NEW Pivots to Meet Changing Industry Needs
CHICAGO — After three decades in the business world, Sarah Alter stepped into a new role earlier this summer: president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, Retail, Consumer Goods and Services (NEW).
In making the announcement, NEW Vice Chair Lisa Walsh, of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc., said the organization was at a pivot point.
"We are pivoting, just like the two industries that we serve, CPG [consumer packaged goods] and retail, are pivoting," Alter told Convenience Store News in a recent interview.
"You see this state of evolution in CPG and retail because of all the changing industry dynamics they are facing. You've got consolidation going on with CPG. You've got retail transformation as you see technology reshaping how shoppers shop and buy," she explained. "You see then retail companies change the way they market and sell, and you see the same thing happen with the CPG companies."
As the CPG and retail industries navigate through these changes, the goal of Chicago-based NEW is to help guide them — and the way the organization believes it can do that is by helping member companies leverage and advance women and diverse leaders.
According to Alter, research studies have shown there is clear evidence that advancing women and diverse leadership in a company's ranks can only benefit the business.
"You need to see a greater representation of women and diverse leadership across all your ranks — your mid-level leadership ranks, your VP or c-suite and your board level. That diverse thought better enables them pivot and evolve as the industry is forcing them to do so," she explained. "As they change, so must we."
A NEW DIRECTION
To that end, NEW is undertaking several initiatives to better serve its members.
One recent initiative involved launching a retooled digital platform that created "a robust NEW Community," according to Alter. The new web-based and mobile-friendly site makes it easier for NEW members to access the rich digital content the organization has, including articles, blogs, webinars and learning-based programming.
"Now, there is a very robust online NEW Community where our members can even more effectively engage with each other and mentor each other," Alter said. "It allows us now to go anywhere, anytime with our members. As retail has taught them and created that expectation, we needed to deliver our new experience in that same way."
NEW is also expanding its reach into two new sectors: technology and financial. Having stayed true to its retail and CPG roots since its inception 15 years ago, the organization sees these new sectors as an opportunity to grow.
"We've chosen those two sectors for two reasons. One, they clearly have a similar need. There is great opportunity for us to better guide these top-level brands in both sectors on how to better advance women and diverse leaders," Alter explained.
In addition, technology is forcing CPG and retail companies to transform and reshape how they bring their brands to life. "What better strategic synergy, or what better set of partners to be found, than to have our new members come from the technology sector," she continued. "We are really excited about that, and that will unfold in the next couple of months."
The organization has also worked with the Center for Creative Learning to create and launch The Career Accelerator Model, which is a suite of research and learning-based programs focused on how to better coach and guide employees.
"What are the skills, what are the behaviors that you need to bring to the table in order to be better leaders? We focused a lot on the potential career derailers from a behavioral or attitudinal perspective that can hold you back," Alter explained, adding that the model was launched as a bottom-up approach, but now NEW's focus is to incorporate a top-down approach.
"We've learned, clearly, that you need to work with the leader as much as you need to work with the company and the executive leadership," the chief executive told CSNews.
With the top-down approach, NEW is in the process of creating and delivering research and learning-based programming that will focus on life and career pivot points that exist — such as having your first child, starting to care for elderly parents or relocating to a new city for work.
"The research and programming will help better guide not only the employee, but the executive leaders on how to better provide the policies, the organization structure, the culture," she said. "We feel that will truly be that magic formula, that bottom-up and top-down."
NEW & THE CONVENIENCE CHANNEL
NEW has strong roots in the convenience channel, including partnerships with Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. and top industry suppliers
The organization also maintains an ongoing partnership with Convenience Store News, notably around the annual CSNews Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards program.
"There is no greater partnership in my mind than being able to honor these incredible women and leaders," Alter said of the TWIC awards.
While NEW does not have specific c-store initiatives and programs, the organization's research, content, learning programs, community and events are geared to serve both women and men, as well as all diverse leaders across CPG, retail and even specifically convenience retailing.
"I think in convenience, there is definitely an opportunity to try to bring in more female customers and there is no better way to do that than by increasing the presence of women and diverse leaders in your executive leadership ranks," Alter said. "Their presence — being seated at the table and being involved in decision making and strategic planning — can only serve them well in terms of how you are going to better serve women. You need to have that voice heard in the executive leadership ranks."