CAFNR Celebrates Women’s History Month: Q&A with Sarah Geisert

Geisert is a Column Award winner and CAFNR alumna

Sarah Geisert, BS Food Science ‘81, is a recognized global leader for international food safety. For more than three decades, she was employed at General Mills, rising from research and development as her first position within the company, moving through various marketing and supply chain positions to director, then to senior director, a position she held for 11 years. There, she led the corporate team, protecting and growing General Mills’ global business position, while providing expertise in regulatory risk management, biotechnology strategy and other food safety issues. Sarah is now a self-employed consultant, sharing her same strengths and industry experiences that moved General Mills forward to help companies with issues pertaining to food safety and risk management.

In 2017, Sarah returned to campus, serving as the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources’ Executive-in-Residence. In 2020, she received the CAFNR Column Award for Distinguished Alumni, the only award specifically for alumni presented by the college. Each awardee class includes one graduate from each of CAFNR’s six divisions, reflecting the six historic columns at the University of Missouri.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Sarah a few questions about her distinguished career, women who have inspired her along the way, and how she is supporting the next generation of women in her field.

Tell us about your current or most recent role and what you enjoy about it

Currently I’m grateful to be working with a couple small startup companies. These are much different business than my experience at a large food company. It is energizing to be involved with talented and motivated individuals. And not in direct areas of my technical expertise. I’m a good connector and have been able to help identify needed resources and advantaged contacts. My mentoring often focuses on organizational and management development. Why you are successful at starting a company, i.e. a great idea and/or technical prowess, is not enough to build a sustainable one. They is joy in helping others and seeing a lightbulb go off or a great new connection made.  

Share with us a woman who has inspired you in your life/career

My high school calculus teacher is who immediately came to mind. She was smart, able to adjust teaching styles and ran her own class. She managed practical jokes well and could command the class on the rare times action was needed. Listening was a skill used to help understand how best to approach a challenge we were facing. She recognized student differences and managed accordingly.  

How do you strive to set an example for the next generation of women leaders?

Be available and then be present when someone asks for your opinion, guidance and/or help. Often initial questions are not the real area of concern. Once they know you care, real progress can be made.  

What advice do you have for women entering your industry?

Start with an assumption that this will not be your only job/company/boss and/or position. With this mindset, you will be more open to actively learning from others. Often your “technical” skills are your focus, but pay attention to managerial & leadership styles. These are often the source of advancement or derailment. Bosses come and go. You can learn from those you admire as well as those you find lacking. Build a broad network. These contacts or organizational linkages can become beneficial years later. Your career is long journey, a detour does not end a trip & can actually bring positive surprises. Last, do not be afraid to ask for help or guidance, life long learning will serve you well.