Inspired by Linda’s 30-year career, Melissa (IT Partner Productivity Management Senior Specialist and Champion for Women in Tech at Nestlé) highlights the journey of her mentor’s experience learning, growing and making a difference in technology at Nestlé.
A dynamic 30-year career at a company is something to be proud of—what has kept you at Nestlé all these years?
Interestingly, I was training much of my life to be a professional dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. I was also simultaneously in school pursuing a degree in Political Science at the University of Toronto—business became my reality over dance. At the time, I worked on a team that was part of Nestlé’s acquisition of the ice cream business in Canada setting up a new call center, hiring a new team, and supporting the design of the network infrastructure and integration of existing technology into the Nestlé landscape. This work first introduced me to IT and helped me learn the industry from the ground up. Having great managers who challenged me, supported learning, and believed in my potential were an enormous part of this being my way forward.
With Nestlé, I’ve lived and worked in Canada, Australia, Japan and now the U.S. in a variety of different positions and functions—roles in Project and Process Management, Business Relationship Management, Digital Transformation and Business Solutions Management. Being in a global organization with products in every single aisle of the grocery store, factory operations in 84 countries, sales in 187 countries and an enormous ecosystem of people, technology and innovation, you just don’t run out of opportunities here.
Honestly, I never imagined my career this way. Dance and political science don’t usually lead to information technology. The right blend of exciting job opportunities, great mentorship, and my individual drive to be flexible, grow and develop over these last few decades have given me every reason to keep on this path I began 30 years ago.
We all have challenges when emerging into our careers and growing them. Does anything stand out to you that’s worth sharing?
In general, just making my way into the field of IT when coming from the business side of things was an interesting challenge. It’s not easy learning from scratch in a professional environment, but Nestlé makes it possible and even encourages it. Many people within our IT organization have technical backgrounds of some sort, and there are others of us from elsewhere in the business who are given the support to learn IT along the way—that’s the beauty of the challenge.
Without a doubt, there are more women in technology today than when I launched my IT career years ago—naturally, that comes with its own set of learnings. I am very grateful to be part of an IT organization with so many other women leading the way, including those in our Women in Tech Employee Resource Group. Together, we’re working to help make break throughs for other women in their tech careers within Nestlé and our communities.
What advice would you share with other women in technology or for those making their way into this space?
Earlier in my career with Nestlé, I was the only female within a team of 10. My male colleagues always treated me as an equal peer, and I took some specific actions to make sure that would be the case with others across the business I worked with as well, especially when traveling globally on the job—these actions I would recommend anyone to consider:
Take the time to understand the culture you’re going to, who you will engage with, and how best to interact with them ("Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands" is a book suggested to me several years ago that I still have in my possession today to remind me of cultural overviews, tips for doing business, negotiating strategies and good protocol).
Have the courage to ask your peers to support you in the "lean in", and also with taking an active, engaging role in meetings. This can take time; however, understanding your role and what value you bring to the table is the way to build credibility and clout quickly.
Bring others along with you. You will double your growth and development by helping someone else in the process. You can be mentored and mentor others at the same time. It’s a special gift you can give someone else by helping them pave the way.
Today, you’re the Regional Head of Marketing & Sales Technology for Nestlé IT in North America. Give us the day-to-day of what this means and how the IT organization is structured?
I lead a team that supports the deployment, maintenance and evolution of our global IT products for the marketing and sales teams within our different Nestlé businesses (e.g. Nestlé Waters, Purina, etc.). Put simply, when marketing and commercial/field sales teams have specific needs or ideas to innovate their technologies, we partner to make it happen. Much of our IT organization is structured this way in which our teams are set up in an agile environment to support the different business functions, like Supply Chain, eBusiness, Manufacturing, Finance, etc. all across Nestlé, with user-centered products, processes and ways of working. Me personally, I am the primary contact between the leaders of Marketing and Sales within the businesses and between our IT Product Managers to help remove barriers, provide clear accountability and to keep relationships ongoing and strong. Regardless of the area within our IT organization, our users (we call them "receivers") are at the heart of everything we do. I think it’s a tremendous advantage that many of us in IT have come from the business side of Nestlé at one point or another, so we can empathize and understand both sides of the day-to-day relationship.
Tell us about an exciting project you’ve completed or are currently working on.
You hear a lot about "transformation" in big (and small) companies these days—the world is moving too fast to not jump on board. Globally, we’ve been amidst transformation for a few years now, and it has been the greatest challenge thus far. It has tested our change agility and resiliency. Change is tough, but it’s constant. Taking an active role in the change, leaning on each other in the process, and embracing the journey is key.
I mentioned prior my work with our internal Women in Tech Employee Resource Group within Nestlé IT North America, which is both a personal and professional passion I am proud to be part of. With core values to support authenticity, creativity and perseverance of women to achieve their career goals and aspirations, this has given me the opportunity to coach and empower others outside of my day-to-day work. I am very proud of the women in our IT organization, and I feel it is very important to get involved in opportunities in which you’re passionate about. If that opportunity doesn’t exist yet for you, find a way to create it.
For those who are considering a career path in IT at Nestlé, what would you tell them?
Be open minded to opportunities and take ownership of your career. Sounds simple, though it requires courage, accountability and a can-do attitude—important traits we look for in people.
Take detours. Not all moves are vertical—in fact, some of the best ones are lateral. Not every job needs to address all your passions. There were positions that did not interest me at first glance, but I rarely rejected any job or assignment offered to me because I viewed each one as a challenge and an opportunity to learn something new.
Learn continuously. Nestlé is a culture of learning. We like to experiment, and we take pride in a "fail forward" approach with the energy and spirit to get back up and do it differently next time. Take every opportunity to learn something new on a regular basis. I block two hours a week every Friday afternoon to invest in my own development journey, which can include reading books, online learning, or collaborating with others.
Networking is key. I keep in touch with others whom I have worked for and worked with over the years. Everyone needs allies, advocates, mentors and supportive peers along the career journey. It’s important to find that balance of "give and take".
Finally, if you are interested in a career in IT at Nestlé, you are entering the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s an exciting time to join our transformation journey and a new wave of digital-driven disruption.