Attitude and actions are more important than words. Show respect to everyone you come in contact with… Everyone! This applies to the crew cleaning your office, the security guard, etc. You can make someone’s day by showing a little effort and your actions do make a difference.
I had the pleasure to interview Gretchen Miller. Gretchen is leading the charge and showing how women can succeed in manufacturing roles at Ingredion. Gretchen joined Ingredion in 2006 and two years later became the first female plant manager in the company’s Kansas City, Missouri location. Ingredion is a Fortune 500 company that manufactures global ingredient solutions for customers around the world. Gretchen is responsible for the daily operations of the plant as well as developing processes that maximize safety, quality and productivity. She brings more than 20 years of food industry experience to her current role. Gretchen holds a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Indiana University and an MBA from Baker College in Michigan.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
I started my journey in manufacturing with a summer job in the auto industry. I always liked the competitive nature of sports and working in a fast-paced manufacturing environment seemed like a natural progression. As a student at Indiana University, I enjoyed science and as well as the opportunity to be exposed to people different than myself with unique and diverse backgrounds . After college, I was exposed to the food industry and I became inspired by all the work and attention to detail that goes into feeding millions of people every day in the U.S. Manufacturing is very much like playing a sport, it is competitive, you have to work as a team if you want to win. On a parallel path, the manufacturing industry uses many metrics to keep track of safety, quality, production and your overall progress. I’ve always liked an environment where you’re keeping score of your progress. When I became the first female plant manager for Ingredion in Kansas City, I knew I would have to draw upon my background and experiences to leave my mark in the world. My family was very supportive of my career and instilled in me a strong work ethic. I am proud of the role I play in the food industry and supporting the economy with a job in manufacturing.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Manufacturing has seen many changes over the years from advances in technology to the increased attention it receives by supporting the global economy. I’m honored to play a role in one important area, which is the need for more women in manufacturing jobs, especially at the leadership level. Becoming the first ever female plant manager in Kansas City was a significant milestone both for me and the company, which I took very seriously. Coming into this position created a unique challenge, which I took as an opportunity to focus on learning. I certainly wanted to have the trust and respect of the plant, so I worked hard to deliver positive results, and draw on my past experiences to prove myself. Being a woman in manufacturing definitely sets me apart. Today, I continue to push to differentiate myself and lead my team. It’s a great conversation starter to tell someone that you turned corn into 10 million lbs. of starch in one week alone.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I’m lucky to have had many mentors and advocates throughout my career. I have learned something from everyone I worked for or with from new ways of approaching solutions for challenges, to ways I can further develop myself, as well as how to take on stretch roles.
I’ve reported up through several people within Ingredion that believed in me even more than I believed in myself from my direct boss to several vice presidents of Quality, Safety and Manufacturing.
How are you going to shake things up next?
My biggest test is my current position. It came fast. Much faster than planned and I had to adjust quickly. Looking back, I was afraid but just went for it. I have been good at this all my life and it has paid off. I will continue to live by this motto and raise the bar for Ingredion, my employees and our customers. I’m excited about the future and continuing to develop myself and the future generation of leaders for the company. I can wait to show you what’s next.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Attitude and actions are more important than words. Show respect to everyone you come in contact with… Everyone! This applies to the crew cleaning your office, the security guard, etc. You can make someone’s day by showing a little effort and your actions do make a difference.
2. Being the calm in the middle of the storm. How you handle pressure and what you do in the heat of the moment is essential. In a manufacturing environment things happen. You have to be able to stay calm and quickly mobilize your team to discuss the situation. It’s important to get all the information you can before making a decision on what to do next. Involve your team to help you reach the best decision.
3. Foster collaboration to build a high-performing team. I learned early on the value of actively seeking out the contributions of others as we collectively worked toward a common goal. Our Kansas City Team has accountability for safety, quality and production metrics and they know that they are responsible for overall customer satisfaction. We cannot achieve this without working together.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
I was inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I found her stories to be personal, insightful and she offered practical advice to help me reach my personal and professional goals and change the conversation. Her advice that it’s not about having it all but making it all better really resonated with me.Sheryl doesn’t believe that women can have it all, yet we can work toward attaining more, in ways that make it better for us all. It was a rallying cry for me, who likes to do everything perfectly. I’m glad to see all the positive attention her book received as it raised the conversation on women in the workplace.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to meet Sheryl Sandberg. Better yet, I’d love to this meeting to happen at my manufacturing facility. Her book came at a turning point in my career and that combined with her leadership roles at Google and Facebook make her admirable in my mind. She paved the way for so many female leaders and has such a calm demeanor. I would enjoy my time with her showing her how we process and manufacture corn and know I would walk away with great advice and more pearls of wisdom from a rockstar business leader.
Thank you so much for joining us!