CAFNR Celebrates Women’s History Month: Q&A with Sheri Smithey

Smithey is a Column Award winner and CAFNR alumna

Sheri Smithey speaks at the 2021 CAFNR Column Awards celebration.

Sheri Smithey received her B.S. in Biochemistry, an M.S. in Agriculture Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Agriculture Engineering, all from Mizzou. Upon completion of her degrees at Mizzou, Sheri went to work for Nestle Research and Development, and has spent her entire career in various arms of the company, including a two-year assignment in Europe.

In 2021, she received the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Column Award for Distinguished Alumni. This is the only award specifically for alumni presented by the college. The 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 Sheri 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

My current role is the head of the global R&D Network for Nestle Purina PetCare. This includes four sites – St. Louis, St. Joseph, Amiens FR, and Singapore. This group is responsible for supporting the Research & Development needs for each of the regions in the globe driving innovation/renovation in the areas of nutrition, product, and technology. It has broad responsibility and significant impact. Certainly, these two things drive excitement in the role and are enjoyable. One thing that I really enjoy is the interaction with the team – we have some fantastic technical individuals who I learn from every day and their ability to deliver to the regions continues to inspire and amaze me.

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

There have been so many – some that I have known personally and some that I have only read their story and been inspired. My former manager (who I took over for) was a huge advocate and helped me develop some skills that I didn’t even know I needed to reach the very senior levels. She provided honest feedback that really pushed me to grow. I have read about so many women in different areas – if I think through some – Angela Merkel, Marie Curie, Beyonce, Anna Wintour to just name a few that I continue to study and learn from their perspectives.

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

I view that it is important to set a leadership example for both women and men. This is a key area for me and one that I spend a lot of time coaching and communicating on. It is key as a leader that you have humility and empathy. One of my mantras is to ‘be the leader that people want to follow because they want to and not because they have to’ – driven by a vision and a connection. This is a key aspect for me that sometimes gets lost and is important. As a leader you have to deliver your best self every day so that the team will reciprocate with their best self which only helps the organization.

What advice do you have for women entering your industry?

My advice is always to find mentors to provide you safe places to discuss different leadership principles to continue to grow in your personal leadership. Another piece of advice is to find individuals within the organization that are difference makers and influencers – understanding some of the tools that they use and how they manage their influence within the specific culture is a key opportunity. It is through watching these examples within the company and outside that can help you develop skills as a leader. I think sometimes people want to rise quickly within an organization, and there is a real advantage in developing depth, living with the consequences of decisions made and managing through the post-evaluation that generates lasting learnings.