Purina president has audience eating out of her hand

February 2018

When Nina Leigh Krueger came to Miami University, she was a talented tennis player. But by the time she graduated in 1983, Krueger had shown another of her talents; leadership.

“It was really important to me that in any obligation that I had, that I try to take on a leadership role, so that I would have the opportunity to shape the vision of where that was going to go,” Krueger told students and faculty members at the Farmer School of Business Executive Speaker Series event Thursday night. Over 25 years, Krueger has worked her way up from intern to president of Nestle Purina Petcare North America. She told students that it was in their best business interests to seek out leadership roles themselves because of the skills that are developed in the process. Krueger highlighted three qualities that she said were critical for students to acquire.

The first? A strong work ethic. “When you work hard and you put in the hours, you will be successful. If you think you are going to be successful without that, you're confused,” Kreuger said. Krueger said that with a good work ethic, students would see positive results, which would lead to another needed quality - confidence in themselves.

In addition, Krueger said, students need to master how they spend the hours of their day. “You cannot be part of a team, part of a sorority, going to class, and not understand that you have to manage your time,” she said.

Krueger said that in the modern business world, a good leader needs to be agile. “That means you need to be present. You need to be approachable. You need to be aware,” she said. “You need to be aware of all the different audiences and constituents, and how they need to be served, and how you need to adapt your behavior, and how your choices that you make impact them.” Noting how rapidly the business landscape changes, Krueger said, “If you cannot be agile, and change, you are not going to be successful.”

Some of the greatest changes over the last few years have been in retail, Krueger said. She pointed out that consumers have more power in their control than ever before, thanks to the wide array of product and brand choices available and their access to multiple methods of interaction with companies. As a result, Krueger said, businesses must strive to bring a personal buying experience to the largest number of people possible, taking advantage of the many ways available to communicate with prospective customers. “The company that knows the consumer best, engages in two-way dialogue, and provides the most value in relationships will win,” she said.

Krueger said that a successful business works to find the right questions to ask during the consumers' journey, questions that bring in data that lets the business hone its message to reach the audience it seeks at the right point in the journey. “We can provide them with solutions that are meaningful,” she said.

Krueger said that e-commerce's explosive growth and retailers' attempts to get their share bring their own challenges for manufacturers like Purina that are seeing decades of effective business models blown up by the need to think, act, and communicate differently. She said Purina has created an e-commerce team, integrated new strategies into all brand plans, and continues to constantly test to learn more about their customers' needs.

Krueger concluded by giving the students some additional observations and advice, including: 1. Life is a journey, not a destination, so it's important to make each day count. 2. Trust your subject matter experts: “As a leader, if you don't listen to those around you, especially people who are experts in their area, you are never going to be successful.” 3. Be true to yourself and your beliefs. 4. Before setting your sights too high, be successful in the skills needed where you are now. 5. ”When someone offers you a role or a job or a task force [that you may think isn't relevant], say 'Yes,' because I will guarantee you that you will learn more from that experience than you think." 6. Work hard, play hard, at work and in your personal life. 7. Choose your partners wisely, and be present in your relationships.