Nina Leigh Krueger exemplifies what it means to be a Friend of Olin. This busy Olin alumna (MBA’94) and executive is the Chief Marketing Officer at Nestle Purina PetCare. She serves on the advisory board for Olin’s executive education program: the Women’s Leadership Forum and she participates as a speaker for the Forum in the session on Building Alliances and Your Power Base.
Friends are those who are giving of their time; their knowledge; share their years of experience; and open the doors of their companies to students and faculty, helping Olin build better leaders.
Some friendly questions for our Friends of Olin:
What was one of your most valuable experiences at Olin Business School?
Olin taught me how to ask smart questions. At the time I was in grad school I knew I was gaining valuable knowledge. But with time I’ve come to see the true value of my Olin experience. While my focus was marketing, the broad base of the program also gave me a grounding of areas like operations and accounting, I’ve discovered that leadership is not just knowing the answers – often it is about knowing the right questions to ask of your subject matter experts.
What is the most compelling thing your mentor has shared with/done for you?
I learned to get out of my shell and take risks as a result of my Olin experience. Mr. Sidwell, Dean of Students at the time, was a very wise man. He had the ability to make you feel like you were capable of making great choices – and at the same time, very direct when he thought you weren’t. With his support and candor, I learned to both assess and trust my judgment, empowering me to take bold action.
What are the 3 biggest challenges facing leaders today?
Generational Shift: We are in the midst of an unprecedented generational shift in the workplace. Every day, 10,000 boomers reach the traditional retirement age of 65. This trend began in 2011 and is forecast to continue for the next 14 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that some organizations could lose up to 50% of their executives in the next two to three years. So the question is, how to transfer essential knowledge to the next generation of leaders and how do we best encourage, motivate and reward emerging leaders?
The Amplifying Effect of Social Media: Social Media has a powerful amplifying effect. A tweet can travel around the world in minutes. But that can happen whether it’s true or false. The relative anonymity of social media creates a lack of accountability – and that can result in a mis-truth going viral. Companies can spend a lot of resources to create something good only to see it destroyed by a hashtag. How can we be better prepared?
Connecting With Our Audience: The paradox of living in a world of 24/7 connectivity is that it has made it harder for mass marketers to find their audience. Twenty years ago, the average American household had access to 28 TV channels. Today, Americans have 165. And while TV still dominates, according to Nielsen, 55% of global respondents say video programs are an important part of their lives. The way audiences are connecting with content is changing. How do we connect with consumers in a meaningful way?
What is one behavior or trait you have seen impede leaders’ careers?
Not trusting your subject matter experts. You learn so much when you listen to the smart people around you. My philosophy is: “Listen. Learn. Lead.” It is crucial that leaders have a vision, but it’s equally crucial that they be open to input from their team as to how to get there. Business success is about getting results, not credit. And when you focus on that, you learn to listen to subject matter experts who know how to get results in their area. As Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career:
Just at the point where I felt like I was gaining traction in my career, I was moved from a brand that was considered a golden child in our company’s portfolio to one that was viewed more as a stepchild. I literally felt like I was being put in the penalty box. There were lots of things that were broken in the business and in the culture. I knew that if we had any chance at succeeding, things had to change – and we had to become a team to change them. Along the way, mistakes were made – one big enough that put me in front of the president of the company to explain it. When he asked who was responsible I answered, “No one, we did this as a team.” If anyone was to blame, as team leader, it was me.
I learned two things as a result of that assignment. First, life is a journey, not a destination. It’s good to have a career plan, but be open for some unplanned opportunities. If we get too narrowly focused on the destination, we may miss potential growth along the way. And second, in business and in life, we win as a team and we lose as a team. No one person can do it all alone.
What are you grateful for today (business or personal)? Why?
At the top of my list is my family. I have a great husband and wonderful sons who I know will always be on my side and by my side wherever the road may take us. Their love gives me courage and confidence. I also feel blessed to have a strong support system of friends, colleagues and mentors who both inspire me and keep me grounded through good times and bad.
Who’s your favorite business speaker or author? Why?
Malcolm Gladwell has always impressed me. I’ve seen him speak several times and he always passes along valuable information without using fancy graphics or a single graph. Instead he tells stories – stories that make you think and ultimately see things differently.
Image: Nina Leigh Krueger with her canine family at Nestle Purina Petcare. (Photo © Whitney Curtis)