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Reviving the center aisle: An interview with the alum heading growth for Kellogg

Alum Monica McGurk recently spoke to McKinsey Quarterly about innovation and disruption in the packaged food industry. We also caught up with her for a quick Q&A.
Monica McGurk smiling in front of a gray background wearing a black dress
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Monica McGurk (CLE, ATL 93-12), Kellogg's Chief Growth Officer, recently spoke with McKinsey Quarterly about how innovation is alive and well in the consumer packaged goods industry. We also had the chance to catch up with her about what she likes about her role, why she established a good work-life balance early in her career, and why alumni should consider a career in CPG.

** Please note that this Q&A was conducted prior to the COVID crisis.

What do you enjoy most about the CGO role?

What I enjoy most about the CGO role is that it requires a great balance of analytical and creative thinking; being able to think big picture while still getting into the details of commercial execution.

Did your time at the Firm influence your leadership style? If so, how?

After decades at the Firm, I’m sure my leadership style was influenced by the experience! Not surprisingly, my instincts on teaming and cross-functional, end-to-end thinking are among the most prominent features I’ve taken away.

Is there a piece of advice you got from a mentor at the Firm that you still think about or live by?

There were so many great people at the Firm from whom I learned. There were two pieces of advice I got early in my career that helped me tremendously, and are things I pass along to others every chance I get. First, Brad Whitehead (CLE 82-02) pulled me aside in my first weeks as a BA and told me, “you think you can do anything now — work an eighty-hour week, give up your weekends, because you’re young and single. But the habits you form in your working life today will be the habits you take with you throughout your career. So figure out what kind of life you want to lead in the future — family or no — and develop the habits to make it happen now.”

I took his words to heart and it made a difference. The other advice I received as an early Associate came from Lee Kempler (NYO 86-11), who instilled in me an appreciation for the art of storytelling; the difference between having the facts and bringing them to life for people in a way that resonates and is memorable. Not only did he help me understand its importance, he created opportunities for me to practice and get better at it.

What advice would you give to alumni who are interested in working in the CPG industry?

For alumni interested in the CPG industry — jump on in! I can’t think of a more challenging (and therefore fun and high impact) moment in our industry. We are experiencing disruption in every way: consumer demand for transparency; bifurcating consumption,  embracing the extreme ends of the spectrum such as both highly indulgent and healthy foods, both value and hyper-premium products; a dramatically changing retail landscape; and the possibilities of technology. The intimacy one can experience now with one’s consumer and customer is inspiring and daunting. And the competition — not just for shelf space and share of wallet, but for share of brand love and even attention — is fierce. If you love a challenge, as I know most alumni do, you’ll be a kid in a candy store.

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Read McKinsey Quarterly's interview with Monica, which includes video.