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P&G Exec Named Top Women in Grocery's CPG Trailblazer

Mindy Sherwood discusses giving her all at work, and how she makes time for what’s important in life
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer

Mindy Sherwood is president, global Walmart and chief sales officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G). Sherwood oversees the operations of more than $12 billion in sales at Walmart, P&G’s largest customer, along with development of the strategic framework for P&G sales across all categories and regions to ensure superior plans today and in the future.

Since joining P&G, Sherwood has held numerous roles spanning categories, geographies and customers. She led transformations in the P&G business in regions such as the Nordics and Central Europe, and with two of P&G’s largest retail partners, Walmart and Kroger. P&G’s Walmart business has been an engine of growth under Sherwood’s leadership, setting multiple sales and share records. Her expert understanding of the dynamic changes and digital disruptions in retail, as well as key customer experiences, earned her a promotion to chief sales officer.

Sherwood’s leadership philosophy is about encouraging team members to be their best in the arena every day. 

Progressive Grocer: Mindy, can you talk about the journey that brought you here? How did you decide to dive into the consumer goods industry?

Mindy Sherwood: I decided I wanted to pursue sales after successfully selling books door to door one summer to help pay for college. My brother, Garde, worked for P&G, and this provided me exposure to the type of work the company did. I was impressed with P&G’s portfolio of iconic brands and wanted to work on them. I was able to get a summer internship that led into a full-time job.

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Mindy  Sherwood
Mindy Sherwood

PG: What do you remember about those first few days, the work and interacting with customers?

MS: Those early experiences taught me about the power of creating memorable selling experiences, building trust and creating joint value. The first few roles were critical because I had large territories, calling on more than 10 retailers and store managers every day. I learned the value of establishing strong relationships with them by 1) being reliable with operating discipline and doing what I said I was going to do, 2) coming up with creative ways to grow their business, and 3) understanding how critical it was to have the leading brands that would help them grow their categories. I also learned that “no” gets you one step closer to “yes” when you seek to understand what needs to be true to move forward.

PG: Consumer packaged goods was a male-dominated industry when your career began. Were there female role models that you looked up to early on?  

MS: My biggest mentor in my early years was Lee Ann Terhune, a P&G sales leader in the same territory I was selling in Lansing, Mich. She taught me the importance of operating discipline to get the job done while making sure I had the right level of balance in my life and did not get all consumed with the job. Through the years, I watched her role model being a terrific mom and a great leader, along with several other women in our company. I also worked for some incredible men, like Paul Beck, who reinforced that family comes first, second and last, and Jim Lafferty, who shared the importance of defining clear roles in life, including what it takes to be the dream version of each one. Today, I have the honor of reporting to Shailesh Jejurikar, who is an absolute master of developing strategy and prioritizing work on the biggest breakthroughs first!

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

MS: Any predominantly male industry can present challenges. One hurdle I’ve witnessed is the existence of societal assumptions, or “myths,” that have justified a lack of progress in workplace equality. 

For example, the “leadership myth” suggests that women lack confidence, have less ambition or fear failure as compared to men. Women in the workplace are just as confident and ambitious, but their leadership style may differ. Society tends to negatively label anything different from the most common leadership prototype. I believe workplaces require diverse leadership styles to foster collaboration, inclusivity and agility. It’s important to celebrate the unique differences women bring to the table.

Another myth is the “pipeline myth,” which claims that there aren’t enough qualified women for top positions. The pipeline is full of qualified women who aspire to take on big roles. Women hold more degrees than men in 100 countries, and they account for a significant percentage of MBAs and law degrees in the U.S. We need to expand the pool where we look for top talent and seek to bring the best talent onto our teams. 

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I’ve also seen the “caregiver myth,” where people make assumptions about a woman’s interest in a promotion or her willingness to move when she has domestic responsibilities. It’s so important to ask people what they want, and not make assumptions rooted in gender bias based on the makeup of their family.  

PG: Mindy, this year will mark your 35th at Procter & Gamble. What’s the most rewarding part of working there? 

MS: My years at P&G have been amazing. I’ve had 14 diverse incredible roles; my family and I have moved 11 times, twice internationally. I’m a working mom with two kids, and my husband has a thriving career. I’ve taken broadening assignments that taught me the importance of keeping your learning curve steep. My most crucial role was leading market strategy and planning for several markets in Central Europe. I had never been out of the U.S., yet found myself managing five languages, five cultures and five currencies. I’ve had the opportunity to grow and make a tremendous impact in every role. 

PG: What is the driving force behind P&G’s commitment to equality and inclusion?  

MS: For many years, P&G has taken pride in leveraging the diversity of our company — from our board to our management team and employees around the world — to drive our marketplace success. We are proud of our progress and recognize there is still more we can do. We know that equality and inclusion — including gender equality — is good for business. It widens our market reach and drives market growth. This is enabled by our efforts to attract, develop and retain the best employees from the widest pool of talent available to serve billions of consumers around the world, who are increasingly more diverse. Over the past few years, with the broad diversity of our company, P&G has delivered some of the strongest results in more than a decade.

PG: What do you think is the role of a leader? How would you describe your leadership style, and how was it developed? 

MS: I’m so inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s “In the Arena” speech. The essence of his message is to find the worthy, breakthrough cause and head onto the arena floor with your team to make it happen. Delivering breakthrough isn’t easy, and you will likely experience several failures before you find the way forward. I’ve learned that if you are willing to stay in the arena and continue to believe there is a way, you eventually find it and pull out the victory!

I’m also incredibly passionate about holistic well-being. I have an early-morning self-care routine that I’ve honed over the years — I pray, meditate, journal and get a killer workout in before my family is awake. I also unplug regularly by heading into the woods to recover and recharge. I find that time in nature almost always helps me sort through big, messy challenges. And I’m an absolute stickler when it comes to getting sleep — early to bed, early to rise for me.

PG: If you had a daughter starting a job at P&G today, what advice would you give her as she headed out the door to begin her first day?  

MS: We have two kids, a son and a daughter, who are starting their first and second years of college, so a day like this is coming soon! If either was starting a job at P&G today, I would offer the following advice:

Be a great team player and define early in your career what you want people to say about you. For me, that’s being impeccable with my word. If I tell you I’m going to do something, you can count on it. I always give 100%. You are either in the arena or not — if you don’t believe it’s important enough to give it your all, don’t do it. 

Listen to and appreciate ideas that are different than yours and go for breakthrough. You can be a difference-maker in any job, in any function, at any level. Breakthrough is found when many different perspectives are brought together. Find the one thing that will catapult the business to the next level, and make it happen. Don’t let the limitations of a job description hold you back from finding and delivering game-changing impact. 

If it scares you, go for it. When an opportunity comes with a steep learning curve, say yes! You’ll grow professionally and personally. You need to learn, grow and develop all the time. Stay curious and embrace a learning mindset throughout your career and lifetime. 

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