About six months into her new position as head of an association whose members generate $680 billion in annual food sales, Leslie Sarasin demonstrated her decisiveness and authority as a leader. Swine flu (the H1N1 virus) was spreading in the United States and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute was about to hold its new Future Connect Conference in Texas for 2,000 participants. Across the border in Mexico schools were closed nationwide to curtail the spreading virus. She postponed the conference.
“The decision to postpone Future Connect is among the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my short time here at FMI. I believe it was the right decision based on the best information from federal, state and local government authorities available at the time,” Sarasin told SN.
Sarasin, who headed the American Frozen Food Institute, took over the reigns as FMI president and chief executive officer late last year from Tim Hammonds. She has been called tenacious, well connected in the food industry and a problem solver with the ability to get things done. “I am willing to make difficult decisions and take calculated risks,” but with compassion and consideration, she added.
So far her FMI agenda has been fast and furious. She is focused on adding value to member services. A Private Brands Summit debuted in June and will be followed by a Private Brands Business Conference in October.
Sarasin believes effective leadership involves working collaboratively to harness the strength of others. To that end, FMI entered into an agreement with the Grocery Manufacturers Association to form the Trading Partner Alliance to eliminate duplication and deliver robust programs and services. This effort includes integrating three conferences in 2010: supply chain, sustainability and unsaleables. The Food Industry Sustainability Summit, to be held in August in San Francisco, was developed in cooperation with the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation. The FMI Supermarket Pharmacy Conference, set for Orlando in September, will be co-located with the Global Marketing Development Center Health Beauty Wellness Marketing Conference.
Upcoming legislative challenges are: food safety, health care reform, interchange fees, organized retail crime, pension solvency and estate tax. Sarasin has proved she is ready for such challenges.
— Christina Veiders