Value quality over quantity. In my work, I’m generally by far the youngest in the room or at the boardroom table, and that gives me an edge because I’m seen as having a solid understanding of the target consumer. However, I try to remember that occasionally I need to overcome the idea that my age prevents me from having the same quantity of experience as others in the room. For this reason, I carefully pick moments to contribute my thoughts when I feel they add significant value to the conversation. And it’s important to remember that every idea that you put forward doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel; sometimes you can make an idea or decision slightly better and make it transformative.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fleur Veldhoven.
Fleur is VP of Food Marketing at Nestlé Professional. She leads a team of Marketers, Business Development Managers, PD Chefs, and Culinary Services Chefs responsible for brands like SWEET EARTH®, MINOR’S®, STOUFFER’S®, CHEF-MATE®, and TOLL HOUSE®. Fleur has been at Nestlé for 14 years in various marketing and business leadership roles, including 4 years in Switzerland leading the Savory foodservice category globally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium until age 18 when I came to the United States to attend university. I started my career in Sales and quickly learned I loved the Business Development and Marketing side and used my MBA at Stanford to pivot my career slightly. I started working at Nestlé Professional in 2006 and have been lucky enough to combine my strong passion for food with my daily work. I’ve always been amazed by the magic that happens in restaurant kitchens, where hardworking chefs and cooks are creatively and methodically crafting unique consumer dining experiences. Working at Nestlé Professional allows me to support that magic and make an impact on consumer food experiences.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Through my 20+ years working in marketing and sales roles, I am keenly aware that consumers want to hear from brands and people that they can trust. For me, my local and global experiences and success with Nestlé Professional have provided me with the deep background and insights needed to build thought leadership expertise in the foodservice space.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I joined Nestlé Professional 14 years ago with a strong interest in working at our Global Headquarters in Switzerland, partly because I grew up in Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium, but also because I wanted to be closer to the strategy development, decision-making, and key thought leaders that could help accelerate my career. While I extracted an incredible level of insight and knowledge overseas, I also very much looked forward to returning to my role here in the USA, where I am constantly embedded in customer activities, industry events, and opportunities to learn and drive thought leadership.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I started my marketing and sales career selling car rental programs to corporations just like Nestlé. Fresh out of university, I’d place cold calls and visit CFOs and other C-suite executives, persuading them why “We Try Harder” at Avis. At the time, I was very vocal around not just why they should rent with us but also why they shouldn’t rent from Budget. Then suddenly our companies merged, and I was the Avis-Budget representative explaining that actually…Budget wasn’t that bad. Never under-estimate what could happen in your career!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader, in my opinion, is an authority in their field that is constantly curious, listening and learning, and looking forward. They inspire and educate people, whether one-on-one or in front of groups, and they display courage and comfort when having difficult conversations. While a typical leader and influencer may focus on clear goals, thought leaders go beyond that with an aim to declare bolder goals, deeper purpose, and courageous actions to achieve the extraordinary.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
For me, taking the time and energy to be a thought leader is extremely beneficial. As an individual, aiming to be a thought leader pushes me to keep thinking and learning within my field. It’s also a great benefit to share those learnings with those around me to become a positive asset to my community.
Striving for this title of “thought leader” has also pushed me to be a better marketer. Thought leadership is respected at the highest levels, and it has allowed me a seat at the table with key decision-makers and influencers in our industry. They trust me enough to tell me about the dilemmas they’re facing, and in turn, I have a chance to showcase how my products and services can be a part of the solution.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
If you look at today’s food and beverage space, it’s no longer just about what consumers eat. Brands are taking food a step further by innovating new products that consumers will want to incorporate into their everyday highly disruptive lives. Working in marketing at Nestlé and having that thought leadership reputation gives you the advantage to lead the charge in finding ways to effectively and successfully resonate with consumers and their ever-changing wants.
For example, Nestlé-owned Sweet Earth Foods has established itself as a plant-based thought-leading innovator and is known for being forward thinking in the space. As a result, Sweet Earth partnered with its first national restaurant partner, Ruby Tuesday, in January to grow the accessibility of its Sweet Earth Awesome Burger nationwide.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Find a committed mentor. For me it starts with a strong mentor who knows, lives and breathes the industry, but is still accessible for coaching and career development expertise. I’m fortunate to have a boss who has been this mentor for me, and I’ve personally benefited from access to his industry network, his commitment to give me face time with customers, and his openness to coaching and teaching me along the way.
