At this year’s annual Women’s Foodservice Forum leadership development conference, to be held April 15-18 in Orlando, Fla., Jane Sumner, the organization’s incoming chair, will be quite busy. In addition to finding time to get to the gym, she said she is making it a personal goal to meet at least 300 new people amid the projected 3,000 attendees.
“It will be hard,” she said. “But I really want to be able to reach people, particularly our emerging leaders, and make a personal connection even if it’s three minutes…that would be cool.”
Sumner, a vice president of sales at PepsiCo Foodservice, a company where she has worked since 1994, is making it her mission to “stay connected, understand the WFF’s membership, and deliver results.” She wants to help the organization continue to develop relevant programming for its growing and diverse membership and highlight its networking opportunities. Sumner is a longtime WFF member and credits the organization with helping her establish a vast professional and personal network.
What are your top three agenda items for your tenure as WFF chair?
The first one is what we’re really known for—ensuring that we support women within our industry to help them reach their greatest potential.… The second area is focusing on the opportunities that we provide members as it relates to networking.… Third, supporting our member organizations.
At the end of the day, if people say the programming continues to rock, I really get this networking thing and our members get some critical takeaways that they can use to make a difference on their own home turf, well, if we’ve made progress in those areas that would make me feel pretty darn good.
Has corporate America reached a satisfactory level of equality in terms of gender and ethnicity?
I don’t think our work is done. I would love to say that we don’t need [the WFF]. But, you know, that’s just not the case. Yes, we’ve made incredible progress in both foodservice and in general, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
You look at certain companies that have embraced diversity and inclusion, and once they get it, they see the impact to their business and to their bottom line. But it’s not just about having a diverse population, it’s about creating a culture of inclusion where people can bring their whole selves to work—how great would that be when you don’t have to leave anything out. When you do that, it’s pretty exciting to see what can happen.FAST FACTS
AGE: 47EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in business and marketing from Southern Illinois UniversityHOMETOWN: Centralia, Ill.RESIDENCE: DallasEXPERIENCE: various sales leadership roles during her 13 years at PepsiCo; former roles at Pillsbury and Hormel
What are your own career goals?
I love the foodservice industry, and I hope to continue to contribute within PepsiCo, whatever that will look like. I love customer leadership, being involved in their growth and development. I’m confident I can contribute in whatever I’m asked to do.
Who were your strongest mentors, and do you mentor younger executives now?
I’ve been asked that question, and honestly, I’ve never really had one or two people that really stood out as “official” mentors. What I have had is a myriad of people that have impacted me personally and professionally over the years. I’ve been lucky to work with people who are talented and open…and I’ve gotten little nuggets here and there.
What I had gave me a real appreciation for reaching back and helping others. I don’t have an official mentee, but I probably have almost 50 people, men and women, that know they can pick up the phone and call me.… I’m available. That’s my approach.