2022 Star Women in Grocery winner Susan Irving (Q&A)
Senior Level Star
Chief Marketing Officer
What is your proudest career achievement?
Our response to meeting the needs of consumers during the pandemic has been my proudest career achievement to date, albeit the most challenging. And as the famous Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” so I’m taking it as a learning for the future. I started my tenure with Kruger Products as the CMO in January of 2020, eight weeks before the pandemic hit. I couldn’t have known that within weeks of taking the role, there would be supply chain disruptions and excessive consumer stockpiling of tissue products. The plan at the time was to execute the existing CMO’s 2020 strategy, yet it became apparent that was no longer an option given the unprecedented changes in consumer trends and sentiment. Over the course of a year, we rewrote our plans in real time. We launched the global award-winning purpose-based campaign “Unapologetically Human”; #rollingitforward, a campaign to give back to our frontline workers; launched our new Hockey program “The Kruger Big Assist” to help hockey families in need of a financial assist, and for the first time ever brought our coveted Cashmere Collection Fashion show, which has been historically an in-person event online.
What keeps you passionate about your work?
I absolutely love marketing for its ability to move people and fuel business growth. I’ve never shied away from a challenge and love identifying opportunities or issues to create new, ground-breaking business solutions. Some days are tougher than others and what gives me inspiration and passion is attending conferences, reading industry articles or listening to podcasts. I also do more than my fair share of industry judging. It really helps me think of our business in a fresh way to drive creativity and growth.
What do you like most about your job?
Our people – individually and as a team. Whether it is leading, empowering, motivating, collaborating, coaching, mentoring, developing or championing, it is the people that you meet and get to work with everyday that make the difference. Without great people, you will never deliver great work.
What is the best career advice you've received?
The best career advice I ever received was about identifying my core strength or superpower, and continuing to build on that strength versus focusing too much on other areas of opportunity. From there, I could surround myself with diverse thought leaders and a great team that helped round out those other areas of opportunity, enabling me to deliver the best thinking and end result. If you constantly surround yourself with similar people, you will never get to diverse ideas. I have leveraged this advice consistently as I build out cross-functional teams in order to get to big ideas that drive change.
The second piece of career advice that I have found invaluable is that my career is only one aspect of a well-rounded life. If you think about life as a three-legged stool, you need balance to function. My three legs are career, family and friends and extra-curricular activities. As I make key career decisions, I do my best to make sure that I can balance out the other two legs of life.
What do you like to do for fun (outside of work)?
As an avid sports fan and firm believer in the importance of physical activity and competitive sport, I can often be found in a hockey rink, at a ski hill, or on a football field. While my two boys, Alexander (15) and Andrew (13) love to watch live sporting events together as a family, my second to none favourite past time is to watch both of my boys compete in their chosen competitive sports. Sport teaches you so many lifelong lessons that will set you up for success.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I want to thank everyone who has helped me reach my goals, especially my family, mentors, colleagues, employers and agency partners—both past and present. As a collective, they have always been there to cheer me on and give me the tough love when needed to reach my full potential. I specifically want to thank my employers; Kruger Products, PepsiCo, Warner-Lambert and Coca-Cola Limited for the incredible career opportunities.
Click here for the full list of 2022 Star Women in Grocery award winners.