Voni Woods, senior director of deli, bakery, and specialty cheese at Giant Eagle and chairman emeritus of the Int’l Dairy Deli Bakery Assn (IDDBA) is the 2014 inductee to the Food Industry Hall of Fame.
Ms. Woods is well known and liked in the industry. IDDBA President/CEO Mike Eardley noted, “The IDDBA would like to congratulate Voni Woods for this well-deserved recognition of her dedication to the industry. Throughout her years on the IDDBA board, she demonstrated continued commitment to the educational resources and many services we provide. As our 2012-2013 Chairman, Voni led the association with energy and vision to a record-breaking show and expanded member benefits.” She has served as a member of the IDDBA from 2006 to the present and was chairman in 2013.
Her other affiliations are: President-Women’s Business Resource Group, 2008-2013; Advisory Council Member – Duquesne University Palumbo Donahue School of Business Management; St. Kilian Parish Advisory Council to the Pastor; and I Ms. Woods s a Eucharistic Minister.
Ms. Woods recent awards include: 2013 Female Executive of the Year – The Griffin Report ; 2012 President’s Award – Innovation and Profitable Growth; 2012 President’s Award – Respect for Team Members; 2009-2014 President and President Emeritus – Women’s Business Resource Group; 2013 People’s Choice Award – Deli Business Magazine; 2011 The Griffin Report – Women of Influence in the Food Industry.
The Griffin Report posed some questions to Ms Woods about her career and the deli-bakery-cheese industry she enthusiastically serves.
What do you think are you biggest achievements in the categories of deli, bakery and specialty cheese?
My biggest professional achievements have always been about people. The best work I’ve ever done, the best accomplishments I have achieved are when I am able to watch the growth and development of another person as they solve a problem, win a contest, move on to bigger and better things and know I was a part of their success, that I helped them along the way. It applies to direct reports and peers as well as connections in the industry.
What are some of your thoughts for grocers to capture future sales in these categories?
I’ve had the most success when I was able to grow categories year over year by finding those really special signature items that build loyalty, trust and repeat customers. My thoughts are to focus on fewer items and sell more of them! To pick the very best items in every category putting them through the “do we love them and will our customers love them, too?” test and then go out and get the best possible price and market and position them in your stores on your shelves like you LOVE them!
How important are physical makeup of these departments in merchandising, presentation, marketing etc?
It’s always important, but it’s not always about new, shiny and expensive fixtures. It’s about the food, the presentation, the packaging and the way you capture the attention of the products.
What makes your job exciting? Do you look forward to it every day? What are your biggest challenges and strategies to overcome them?
I seriously get up in the morning thinking “How can I find a better way to do something, a more efficient way? What can I do bigger, better, faster, and more fun”. I am a student of the business and a relentless learner about Deli and Bakery. I learn something every day and I want to pass on the learning. I end the day energized knowing I have made a difference both with what I learned and who I shared it with!
How would you define your management style?
Since I was a kid, I’ve had a natural knack leading because I simply find it difficult not to. Setting the vision and establishing the right tasks to accomplish the mission, while aligning the right people to deliver the best results, is the way I like to work. Across the desk strategy and goal setting is my preferred way.
Do you have a defining moment in your professional career?
I have had many defining moments at different times in my career and quite frankly they happened when I was given advice that was not what I wanted to hear or do, but that stuck in my head until I was able to own it!
How has the IDDBA helped your work?
The incredible selfless volunteer board who selflessly serve the industry they love with their time and energy inspire me. The connections I have made to industry leaders in the supplier, retail and broker community is amazing and invaluable. The equally talented staff that is driven to be “the essential resource for relevant information and services that add value across all food channels in the categories they serve” is literally free training & development! I encourage all retailers to get involved even if only attending the annual show (which is free to retailers!)
Any words of wisdom for someone who wants to follow in your path?
I’ve learned through mentors of my own that transformational growth into exceptional leadership involved fostering my ability to create sustainable change and that through coaching and stewardship and more listening than talking I could become effective. I have learned that you do not change others until you change yourself and one by one we change the world!
What are your hobbies or interests out of work?
I love to keep fit and stay fit by power walking and running! I volunteer in the community at my church and in the academia environment where I spend time learning from others while giving back time and energy! I believe giving back is an essential part of “good leadership”.
Anything else you would like to comment on?
Over the years, Giant Eagle has given me many opportunities and challenges. It has always been up to me to do something with it. Influential mentors have taught me that leadership is much more than being the expert, or the achiever. It’s more about being ‘good’ as a contributor, about transforming oneself and others and ultimately the organization. At Giant Eagle, I have been able to integrate aspects of what is important to me personally and to the community, which has allowed me to find purpose and true joy in work, which is the real gift.