First Choice

Empowerment, Engagement and Essential Leadership Development: WFF Leadership Conference is a Rewarding Experience for Rich’s Attendees


Thirty Rich’s associates and leaders recently attended the Annual Leadership Development Conference presented by the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). The dynamic group returned to Rich’s with a renewed sense of passion, heightened self-awareness and valuable personal reflection. Through workshops and networking opportunities, they strengthened essential leadership competencies and developed scores of industry connections. They formed strong interpersonal connections within the Rich’s contingent and plan to leverage those relationships for expanded business insight and mentoring. 

“The WFF is committed to advancing men and women within the foodservice industry by training and developing emerging leaders to be strategically prepared to succeed in leadership roles,” said Jill Bond, SVP & General Counsel. “Rich’s echoes that commitment and we’re investing in our talent by partnering with the WFF and giving aspiring leaders the opportunity to attend conferences and develop essential skills. We’re also bringing the WFF’s leadership competencies, support and passion back to everyone at Rich’s through networking events and mentoring programs.”

Influence, Credibility and Presence

“I brought back some extraordinary learnings about courage, credibility and stretching,” said Julie Sheldon, HR Generalist. “My job is traditionally a supportive role, so influencing others can be challenging. But the conference gave me the insight and tools to make myself more visible on a daily basis, to create opportunities to influence the business and the people around me, and to develop a stronger presence.”

The skills and competencies emphasized by the WFF are things men and women can work on at any level of their career.

“Being a leader doesn’t always mean you’re responsible for people,” said Kristin Alongi, Senior Food Technologist. “There are ways to influence people and the business every day.”

“The conference gave me some structure around the power of presence,” said Heather Stammler, Customer Experience Manager. “You have to act your next role and remember that you’re always being evaluated. You should carry yourself in a way that enables others to speak highly of you.”

As the first and only female maintenance manager at Rich’s, Sherri Blake feels she has to work a little harder to build trust and ensure her voice is heard. The conference gave her the tools to build her credibility and influence others with her thoughts and ideas. She learned valuable communication and listening skills, and is putting a renewed emphasis on listening before answering to develop trust among peers.

“I think it’s important to achieve as much as possible and always strive to learn,” said Blake. “Everyone needs to learn these skills to advance.”

Relevance and Timing

At Rich’s, an invitation to attend a WFF conference is a prestigious honor awarded to associates who are performing well and who demonstrate the necessary capabilities, aptitude and aspiration to be a leader. While anyone can benefit from attending a WFF conference, timing is critical.

“The relevance of these skills at this point in my career is paramount,” said Julie Michel, Trade Settlement Manager. “This was the perfect year for me to attend. I’m seven months into a leadership role with a new team which positioned me to benefit from the experience and apply the learnings to my daily work.”

Attendees could complete an on-site self-assessment and develop a personal conference agenda, tailored specifically to their current needs and goals.

“I focused on the leadership competencies that are relevant to me at this point in my career and challenged myself to look for growth opportunities,” said Sheldon. “Now, I am more aware of my career aspirations and what I can do to achieve them.”

Leading with Purpose and Passion

The core leadership competencies developed at the conference are further strengthened by the intangible gains such as self-awareness and renewed purpose.

“I’ve learned a lot of important skills through the WFF over the years but I didn’t anticipate the level of personal reflection I would experience at the conference,” said Alongi. “I learned important lessons about bringing your whole self to the table and leveraging the skills that set you apart from others.”

Conference participants gained skills to nourish their own careers, as well as those around them.

“In my new role I have seven women as direct reports,” said Michel. “I learned a lot about motivating, mentoring and teamwork and I’m passing those learnings along to my team. I’m trying to inspire my team to stretch themselves and I’m leading by example.”

“People don’t follow you because of what you do, they follow you because of why you do it,” said Stammler. “It’s all about purpose. When you know your purpose you do things more passionately.”

Many attendees have found that the basic principles they learned are enabling them to achieve greater fulfillment at work and at home.

“I’m engaged, I’m fulfilled, I’m motivated and I’m going to keep this momentum going,” said Alongi. “I’m a better leader as a result of this conference.”

Mentors and Advocates Critical to Career Success

The WFF conference also shed light on the roles of advocate, mentor and sponsor.

“These people are critical to our success, they are guiding our careers, advocating on our behalf and sponsoring us for opportunities,” said Stammler. “It’s important to become aware of who these people are and how to leverage their support to achieve your goals.”

“It was so motivating to see Rich’s leaders in attendance but it was even more powerful to spend time with them and get to know them,” said Michel. “They’re approachable, they want to know our stories and they want to help us achieve our full potential.”

One of the most unique and unexpected results of the conference were the bonds created among the group of Rich’s associates that attended. Coming from various parts of the business, very few attendees had ever met before. Already the group has established a strong connection, regularly communicating and meeting in small groups.

“We will be advocates, mentors, sounding-boards, advisors and friends to one another for years to come,” said Blake.

By sharing their stories and career paths with one another, the group is expanding their business insight and acumen, inspiring growth and raising each other up as they go.