Skip to main content
TWIG Hero Article

Meijer VP Named Top Women in Grocery's Retail Trailblazer

Lynette Ackley reflects on lessons learned from her years in the grocery business, which turned out to be the “perfect fit” for her
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer

Lynette Ackley was named the group VP of health and beauty, household essentials, and hardlines at Meijer, in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2023. She’s worked for Meijer since 2011 in various roles, including as the director of beauty and cosmetics within the drug store division in 2011; VP of the health, beauty and baby division in 2015; and VP of the fresh foods division in 2020. Ackley is responsible for leading a team of more than 160 team members and the merchandising, marketing, digital strategies and store experience for her divisions, as well as full P&L responsibility to deliver profitable sales growth across the retailer’s 265-plus store locations and formats. Ackley is a leader who empowers her people to lead, invests in their development and is always available to coach and listen.

Progressive Grocer: Can you elaborate on the time when you realized you were going to make a career in the world of food retailing?

Lynette Ackley: My MBA degree and summer retail internship at Target Corp. allowed me to pursue my passion in consumer marketing and apply that in a retail environment. I loved the idea that the retailer owns the end touchpoint with the consumer; you can create the best widget out there, but it’s the retailer most typically that brings that product to life for the consumer. 

And, as a self-proclaimed foodie, I love to cook, read cookbooks and watch cooking shows, so a career in food retailing was the perfect fit and has given me the opportunity to learn about countless industries along the way, from bananas to baby formula to cookware gadgets.

PG: Talk about some of your early influences, who they were and what lessons you learned from them. Were there women role models that you looked up to early on?

LA: My mom was my earliest influence and an inspiration of someone who, through education and drive, had a successful career as a microbiologist while also raising four children. Both my mom and dad, who was a high school literature teacher, completed graduate degrees on their career paths, which instilled a strong foundation of learning, education and curiosity. She would bring us to the hospital on the weekends at times to see her in action as a microbiologist, but also never missed a game or recital, which modeled for me that it’s possible and normal to balance work and family.

Later, in my first full-time role out of undergrad, my boss had the most impactful and foundational impact on my career path. She was a driven, outspoken, energetic and decisive female manager in a very male-dominated industry, and from the beginning, she saw something in me that I didn’t even see. She pushed me to believe in myself, and at one point, she said I was ready for a managerial role and pushed me through limits I had unknowingly set. She offered me a seat at the table and was a remarkable ally and mentor before those terms were commonplace. 

Advertisement - article continues below
Lynette Ackley
Lynette Ackley

PG: What have been your biggest hurdles being a woman in retail, and how did you overcome them? 

LA: In my career, I’ve been very fortunate, especially in roles within industries that were traditionally very male-dominated, to have mentors, both females and males, to help pave the way. Early on, support came in the form of teaching, encouraging, sharing their hands-on industry knowledge in times when I had no experience in that industry, and creating connections for me. Then it was up to me to be relentlessly curious, ask questions, and have a voice and courage to share my ideas. 

Later in my career, and as I started a family, work/life balance became the next hurdle to frankly manage my own expectations for myself. Mentors again here encouraged me; shared lessons they learned, including regrets; and gave me the permission I wasn’t even giving myself to prioritize my family and choose the 4 p.m. soccer game versus another staff meeting. 

PG: You are the group VP over health and beauty, household essentials, and hardlines at Meijer. What exactly does that mean? What’s your day-to-day like?

LA: I have a wide span of care of 160-plus team members, ranging from entry-level hourly associates to VPs, who function as a cohesive, collaborative team to manage the product assortment, promotion and in-store experience across 265-plus Meijer retail stores in six states in the Midwest. My role includes long-term strategy, store design and layouts, marketing visions, and ultimately full P&L responsibility across my three divisions of the store.

[Never miss a story sign up for Progressive Grocer's FREE Daily newsletter]

A typical day for me consists of team meetings, individual one-to-ones, vendor discussions and internal cross-functional meetings to drive the business forward. Throughout the year, I travel regularly as well to industry trade shows to meet suppliers, learn about the industry outlook and see new product innovation, as well as vendor innovation center visits for strategic joint business-planning discussions, and occasionally overseas to our global sourcing offices. What I love about traveling, too, is being able to visit many local retailers and see what new ways they are finding to meet customer needs, as there is no better way to understand the customer than to be out in stores. 

PG: How would you describe your leadership style, and how it was developed?

LA: I would say my leadership style is authentic, collaborative, empathetic and empowering. Throughout my career, I’ve had several impactful career- and life-changing mentors, and with each one, my goal is to emulate and incorporate the most memorable leadership skills in my own authentic way. From the confidence and courage in my first mentor, to the use of humor to build trust and diffuse tense situations, to strategic thinking and a relentless focus on solutions versus problems, all these teaching and learning moments have shaped me into the leader I am today with my teams.

PG: How do you strive to inspire others, to instill a spirit of helpfulness and service to the customer that drives retail success, regardless of how shoppers engage with Meijer?

LA: Consistently and relentlessly staying focused on what our customer needs — whether that be value, convenience, a solution — is how we stay focused on our end goal. Putting our customer first at each decision point along the way ensures we are always thinking about their needs and wants in how we decide our assortment, our promotional and pricing strategies, and the experience we offer both in-store and online.

PG: What have the highlights been during your tenure at Meijer? What’s your proudest professional moment?

LA: I am here today because of the help of others. My proudest moments, big and small, have been interactions with the people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, mentor, learn from and be inspired by in my 13-plus years at Meijer. What makes me most proud is paying that forward and celebrating the personal and professional achievements of the people I’ve mentored. When I look around our merchant leadership group, there are more women than ever finding ways to be successful in this dynamic industry while also balancing their own health-and-wellness needs. A legacy of advocacy, risk-taking and encouragement is one I hope to instill in our teams.

PG: If you had a teenage daughter going to work as an hourly associate in a Meijer store today, what is one piece of advice you would give her as she headed out the door to begin her first day?

LA: Believe in yourself and learn something new would be my advice. Confidence comes from knowledge, so ask questions, be curious as you take on a new role or new challenge as this one small step in a very long career path, and you take from it what you give along the way.

PG: What do you believe is the biggest opportunity for the generation of women behind you?

LA: This is an amazing time for women in the workforce to thrive not only as professional leaders, but also balance personal wellness. Flexibility, work/life balance, positive mental health are everyday topics today that all genders can embrace. 

But we all still need allies and mentors to guide us and push us to take risks, people who can offer you a seat at the table, and the mindset that we don’t have to be a superhero on our own. We all need a friend and an ally to walk with us on our journey. Early in my career, I remember an inspiring female CEO at an event said, “It’s easier to climb ladders when you have mentors to pull you up.” Mentors at each pivotal step in my career have pulled me to the next ladder, and our responsibility as women in the workplace is to continue that support for the next generation. 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds