16 April, 2016 WENDY DAVIDSON KELLOGG’S // CHICAGO
It’s always easy to start a blog post for a wedding. I talk about the couple in love and how they met. I share their love story. I share how we met. I can go on a complete tangent and it’s pretty normal for me to get sappy. Here I am in one of my favorite coffeeshops at 11pm sipping wine, listening to rain & live music and getting lost in all of the thoughts of how thankful I am to be doing what I’m doing. You guys might get sick of hearing me say that but I swear…every single time I post a blog or edit images there I am with the same overwhelming, sappy joy. This doesn’t just happen with weddings…my sappiness spills over into the “corporate world”. Whoa. You know, where you’re supposed to be professional. No jokes. Stiff suits. Where you get in trouble for emailing a CEO directly when you’re just a 20 year old HR assistant (well, at least this is what I thought).
I view the corporate world in a different way now. When I was 20 I got my first taste of it all. It scared the crap out of me mostly because I was just trying to fit in…which was pretty standard in every area of my life at that point. Square peg round hole vibes. THEN I started my own company and decided to take a new approach. I wanted to meet up with executives and just HANG OUT. Get to know them. What?! Imagine that. Unheard of. I wanted to take them on adventures in the city. Go exploring. See their favorite coffeeshops and taste their favorite beers. I wanted to see their offices and headquarters but I wanted to also take them with me to cool co-working spaces and introduce them to new friends and small businesses I had just met in their city.
Wendy was my 3rd session that I had booked like this…I call it a “branding lifestyle adventure session of sorts” or some ridiculously long title. Who knows. I had also booked a session like this with Kat Cole in Atlanta and Amanda Hite in DC. I was so excited to finally get to hang out with thee WENDY DAVIDSON. I flew in a day early to scope out Chicago. I had only ever been there for work (mostly Menumasters) and needed to get out and explore. The week before I headed to Chicago a photographer on Instagram (Jaclyn Simpson) reached out to me so we ended up meeting for coffee at SoHo House (Fun fact: I want to own a place like this one day). Little did I know that it would end up being one of those meant to be things! A stranger who quickly becomes a friend. We immediately clicked…I got in her car and we drove around the city singing Amy Grant and hopping in and out of local hangs. We went to this space that her friend owns…it overlooks the city . Right when I walked in he and I embraced and I just knew this was the place I was supposed to photograph Wendy. I also told him that I was going to rent out his space one day for an event/fundraiser. What a great guy! If you’re in the area please go visit Workshop.
The morning of my session with Wendy I pulled up to Kellogg’s headquarters. It was snowy. I just had a really good conversation with my Uber driver and this was a surreal moment for me. KELLOGG’S!! I had a badge and everything. The badge said I needed an escort which if you know me well…tis true. I remember the Kellogg’s logo being on my cereal boxes since I was a wee child. Freaking Snap, Crackle & Pop! There I was. I had made it. To be working with one of their Presidents was really cool to me. Wendy brought me my favorite coffee and she also mentioned she was having a car karaoke jam session with herself. I secretly wanted to be friends with her right then and there. Just like Kat Cole…I remember hearing Wendy speak at Women’s Foodservice Forum back in 2012. This year Wendy is the Chair of WFF and our session in Chicago was a couple weeks before their annual conference in Dallas. Little did I know her and I would become really great friends over those couple of week and that I would be spending time with the chair of WFF at this conference. By spending time I mean we would dance with her crew from Kellogg’s, listen to Arianna Huffington together, eat spaghetti and meatballs with past chairs in their suite and listen to one of our favorites Amanda Hite speak. It was great! I specifically remember a moment in 2013 after photographing an “after hours” party at WFF… I was talking with Kathleen Wood. I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t post these pictures on the blog. We were all dancing and drinking wine. Clearly letting our hair down. She said…Steph, this is what you do. You show real life. She doesn’t know it but those words went straight to my heart and I ran with that.
There I was in the car with someone I had admired for years having her ask me about what I am doing in life. She wanted to hear my story..she wanted to know about the Promote Love Movement. But I was so intrigued by her bucket list stories and all she had done in life I could barely sit still…I peppered her with questions. She had done so much in such a short amount of time. She was humble and so confident. She had this grace and calmness about her. One minute she spoke directly and passionately… then the next she would be cracking a joke that had an entire stadium laughing. This girl GOT IT. She knew how to meet people right where they were at. We talked of family, religion, bacon (yes), and adventures. She is one of those people that I know without a shadow of a doubt will be in my life until I die. I am so excited to share her Q & A with you below. Take time to read it. I have yet to meet someone in my entire almost 33 years who has made an actual bucket list then went ahead and checked ALL of the items off. I love that she talks about her husband, Thor, and how he is her biggest supporter and that this was his idea. THIS WOMAN HAS DONE THIS! Her story is so inspiring. She is one of the good ones and to say I am happy to know her is an understatement.
1. Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I was born in St. Louis, MO which is where both of my parents grew up, moved to LeMars, Iowa when I was in grade school and graduated both HS and college in Iowa. I now live in the Chicagoland area (if you don’t actually live in Chicago proper, I’ve learned you have to say Chicagoland.
2. Tell us about this bucket list you had…I say “had” because it’s not very often someone makes one let alone checks all of the items off!
