Jennifer Onoja believes strongly in giving back to others, and making sure that
everyone’s voice is heard.
That’s why KeHE Distributors has provided the perfect environment for her development as she has grown into a leadership position as senior category manager for dairy, non-dairy, and refrigerated beverages at the Naperville, Ill.-based grocery distributor. Onoja, who recently celebrated her 10th anniversary at the company, sees her role as an opportunity to help, whether it’s her co-workers, the supplier partners she works with, or people in the community.
“I’m very people oriented. That’s how I was raised,” she said. “It’s about how you treat people. I always feel like goodness comes back to you when you give that out.”
That spirit has led Onoja to become involved in several different initiatives at KeHE, including, among others, the African American Council and a leadership group called Women Empowered, which she said help ensure that everyone has a voice at the company.
Onoja got swept up in the service-oriented culture at KeHE early on, when she went on one of the company’s charitable missions to Laredo, Texas, where KeHE employees work with a local church to pack food bags and perform other activities to help people in need.
“Going on that trip is part of why I’m still at KeHE, because it just made me realize, ‘Okay, all the hard work that I’m doing, I’m doing this for a purpose because part of our profits are going to help people that are in need,’” said Onoja, who noted that KeHE donates 10% of its profits to charitable organizations.
“KeHE just aligns with who I am as a person,” she said. “I love giving my time, whether it’s donating or just serving and going to some of these events. I love being a part of that.”
Onoja also exercises leadership in helping product suppliers grow their sales. Last year she participated in the NY MilkLaunch event, a dairy product accelerator program, which gave her an opportunity to work with smaller brands in her category as a mentor, educating them about the ins and outs of retail product distribution.
“I love being able to see brands grow,” she said. “I love being a part of their process, their journey, and helping them navigate through the distributor world.”
She also enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion for the job with Melissa Kramer, the associate category manager who reports to her and who she is helping train for a potential role as a category manager herself.
Onoja credits several mentors with teaching her valuable leadership lessons, including Julie Terrazzino, a fellow category manager, who nominated Onoja as a Leader to Watch.
“Jennifer’s can-do attitude and light-hearted demeanor is admired by all in her department, and she is viewed as a leader with not just the company’s best interests at heart, but also the interests of the employees,” Terrazzino said, citing Onoja’s “passion to develop others and deliver top results.”
Other mentors that Onoja cited include Katie Paul, Theresa Atkins, Tabitha Sewell, and Maria Reyes, who was Onoja’s first manager in the category management department.