work on corporate and small advisory boards as well. With respect to service, I will serve on the national board of the Salvation Army and I will be the chair of the Guthrie Theater board in 2015. I would also like to serve in Africa, but that has not yet come into focus. I am going to nourish my soul by spending more time with my wife, Alicia, and kids. I am even going to coach Little League Baseball this year. I am also going to reconnect with a true passion of mine, music. I’m starting to study piano at MacPhail school.
Q: How are you called to serve in Africa or otherwise?
A: I’ve always wanted to serve. I have done some of that. And now I have more time. I’m part of an organization called OneVillage Partners, a nonprofit designed to support charitable organizations that focuses on rural villages in Sierra Leone. My wife and I also build schools in Sierra Leone. I’ve been there. I’ve seen kids really trying hard to learn with their teacher in [dilapidated] buildings with holes in the roof. I couldn’t stop weeping. We support education and teaching people “how to fish.” It’s just good people trying to get it done.
Q: What is your philanthropic motivation?
A: I love doing this kind of thing. I want to do more with my family and feed my soul [with volunteer work]. I am motivated by expressing my Christian faith in relevant ways and in all facets of life. Each day I try to do one simple thing: love God and love others through the various gifts and talents I have been given.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144