Patty Stroup | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Patty Stroup

  • A headshot of Patty Stroup, chief procurement officer of Nestle USA. Courtesy of Patty Stroup

  • Patty Stroup on her diary farm in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Patty Stroup

Background:  

Nestlé USA is a part of Nestlé's global empire. The 150-year-old company sells baby food, drinks and confectionery and researches how certain foods impact chronic medical conditions. It has 87 factories in the U.S. and 436 factories worldwide. Nestlé reported global annual sales of $88.8 billion in 2015. 

The Mistake:  

The mistake was that I wasn't looking at it from their perspective. I was only looking at an issue from my perspective and how I could explain it and how I understood it. I wasn't thinking about how the other person in the transaction came from a completely different perspective.  

At the time, I lived in Pennsylvania on a farm and we were in Washington, D.C., working with legislatures. I was [a member relations specialist] for a milk farming cooperative. In the early '90s, we had a farm bill that we wanted to pass and we needed votes from some more urban congressmen.  

I remember I walked into a congressman's office with all my facts and news and I knew the topic really well. Getting all the data took weeks. The more we talked, the more apparent it became that he had no idea what I was talking about. 

I was trying to explain to him how this [bill] was going to impact farmers and he didn't have a lot of farmers in his district. The arguments that I was using weren't the ones that mattered to him.  

[My team and I] all walked out and looked at each other like, "Wow. We don't know anything about that person." None of us lived in the city. None of us had that background or experience. None of us had worked in any kind of urban policy before. We didn't have a lot of experience in our careers either.  

I don't think any of us at the time were armed with the information we needed to really address it from that person's perspective. I think it was a learning experience for all of us.   

In the end, the bill did pass, but he specifically did not support it. 

The arguments that I was using weren't the ones that mattered to him. 

The Lesson:  

[Now] I do things with the perspective of, I know what my position is and why, but what is that person's position going to be and why? What's their background? What are they passionate about? What are the things that are most important to them?  

Unless you understand what the impact to that person is or what their history and their perspective and their understanding of the topic is, it's not really going to help you to just know the facts.   

I have worked overseas in both Europe and Southeast Asia and the cultural difference are something that you have to take into account when you are working there. When I was in Europe, in the beginning, I was like, "Let's go! Let's get things done. Let's move forward," [but] the culture there is much more collaborative. 

I remember one very specific meeting where we were trying to procure some material to go into one of the companies in Europe. There were some questions on what some of the specifications should look like and how much they should spend for the materials. The answer was obvious to me as to how we should move forward. Rather than just try to go forward with that push as I normally would have done, I took a step back and said, "Wait a minute. The culture is different. They are not looking at it from the same perspective or the same ways that I am."  

I think it just comes down to empathy. I know that is not something you can really teach—that is something you more have to feel and have that experience to grow.  

Follow Nestlé USA on Twitter at @NestleUSA 

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