2011 Power 50: No. 46 Leslie G. Sarasin

Leslie G. Sarasin, a strong believer in teamwork, fits easily into the role of team leader.

When Sarasin took the reins at the Food Marketing Institute, her goal was to increase the organization's effectiveness through collaboration with other groups and agencies, and she has succeeded in doing that.

“That [collaboration] has evolved through the creation of the Trading Partner Alliance, the launch of the Nutrition Keys initiative, and joint events such as our Sustainability Conference,” FMI's president and chief executive officer told SN.

A strong case in point is the relationship she has nourished between FMI and Grocery Manufacturers Association. For example, FMI has hosted its own sustainability conference for years. But, this past December, the Arlington, Va.-based association launched the inaugural sustainability conference held jointly with GMA. And, FMI has worked closely with GMA on initiatives such as front-of-package labeling.

“Also, FMI is partnering with the American Meat Institute, the United Fresh Produce Association and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture — and together we are combining our trade shows to co-locate into one large, and I do mean large, trade show,” Sarasin said.

She spoke further about developments that underscore FMI's efforts to bring retailers and their suppliers together for improvements throughout the supply chain. “Our Trading Partner Alliance has enhanced manufacturer-retailer engagement, improved supply chain efficiency and made better use of association and member resources.”

Obvious FMI efforts such as collaborating with other agencies and associations, striking a victory on interchange fees, initiating events such as FutureConnect, and working to improve food safety — including the development of the Center of Excellence for Food Safety and Protection, and its SafeMark training program — stand out in her mind as particularly important initiatives with long-range effects.

“Events such as FutureConnect offered up-and-coming leaders developmental and team-building opportunities,” Sarasin explained. But bringing FMI's personnel together to get things done has been a satisfying personal achievement, she said.

“I think I derive more inward satisfaction from the work I've done in assembling the FMI staff team — bringing the human resources together — who will best address the advocacy, educational and resource needs of FMI member companies, helping them as they feed families and enrich lives.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Sarasin when she became president and CEO, was getting FMI on sound financial footing. This required teamwork, following a vision and keeping a tight focus on the needs of FMI members. “I'm pleased to say that FMI is in good fiscal condition,” Sarasin said, “and that resulted from adhering to the [collective] wisdom present in that game plan.”

One of the most important developments this past year, Sarasin said, was helping FMI rediscover its moorings as a member-oriented association, establishing the platform for meaningful routine connection with the membership, and that's one of the initiatives she will strengthen.

“I think it is important that I — and the FMI staff — visit our member companies in their own space and first hand see their operations and hear about the issues they confront. Consequently, we have set some aggressive goals for ourselves to make sure those visits happen.”