NGA Blog: Opening Hearts and Minds- Mentoring program helps cultivate industry’s new leaders

May 21, 2020

By Shellie Wood, VP of Sales, KeHE Distributors

I have had the pleasure of being a mentor for the student program for the past two years. I never imagined that this experience would be something I look so forward to each year.

As a mentor, my role is one of support and guidance, as well as providing feedback. I love to share my story and passion for this industry, given my 30-plus years in this business, and I’m proud that my company sponsored the mentoring program this year. Like many of the students, I never imagined this is where my career would take me when I was in college working at Fry’s Food Stores.

Part of my experience included being a judge for the Student Case Study Competition. Each participating university is a given a live retailer case study in which they have several months to research and develop a solution for the retailer’s challenge. Every year, I am amazed by the talent I see from these students. It seems like the bar is raised with each group. One of the best experiences is watching the team I have been paired with present their case study. The opportunity to listen and provide feedback in real time is so important. I admit, I turn into their biggest cheerleader, cheering them on each day of the competition!

The NGA Show brought additional learnings through the educational workshops and walking the show floor with my student team. It is interesting to watch them interact with suppliers and retailers, and get their general perspective on the industry as a whole. What they expect in the workplace and from their employers is very different than when I entered the workforce out of college. They are looking for employers that drive greater sustainability efforts, flexible work options and “do good” in the world around them. It’s important for us as industry leaders to pay attention to these differences to support the future growth of our business.

My hope is that this year’s student group opened their hearts and minds to all that the grocery industry has to offer, and that they continue to network with the industry leaders they met along the way. We can be great resources and mentors as you grow in your career, on whatever path that may take you.  I look forward to next year’s event and staying close to my mentee group!