In early 2009 my position was eliminated and found myself looking at 18 months with a non-compete that essentially prevented me from moving on to another food company. My husband (and partner in this crazy journey) challenged me to make a list of all of the things I wish I’d ever had time to do (big or small) in the years I’d been working long hours and traveling. As we reviewed my extensive wish list with everything from sky diving to cleaning out the closets, he urged me to complete them all and stated he would “join me for as many of them as he could”. This soon became what we affectionately refer to as “Wendy’s Involuntary Sabbatical World Tour”. As someone who had always poured myself into work, I realized I hadn’t made time for involvement in my community or my kids’ school, so I sought to volunteer with organizations that meant something to me personally. As a 30-year cancer survivor, I joined the local board for Susan G. Komen and was asked to join the board for The New School where both of my kids were students. A close friend challenged me to train for and run the Race for the Cure – as a lifelong non-runner, this felt like a Herculean task but resulted in a subsequent love of running and added “Run a full marathon” to my sabbatical world tour goals. As a student of the food industry and passionate foodie, I decided to cook my way through all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks – creating elaborate meals for my family over that first summer and making notes in the margins of what they liked and what needed to be tweaked for our family tastes. This has resulted in many new family favorites and expanded our “at home” dining options. I traveled for a few weeks to Ireland with one of my best friends from college and our moms which we affectionately named “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Stretchpants” and laughed from one end of the country to the other. As I was in the midst of marathon training, I woke early each day to run 6-8 miles in whichever area of the country we happened to be. Armed with only my iPhone, I was able to see and capture in photos views not possible by car – which reinforced the blessing of how my bucket list items were coming together and creating opportunities. Dr. Bertice Berry spoke at a WFF conference a few years ago and her comment “when you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny” resonated with me, but it wasn’t until this year that I truly felt it come to life.
I offered each of my kids a “mommy and me” trip anywhere in the US with the caveat they had to help me plan (part of the fun and the learning!). My son was 11 at the time and chose Washington DC where we spent hours in the Smithsonian flight simulator, he tried Indian food for the first time, and we struggled together to comprehend the hatred in WWII as we walked silently for hours in the Holocaust Museum. My daughter was 6 and chose the “American Girl” experience in Chicago where we walked the snow-covered beach on Lake Michigan (it was February) and giggled over tea with her baby doll at the cafe. The “mommy and me” trip has become an annual outing, but ironically both the Mid-Atlantic and Chicago resulted in our next two moves as a family. Again, the sabbatical bucket list items seemed to come together and lead to something further. Other items included taking a photography course (I had never learned how to use my camera), sky diving, reading the Bible from cover to cover (which my son ended up asking if he could join), traveling to Italy with Thor including a culinary class in Tuscany, sneaking in to see the Pope at St. Peter’s square, and experimenting with gelato flavor combinations 2-3 times per day in Florence (good thing I was running!). As the year progressed I was asked to do some consulting work for former customers and ended up working with a close friend and mentor on a business deal with a private equity firm, gaining valuable business experience and staying connected and engaged in our industry. The result of the year was a very clear sense of who I am, what was most important to me, and the importance of finding an environment where I could be my most authentic self. When you find yourself without a company or title behind your name, it can be both disconcerting and quite humbling as I found myself (especially at board meetings and industry events) asking “is Wendy Davidson enough?”. I met people during that time who have become some of my very best friends and I reinforced the depth of my friendships with others. When you have nothing to give but yourself, you gain the blessing of clarity in your relationships – truly a gift.
3. What do you do for work now?
I am President of a business division for the Kellogg Company – I couldn’t have found a better “fit” for me in company purpose, culture of inclusion, and a position that allows me to enable others to come to work everyday as their most productive and authentic self. I’m a passionate believer that leadership sets the tone and the vision but our role is to enable the team with resources and support to bring their best thinking, most creative energy, and entrepreneurial spirit to the workplace. In addition I am honored to serve as the chair for the Women’s Foodservice Forum board of directors. I’ve been involved with WFF for over 20 years and the connections made and competency-based leadership tools were a key enabler for me to move forward in my career. As I moved into new roles or transitioned to a new company, the network within WFF was there to support, guide, coach, and mentor…and celebrate! I am honored to be in a position now to give back to the organization and help move forward the strategy to build a pipeline of ready talent to change the face of leadership in our industry.
4. Why do you feel that the simple message of the Promote Love Movement is important?
How many pages can I use?! I believe when people feel loved and are free to give love, they are their most productive and most creative. Having had the chance to travel overseas beginning with a study abroad in college and extending in my professional life and hosting an exchange student from Japan, I’ve learned that regardless of region, language, or culture, the world is a lot smaller than you think and we are a lot more alike than we are different…and that a smile and a laugh is a common language in which we can all relate. Love builds bridges and connects us in ways that remind us of our humanity.
5. When you were speaking at WFF you mentioned something very important about the LGBTQ community in the workplace and people feeling safe and comfortable.
After we had friends and family who distanced themselves for years both emotionally and geographically, before finally coming out, it made me ask “what messages have I been sending that prevented them from feeling comfortable and opening up sooner?”. As a family we have lost years of connections, experiences and memories. While I can’t change history, I realize I can be more intentional in my life to ensure those around me, personally and professionally, feel completely comfortable bringing their whole self to work. At the same time, I encourage people to give the people in their lives the benefit of the doubt…share who you really are with those closest to you – they might surprise you.
6. What is one piece of advice you received from a mentor that has stuck with you over the years?
Lend a hand before you need a hand
7. What is one accomplishment in your life that you’re proud of that most people might not know of?
I competed in theatre in high school. I had no talent so I was always in the ensemble cast…including…wait for it…a flying monkey in the Wizard of Oz. We were in one-act competition so we changed the role to cats…I had this full length leotard with a hood, ears and a tail…Oscar worthy.
8. Top 3 favorite books?
Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole
If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg
Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy
9. What kind of person do you want to be remembered as when you pass away?
Yikes…hope that’s not too soon! I would like to be remembered not for what I’ve done, but for how I made others feel. I’ve been told I’m perky…I prefer “passionate and perky with purpose” – I hope people remember me and smile…maybe chuckle a little.
WENDY DAVIDSON KELLOGG’S