Every year, Progressive Grocer and the Network of Executive Women honor one woman who leads and builds her community. The Top Women in Grocery 2019 Trailblazer, Monica Garnes, has been blazing trails throughout her entire career at The Kroger Co., from the time she entered the management training program in 1995.
Garnes was often the first: the first African-American woman to be named district manager in 2007 for the Columbus, Ohio, division; the first African-American woman to be named a retail division VP (when she became VP of merchandising for Fry’s in 2013); and the first African-American ever to be named a division head as the president of Fry’s, her current position. She is also the first woman of color to be named a Top Women in Grocery Trailblazer.
As president of Fry’s, she oversees 123 stores and about 22,000 employees. PG recently chatted with Garnes, who shared her insights into what has helped her succeed and how she helps others to find their own success.
PG: What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned as you were moving up?
Monica Garnes: I can remember years ago, a district manager saying early in my career, when I was just learning the retail business, that if you’re in a room full of people that know more than you about the business, take the opportunity to listen and learn from them.
I think a lot of times, we’re quick to formulate responses and chime in, but you can learn so much about people, about what’s happening in the business, just by listening. Not only listening and learning about the business, but also listening to people and getting great ideas and hearing feedback and creating an environment where people feel that their voices can be heard. It allows people to open up in ways that you may not have even imagined.
[Garnes spoke about several of her mentors at Kroger, but especially CEO Rodney McMullen, who believed in her and pushed her to leave the Columbus division, where she had spent her first 18 years, to move to Fry’s in Arizona to become VP of merchandising. The move changed the trajectory of her career, which led to a position of VP of produce/floral merchandising and procurement at the corporate office in Cincinnati, before she returned to Fry’s as its president.]
PG: What advice do you have for someone who is given a stretch-project opportunity, but is a bit trepidatious about taking that big step?
Garnes: Don’t be afraid of a challenge. I think part of it is just having courage and belief in yourself. When I was first offered the position here at Fry’s [her first move to Fry’s as VP of merchandising, not her current position as president], I remember saying: “Thank you. I need to go home and think about it, talk it over with my family, and I’ll get back to you.” I remember at the time, the president kind of looked at me sideways, like, “OK.” When I was talking to my parents about it, because they lived in Columbus, the thing that resonates with me is my mom said: “Why are you hesitant? This is what you’ve been preparing for your entire career.” So I think it’s just having the courage and belief in yourself that you are prepared. You’re ready for the next challenge and embrace the challenge because there’s going to be more learnings along the way. I would tell people, find ways to say yes. When you say yes to these new challenges, you never know what the future holds and what other doors will open up.