Leadership Lessons From the Field

Sponsored by US Foods

Kelly Taylor. Photo courtesy of US Foods.

Kelly Taylor. Photo courtesy of US Foods.

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April 17, 2024 at 7:58PM UTC

How can you be an effective manager to a large team of direct reports? According to Kelly Taylor, the Senior Vice President of Field Sales, Merchandising, and Marketing at US Foods, the answer to this question comes down to trust. “I trust the people who I hire,” says Taylor.

And hiring isn’t where her support ends. Taylor notes that she spends a lot of time mentoring and cultivating talent — not micromanaging. This aligns with her core leadership style: supportive. “I like to really get to know those that I work with,” Taylor tells us. She achieves this by asking questions and really listening to understand what’s important to her team and what motivates them. Then, she uses this understanding to empower her large team, and prides herself in being someone who they can rely on. “I aim to be a leader who does what they say they will do,” says Taylor, “and a leader that my team knows will support them.”

At US Foods, Taylor’s team includes eight Regional Vice Presidents that report to her, as well as the Director of New Business Development. Her team is responsible for driving sales and financial performance in the field, executing the plays developed at the center, and cultivating talent. “I have such a large team today, I must be intentional in all that I do, as the scope of my work is so vast,” notes Taylor. As such, having a team she can trust and that trusts her is imperative for her success.

In this article, Taylor walks us through her leadership journey, advice for empowering a team, her thoughts on mentorship, and more!

Can you identify anything you said or did that earmarked you as someone ready for advancement?  

I always brought solutions to problems, and took pride in saying “yes, I can.” I also always had my boss' back. That does not mean I always agreed, but I was always on their team. 

How do you think about making sure your direct reports feel well-supported in their lives both in and out of the office? 

It is critical to coach to work-life balance, and I always tell my team that you cannot get time back with your children, family, and those you care about. They know that I want them to feel comfortable telling me no, and that they need time off. They all work very hard, and I want them to take the time to enjoy life outside of work. I know that the work will get done, and I am not concerned about micromanaging their days. My direct reports need to be empowered to make the choices that give them work-life balance

While building your team, what did you learn that surprised you most?  

No matter the level you are hiring for, all people need detailed feedback. You may assume that when you are managing a team of RVPs, they do not need as much feedback — but they do. Everyone needs to know what is working and what is not when they are in a new role.

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for other women who are moving into or want to move into leadership?  

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t wait until you have 100% of the skills needed for a role. Have confidence that you can learn as you go and take a chance.  

Switching gears a bit, what’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?  

Moving out of my comfort zone, as well as moving from Merchandising to Sales. 

Making a career leap like you that can seem intimidating to many people. What advice do you have for others who are hoping to advance their careers like you did?

Be flexible, and don’t have a predetermined idea of what the future may hold. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks, and say yes to roles that were unexpected.

What opportunities did US Foods provide that ultimately helped you land your current role and grow your career?  

I have always been given the opportunity to take on a lot of different roles. The company has always empowered me to do whatever I put my mind to. They took a chance on me on more than one occasion and gave me a great mentor to help me get there. 

Could you tell us more about the role of mentorship in your career?

Having an Executive leader like Jay Kvasnicka as my mentor helped me stretch my thinking and look at things from a more strategic level. He has also pushed me to do things that were not comfortable. Even now, he continues to give me the confidence to do more. 

Early on in my career with US Foods, my mentor was Dolph Reissig. He taught me the basics and helped me get to the next level. Most importantly, he taught me everything I needed to know about reading a P&L, which is something many women ask me to help them with today. He, like Jay, always pushed to do more in my career. I am truly blessed as I have had two incredible mentors at US Foods.

Does US Foods have a formal program in place for mentorship or sponsorship? 

We have amazing mentor and sponsorship programs. I had the benefit of being a participant in our ELT mentorship program, as well as being a mentor in our WFF Mentorship program. We have very intentional and focused programs to help people move forward in their careers.

Overall, we have so many people that invest in young talent and take the time to be a mentor. Helping others see their potential is just part of our DNA

Ultimately, what has led you to stay at your company?  

I love the culture at US Foods; the people are like family. We are a very large company with a small company feel. From our Interim CEO on down, we are all one team

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