Spotlight on Association Leadership: CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association - SmartBrief

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Spotlight on Association Leadership: CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association

6 min read


Pamela G. Bailey has been president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association since January 2009. Previously, Bailey served as president and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council as well as AdvaMed.

Tell us about the first time you were somebody’s boss.

I was 25 years old, working in the White House as a member of the research team for the president’s speech writers, when I was promoted to be the head of the research office, reporting to David Gergen, the president’s chief speechwriter. I was suddenly supervising my former colleagues and responsible for the factual content and accuracy of every official presidential public statement and document.

I knew nothing about management. There were no training programs. But looking back on it, I realize that we already functioned as a high-performance team for all the reasons teams succeed — clear processes, roles and responsibilities and accountabilities. Bright and talented, committed colleagues, we respected each other and we knew how to work together toward shared, clear goals — despite enormous pressures. Fortunately, it was all put in place by those before me — and somehow suddenly becoming a boss just didn’t seem like a big deal. Or maybe I was just too young to be scared!

Describe your leadership philosophy.

I was fortunate early in my career to work after the White House for a progressive health care company whose CEO emphasized to every employee his leadership mantra of “Plan, Organize, Motivate and Control.” I found that early philosophy and guidance invaluable.

At that early stage in my career, it gave me a grounding in how to approach every organizational and leadership situation I’ve confronted since. I’ve learned you can’t do anything as an organization until you and your team understand your plan. You then have to organize to achieve that plan. Of course motivation has to be front and center constantly as you work with your team, but you also have to be conscious of building clear metrics and milestones.

When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide if someone is right for your team?

You never can look at just one factor; yes, you want to identify the appropriate skill set for the job you’re seeking to fill. But what makes the difference as to whether someone is the right fit is if they also have the appropriate management skills and philosophy — and can they provide both leadership and successfully interact as part of a team. Can they think, plan and work strategically? The second rule I always apply is to involve others from the senior leadership team in making the final selection. The insights they bring and contribute to the process, I’ve found, are essential in making sure the fit is the right one.

What is the biggest challenge your industry is facing this year?

As a whole, the CPG industry and our retail partners continue to be challenged by our economy. Our biggest shared challenge is how we can successfully work together to achieve profitable growth while continuing to offer the innovation so valued by our consumers.

What is the biggest challenge your association is facing?

2012 is the year we will fully implement our commitment to American consumers to put nutrition information on the front of our food packages. We will also launch our consumer education campaign to help busy consumers make informed decisions for how best to build healthy diets for their families. Another top priority for GMA and its members will focus on applying sustainable solutions in all areas of our work while continuing to deliver products that enhance consumers’ lives. Ours is an industry of trusted consumer product companies and brands, many of whom have been around for 100 years or more. Their longevity is affirmation of the trust that consumers place in the safety and the value of their products. Supporting our companies in the maintenance of that consumer trust and in their commitment to always do the right thing for their consumers underlies all of our work at GMA.

Looking outside of Washington, whose work do you admire most?

I have to say in recent weeks the name that comes to mind is [New York Giants head coach] Tom Coughlin. Not only has he delivered results, and been able to do it in his steady, quiet way, he also is a lesson to all of us in how to assemble a team of diverse talents and organize them to work together successfully towards a shared goal. I was really struck by the comments I’ve read that he delivered to the team in the locker room before the Super Bowl, where he emphasized this was more than a team of football players; it was a team of men who genuinely loved each other and supported each other. I can’t think of more dramatic testimony to the definition of a successful team.

If a recent college grad came to you and said they one day wanted your job, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them to think about the sort of work they enjoy most, and look for a company that they can start their career with that will, one, give them experience in that field of interest or particular skill set and two, provide training on management skills and opportunities within the organization that will allow them to grow as individuals. Having had that opportunity early in my career gave me the management training I could never have gotten anywhere else. It has been invaluable as I have navigated various trade associations and different industries.

The GMA Executive Conference brought together the food industry’s top leaders this past year, and a big emphasis was placed on collaboration. What did you learn from the meeting?

That I am fortunate to be part of an industry that has visionary leaders who, while they may compete in the marketplace with each other, genuinely respect and enjoy each other’s company, respect each other’s views and are committed to working together to do what’s right for their industry in a broader context, and ultimately for the consumers we all serve.