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5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became The VP of Mars Food: With Caroline Sherman

“You should always hire someone who “scares” you.”
I had the pleasure to interview Caroline Sherman, VP Corporate Affairs, Mars Food North America. As the VP of Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America, Caroline Sherman integrates her personal passion for people, coaching and politics into her role at Mars day-to-day. Mars is a family-owned business with more than a century of history making diverse products and offering services for people and the pets people love. With almost $35 billion in sales, the company is a global business that produces some of the world’s best-loved brands: M&M’s®, SNICKERS®, TWIX®, MILKY WAY®, DOVE®, PEDIGREE®, ROYAL CANIN®, WHISKAS®, IAMS®, EXTRA®, ORBIT®, 5™, SKITTLES®, UNCLE BEN’S®, MARS DRINKS and COCOAVIA®. Mars also provides quality, accessible veterinary health services through its BANFIELD® Pet Hospitals, Blue Pearl®, VCA® and Pet Partners™. Mars operates in more than 80 countries, inspiring more than 100,000 Associates to create value for all its partners and deliver growth they are proud of every day.

What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in Chicago (yes, I’m a Cubs fan) and was raised mostly by a single, working mom. From a young age, the perspective I got from watching my mom’s strength and perseverance showed me what I could be capable of and undoubtedly, helped me get to where I am today.

I studied psychology and business at Indiana University, two areas that have proven to be great general life skills. I started my career in media relations and as a self-proclaimed media junkie, I really enjoyed seeing the work I was doing in the publications I read every day. I still get a thrill when I see our work in the news. And as the VP of Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America, I’m now able to integrate my personal passion for people, coaching and politics into my job every day.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I laugh at myself when I think of this story. Last year, we announced Mars Food’s Health & Wellbeing Ambition at the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Summit. When I found out we would have the opportunity to meet Michelle Obama (one of the co-founders of PHA), I was incredibly honored for so many reasons — as a fellow Chicagoan, as a woman, because of what she’s done for kids and their health, for her graceful leadership. And as a communicator, of course I thought about all the things I wanted to say to her.

But when Mrs. Obama was standing in front of me, I lost all of my words. I never get star struck, but of course, that was the moment I did — for the first time. As I shook Mrs. Obama’s hand, all I could get out was, “Thank you for… uh…everything.”

Are you working on any meaningful projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Everything that we do at Mars Food comes back to our Food Purpose — Better Food Today. A Better World Tomorrow. As part of this team, I get to do something good for so many people through our work every day — from our Mars Food Health &Wellbeing Ambition to the Mars Sustainable in a Generation initiative to one of my favorite programs, the Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest

Through this Uncle Ben’s contest, we’re inspiring families to cook together more often because we know kids are more likely to eat healthy if they help cook the meal. And through Ben’s Beginners, we’ve already awarded nearly $1,000,000 to schools and families across the country.

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Through Ben’s Beginners, we get to see first-hand how our work is helping to change lives. Every year, I’m touched to be a part of impacting families through our collective work

I got to spend some time with one of our winners — Janie Wilson — earlier this year, a couple years after she won the Ben’s Beginners contest. Janie’s special personality and impressive skillset combined with her Ben’s Beginners win, Janie has taken her passion for cooking to the next level. Since winning, she’s joined us to speak to industry leaders at the 2017 Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in D.C., participated in a variety of media and TV activities — including hosting her own show! — and she’s become a leader in her community and advocate for cooking at a young age.

Janie is a star. It’s been such a pleasure to see what she’s capable of, and it’s humbling to be able to open up new opportunities for her and our other talented winners.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t try to be anybody else — just be yourself.

In the past I had managers who just wanted me to do things “their way.” When I joined Mars, I met a set of leaders that encouraged me to be myself and that’s when I was able to focus on growing my own perspective and skillset.

2. Take your vacation days.

Too many people let their vacation days evaporate — and I’ve been guilty of that myself. Of course, sometimes you have to put your head down and work hard. But it’s so important to have time to reground yourself. When I get into a stretch without taking time off, I feel the tension — physically and emotionally. I’m a work in progress, but I’ve noticed I’m a more productive employee, friend and family member when I have time to refresh.

3. You should always hire someone who “scares” you.

When hiring my own replacement as I was moving into a new role at Mars, I learned not to be afraid of people who are smarter or better than you and that it’s critical to seek out different perspectives.

You have to be confident enough to surround yourself with those who will challenge you and who will push you to be your best — those you hire and whom you work with. Ultimately that makes you and the business stronger.

4. 80/20 Rule: Don’t let perfection get in the way of good.

We are often up against a tight deadline in this new world of real-time marketing. You have to be able to make quick decisions. The news cycle moves so quickly and if you don’t move at that pace, you could miss out on driving the story. You can spend all your time thinking through every word on a page and while yes, that’s important, sometimes it’s timing that’s most important. You don’t have to be perfect all the time.

5. Don’t ever underestimate your power to make a difference

I learned this when listening to President Bill Clinton speak. When you start your career, it’s easy to think you’re just one person joining a massive company or just one person in a big world. No matter your profession, don’t ever forget that, as an individual, you can make a difference.

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?

Joe Maddon, manager of the Chicago Cubs. Partly because I’m a Cubs fan of course, but Maddon has an innate ability to make a team work really well together. He understands how to leverage the best in people and create an environment where camaraderie is so strong that the performance improves. Plus, he seems to cut through the clutter and his Maddon’isms are really funny — I just want to hear what he has to say.


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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
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