- Constantly be immersed in industry developments. I’ve joined industry committees, attended customer meetings and events, participated in industry activities, and I’ve ensured I make a place for myself at the table with industry experts and influencers. Actively listening to absorb insights and being able to draw out implications from those learnings is crucial.
- Create a supportive and positive work environment. I have found it very important to be an internal changemaker by encouraging behaviors and culture that help us be more successful with customers. Where I see opportunities to recognize courage, engagement, change agility, accountability and commitment to purpose or customer-driven innovation, I name it. I strongly feel that brave leaders encourage culture.
- Value quality over quantity. In my work, I’m generally by far the youngest in the room or at the boardroom table, and that gives me an edge because I’m seen as having a solid understanding of the target consumer. However, I try to remember that occasionally I need to overcome the idea that my age prevents me from having the same quantity of experience as others in the room. For this reason, I carefully pick moments to contribute my thoughts when I feel they add significant value to the conversation. And it’s important to remember that every idea that you put forward doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel; sometimes you can make an idea or decision slightly better and make it transformative.
- Invest in your team. I make a point of setting aside my time to invest in my very strong team — the courageous leaders I coach and develop every day. I encourage them to be the change they wish to see in the world, celebrate the wins, be genuinely curious and respectful of the world around them, and to also re-invest time in their people. I ensure we are all rowing in the same direction, so to speak, so that if we need to make a slight pivot on a strategy then we are in sync with a willingness to persevere. Take care of your people and they will take care of you.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
I have always been in awe of the late Steve Jobs. He spoke at my business school graduation in 2005 and shared a piece of wisdom that I think about all the time: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs dedicated his career to doing what he loved, and most of us would be so lucky to live a life where we are as passionate about our work as he was.
I love what I do and am thankful each day for what I can contribute to the world of food service. In turn, it provides me an incredible sense of personal satisfaction. We make a difference to our customers by fulfilling out-of-home consumer experiences — how cool is that?
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I think the term still holds value and is an honor as it signifies that the individual or organization is an authority in a specific field of expertise. The term invites you to reflect on why and how the individual is different and impactful in their way.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Time is such a precious resource. I gave a talk last year at Nestlé about my approach to work-life balance. I no longer believe in perfect 50/50 balance every day. For me there are time periods when work is getting most of my time and there are time periods where work takes a back seat. Either way, I am 150% engaged to whatever I’m focusing on, whether that be my work, my family or even a physical work-out. I value each of those periods in my life more because there is never enough time to do it all!
The other thing I would say is that it is possible to build thought leadership in short, high-quality periods of time, if you’re paying attention to your limits. It takes work and energy, but I have found that your body will tell you when you’re starting to impact your vitals. I got whooping cough last year during a heavy work period because I was taking absolutely no time to rest. I didn’t even know it was possible for adults to get whooping cough, but the experience made me realize I’d gone too far. It was a big eye-opener for me and affected my choices and behaviors for the next weeks and months as I recuperated. Rest is so important!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If it was possible to spend more time accentuating the positive and more quickly move from problem to fix, we could do so much more in the world. I believe that a positive world-view and solution-oriented workplace encourages people to believe in what’s possible, be genuinely curious and respectful to others, then recognize and thank people for their hard work, celebrate the wins and immediately look for actionable solutions to challenges that come across our path.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I received a card last year from a peer colleague at Nestlé, and it had the following quote on it: “Proceed as if Success is inevitable.” I love how applicable this message is in my life and career. In foodservice you may not always have the data, you may not always have the time or resources, and you may have to do more with less, but this pursuit of success with persistence and confidence that it will happen eventually is a great motivator!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have two — hard to choose!
I saw Brené Brown speak at a women’s foodservice conference last year, then listened to her book Dare to Lead, and it left me completely inspired. “What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” Brené is always in the back of my head reminding me to reflect on who I am.
Also, I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek. His philosophy is so fundamental for us marketers; he reinforces the fact that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it. Lead with a purpose!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can find me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.