Cheryl leads the People & Organization function for Mars’ North American Pet Nutrition business. She is responsible for driving the HR strategy and has accountability for the organization’s 4,000 U.S. based Associates. As a member of the Petcare Leadership Team, she helps drive long-term strategic decisions for the business and its key brands, including PEDIGREE®, IAMS®, SHEBA®, CESAR®, DENTASTIX®, CRAVE™, TEMPTATIONS®, NUTRO®, and GREENIES®.
Cheryl joined Mars, Inc. in 2005 and has progressed through a variety P&O roles for the business. She joined the Petcare segment in 2014 as vice president of P&O. Prior to her career in Human Resources, Cheryl held positions in communications, marketing, and advertising.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was blessed to grow up with hardworking parents. My mother, in particular, put herself through graduate school at night while working. She worked hard to develop and grow in her career as a nurse anesthetist while balancing children and her parents at home. My stepdad was my biggest cheerleader. He always believed in me, challenged me to think bigger about what I could achieve, and truly unlocked the best in me.
I also played sports – both basketball and softball. I went on to play college softball at the University of Virginia and, as team captain, learned how to lead in a different way in an environment with lots of distractions. It was here that I first discovered I had a passion for inspiring and motivating others because I saw the impact it had in unlocking potential. As I think back, my drive to think bigger and inspire others stems from these experiences.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Mars Petcare?
I have worked in a variety of fields – communications, marketing, advertising, and now human resources. Advertising was an exciting and fun industry, but I quickly realized that I wanted to play a bigger role in the development of people and knew that my heart was in the HR space. I feel fortunate that I get to focus on developing others each and every day in my role as VP of P&O at Mars Petcare. I also apply it at home as I raise my three daughters.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Mars Petcare?
Most people think of chocolate when they hear Mars, but the company is so much more than that. I joined the company 12 years ago – the first nine years I spent working at the Mars corporate offices in McLean, VA. I then moved into a business segment role for Mars Petcare in 2014. Petcare is actually the company’s largest global segment and it was all new to me. I was pretty overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of what I was faced with.
During that time, I was grateful to have a strong network and support system already in place at Mars, and I now had an incredible opportunity to learn from new business leaders and mentors, specifically in the Petcare space. These relationships have been invaluable for me. And that’s one reason I feel strongly about creating sponsors and having affinity groups to lean on for growth, development and support. These relationships create a safe space to take risks, be vulnerable, and create pathways for success, which is good for each individual, as well as the business.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Take risks and do not let fear hold you back. In some of my career changes, I was not an expert in the functional skills, but I trusted my ability to learn, my leadership skills and knew I had strong teams surrounding me. When you feel fear, turn that feeling on its head and instead channel it into a signpost that you are onto a big development opportunity. Lean into those moments instead of running from them. I truly believe that you can’t make big development leaps when you are sitting in your comfort zone.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
First and foremost, the importance of vulnerability and authenticity in leadership. We sometimes feel the need to have all the answers, yet the best leaders I know are really clear on what they know and what they don’t. From this self-awareness, they’re able to create the space for others to rise and fill those gaps.
Additionally, the importance of your personal purpose aligning with your company’s culture and business objectives. Without this, your sense of fulfillment and happiness can erode as you are forced to put it aside each day. To find your purpose and passion, you need to find out who you are, what energizes you, and determine what impact you want to have in your career.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I take control of my own destiny and am an advocate for myself and my family. I had a great teacher in my mom, who I grew up watching successfully managing her career and family every day. I am very clear on what I will prioritize. Making dinner for my family every night is important to me. I learned how to set boundaries and figured out tradeoffs. For example, if a colleague wants to meet at 6 p.m., I let them know I can’t, but that I will be available at 7:30 a.m. the next day. And I try not to veer from this. It does sometimes lead to me working hours later in the evening, but being home for family dinner is something I love. I want my legacy to be a strong female leader who strongly contributed to the business, helped develop others, and was active and present in her kids’ lives too.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue for women in the workplace is feeling the need to be perfect. Perfection is overrated and never rewarded the way we think it will be. In fact, it’s an energy drainer and can be a career staller. I encourage women to get their work to 80 percent and then let others build on what they have – not only will you get a better result, but you’ll also get more engagement from your team. We must remember that no one will ever achieve perfection and we should look at our mistakes as lessons learned. My children can attest that I always say “no regrets, just lessons learned.”
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been lucky to have been mentored by some very strong leaders in my life. Leaders who took the time to truly understand me – what motivates me, how to leverage my strengths, what to do to support my weaknesses – and who helped to clear paths for me. These individuals opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and challenged me when it was clear I was operating from a limiting belief.
I have also benefited from having sponsors. Having a sponsor is key in any business, but certainly very important in a relationship-based business like Mars. I am lucky that, throughout my career, I had a few pivotal people who advocated for me in roles where I was relatively unknown. This made all the difference in people taking a chance on me.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am lucky to say that Mars has several strong female leaders that I have been lucky to learn from. Aileen Richards, who was the global VP of P&O, was able to show me how to be strong and empathetic; tough and fair; business focused and people focused. It really is an art to juxtapose these qualities and many can only manage one side. I also admire our current global President, Nigyar Makhmudova. She is a strong leader who gets results and is truly dedicated to people development and leading by our Five Principles. She is a role model at finding the strengths in individuals and maximizing those to be most effective. And she is truly a purpose-driven leader, which has impacted those she leads and the overall Pet Nutrition business.
Outside of Mars, I admire Sheryl Sandberg. Here is a woman who rose to the top of her career in a very dynamic industry and worked to help other females develop along the way. She is also a role model of leading through vulnerability. She has candidly and openly helped millions of people by sharing her stories of disappointment, grief, courage and empathy. She is a woman who has managed to excel, be very present in her family, and give to others, all through very challenging times.
What do you want Mars Petcare to accomplish in the next year?
There’s so much I want to mention here. We’re in an exciting, dynamic industry with so much opportunity for growth. I want to see leaders in our business continue to push themselves to be better, bolder and to lead with our Five Principles. I’m inspired daily by our talented Associates, and want to see these Associates continue to take on tough challenges that will develop them and grow their careers.
But for me, when I think about the next year, I want to see Mars increase its focus on female leadership and sponsorship within the organization. I’m passionate about others having the same opportunities that I did – I wouldn’t be where I am without them.