Feeding America CEO Babineaux-Fontenot shares her insights for success, leadership

“Quitters Never Win and Winners Never Quit” is a slogan that appears in many locker rooms across America. The saying also sums up Claire Babineaux-Fontenot’s view of the mentality of people who are successful even in the face of adversity.

For them, failure is not an option.

“The common trait that people have who are wildly successful is that they expect to win,” said Babineaux-Fontenot, who since 2018 has been CEO of hunger relief organization Feeding America.

“For me, I’ve got parents who invested so much in me to get to do things they never even imagined,” said the Louisiana-born granddaughter of sharecroppers. “I needed to be a manifestation of their investment.” The reasons differ for why successful people refuse to fail, she said. “But people who win expect to win. And if you expect to win, you usually do.”

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Babineaux-Fontenot shared her thoughts on success, leadership and purpose in the April episode of the 21st Century Business Forum, a webcast that features monthly one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s most prominent business minds and thought leaders.

Before joining Feeding America, Babineaux-Fontenot held key leadership roles for nearly 13 years at Walmart, where she rose to the position of executive vice president and global treasurer. It didn’t take long in her tenure at the retail giant to begin developing her leadership style.

Shortly after Babineaux-Fontenot was hired for a managerial role in Walmart’s tax department, its employee ranks grew exponentially, and she realized she couldn’t rely on her skills alone to accomplish the department’s objectives.

“It was at Walmart that I learned that I needed to build diverse teams, that I needed to find people who were different than I was, that I needed to leverage those differences,” she said.

It was also at Walmart where she was introduced to the concept of servant leadership.

Babineaux-Fontenot said she had held “a hierarchical view of leadership,” where her team was there to serve her and she was at the top of the pyramid.

“At Walmart, I realized that the pyramid had to be inverted, and that servant leadership is about me in service to them” so that they together could accomplish the purposes of the company, she said.

At non-profit Feeding America, Babineaux-Fontenot’s purpose is clear—to connect the nearly 40 million Americans who face hunger with the food they need to thrive. But even in the for-profit realm, it is important for leaders and their teams to know their purpose, which Babineaux-Fontenot said can be “galvanizing.”

For example, Babineaux-Fontenot said members of her tax team at Walmart sometimes struggled with how their work mattered. She would outline the guiding principle for their work, which was to help Walmart save money and be more efficient. That “every day, low cost” internal principle made possible Walmart’s mantra of “Every Day Low Prices” for consumers.

“And ‘Every Day Low Prices’ changed lives,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. She said people in rural America where Walmart started gained access to products they wouldn’t have had otherwise and got jobs they wouldn’t have had without the company.

The Business Forum continues in May with television cooking personality Emeril Lagasse. It airs on May 11 at 1 p.m. Register to view the webcast here.