Women in Public Affairs to Know: Molly Fogarty

September 18, 2019

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This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit our website.

As head of government relations and public affairs for Nestlé in the U.S., Molly Fogarty represents Nestlé to the nation’s elected officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Relaying important information from these key stakeholders, Molly then translates that back to the Nestlé businesses – across seven operating companies – so that collectively Nestlé can understand the expectations set forth by our nation’s leaders.Much of Molly’s professional success crosses over into her personal passions as she sits on the board of five nonprofit organizations, three that support low-income families and another that focuses on gender equality.

The interview below was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team.

 Molly’s twin boys, Aidan and Conor, at a Jayhawks game.

Molly’s twin boys, Aidan and Conor, at a Jayhawks game.

Question: I noticed you are a Jayhawk from the University of Kansas. Did you grow up in the Midwest and if so, how did that shape who you are today?  

Molly Fogarty: Yes, Jayhawks are my allegiance loud and proud. I went to the University of Kansas and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I disappointed my parents by fleeing south to Kansas to go to school, but I was proud to be the first college graduate in my family. Growing up and doing my schooling in the Midwest absolutely shaped who I am and how I think. I visit my family there as often as possible.

They keep me grounded in the reality of the rest of the country, and the great humble qualities that come from the Midwest. They also spend a lot of time reminding me not to be too big for my britches and to remember what is important. I moved away more than 25 years ago, but I still call it home. I’m trying to distill the love for all things Jayhawks and all things Midwestern to my twin boys. Growing up in Nebraska gave me an amazing foundation, especially in this line of work where you’re learning how to connect with people and how to be patient. There is a level of diplomacy that I would like to think I inherited from my Midwest upbringing.

Q: Coming to Nestlé, you brought significant experience working on agriculture and food related issues. However, I understand you also represented First Lady Laura Bush on her domestic and international assignments as her on-site logistics leader to “ensure the flawless execution of her activities.” Tell me about the term flawless execution and how women working in public affairs can embrace this standard in the work they do.

Molly: It was an honor to have the chance to work for Mrs. Bush for all eight years they occupied the White House. I learned a lot from the experience of doing the travel advance for her. To me, flawless execution is certainly not about perfection. I think it’s important to make the differentiation. To me, it’s about agility in thinking and then action, and I think it’s the perfect analysis for the work that we have to do in public affairs. There is a huge role for strategic planning and preparedness, but these jobs inevitably are full of surprises and the ability to be agile is a critical attribute for success.

When working for Mrs. Bush, we may have had a perfectly demonstrated plan, but the minute the plane touched down things would start to go off plan. It’s a real analogy for the way my day goes in this public affairs role. I learned, in a very visible way, how to pivot on a dime and to always have second and third options in my mind for what we could do. It taught me excellent decision-making skills, even if I don’t have all of the answers or information at my fingertips. In public affairs it’s important to have an eye for nuance and detail, as well as a hefty dose of diplomacy. Working travel advance was great training for life, but also had very specific applications for my future jobs.

 Molly with colleagues Nicole Collier and Kelsey Freeman, welcoming the new Congress in 2019.

Molly with colleagues Nicole Collier and Kelsey Freeman, welcoming the new Congress in 2019.

Q: Nestlé places a strong emphasis on diversity and fostering a work place that celebrates and embraces local cultures, perspectives and customs. Can you talk about why this is important to Nestlé?

Molly: Diversity is really important to Nestlé on a couple of levels, including as a business in terms of business success. Nestlé is a huge global conglomerate that does business in 187 countries. Geographically speaking, we believe that food culture is local or regional, but it is most definitely not global. We treat each country as an individual market, or each region where there may be some commonalities as its own unique region with unique management, and even a different business portfolio in place.

I think it’s an interesting and unique quality, but it’s important because a family in Florida is very likely to prepare a simple ingredient like shrimp in a way that is very different than a family in Vietnam. Understanding the geographic difference and celebrating it is why Nestlé has been so successful in business for a long period of time – 152 years.

As an employer, diversity is also incredibly important. It is a critical differentiator for us to be able to attract talent. People who join an organization like ours want to know that we as a company value them as their whole and authentic selves, and they want to be able to see people that look like them. They want to see that reflected in the management and leadership of the company. We see diversity as a defining measure of success and it’s something that we continue to strive to improve. I don’t know that any organization is resting on its laurels in today’s market feeling like they have all the diversity that they want. It’s a very active part of our conversation here to make sure that we continue to reflect society, which means that we also get to reflect the people that consume our products.

Q: I’m a technology nerd, so I’m curious as to what you think are the greatest technological advancements in the food industry and how these advancements will change the industry in the next five years?

Molly: The food industry itself has been under intense scrutiny over the last 15-20 years. People want to eat more fresh food and food that is procured more locally. I continue to think that it’s pretty amazing that the food industry can package and ship food to market as we do today. That was a radical technological change. Just 100 years ago, people were still more farm-based, and now they have the opportunity to move and be flexible and develop different kinds of livelihoods because they’re not just working hard to feed their families.

I am fascinated by the change we are undergoing now in plant-based proteins. As a good Nebraskan, I absolutely love to have my meat and I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but a lot of consumers today are interested in more flexible eating, whether it’s for environmental reasons, health reasons, or just looking to add more nutrients to their diet. I think the unbelievable transformation that we’re seeing in food culture today is more toward flexitarian eating and the plant-based proteins that taste like a good hamburger but are made from plants. I think it is something that will be transformative in the future and there is a lot of good work going on in that space today. This isn’t the fake bacon or fake turkey of 10 years ago. It is a different way of bringing products to the market with different health markets.

We are in the position of responding to consumer desire, or offering consumers something to see if they like it. We definitely are playing in that space in a big way. I think the things you’re seeing in food today, whether it’s a cauliflower pizza crust or vegan burgers, are extraordinary products. That doesn’t mean that a family may not be having takeout pizza on a Friday night with their kids, but maybe taco Tuesday is now something that’s made with a plant-based protein rather than beef or chicken or fish. There are a lot more options for families as they’re trying to meet the needs of their family situations.

 Molly with Senator Dole.

Molly with Senator Dole.

Q: Can you talk about challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you used those challenges to grow professionally?

Molly: We all face challenges and we’re not as honest or as vulnerable about them as I think we should be. I try to come to work every day with a growth mindset and intentionally curious about the work that we do. There are certainly things that I do that may not be well received, or things that I don’t do particularly well on a given day, and those can be setbacks and challenges. I really force myself to learn in to those situations, to have confidence in my decision-making, and to admit when I’m wrong.

I carry curiosity with me every day, and that means trying to be open to change, and identify when I can do something better or differently. About three years ago, we were going through some legislative challenges. I was working with a small team – three people against a $28 billion business, which can feel like running at the mountain when you have a big challenge and you feel like you don’t have the resources. I think everyone in public affairs feels like they’re not adequately reinforced. Working on the legislative track that year, I started to try and take a wider scope and look at what was working for me and what was not. I identified that my trade associations were causing me challenges, rather than being helpful. That was something I had never really looked at before because my trades were a way of life. With a small team, it was how I did most of my public affairs or lobbying activity. I did an analysis that allowed me to see that of my top five issues, four of them were being actively worked against by my trade associations. I belonged to groups that were fighting against me and I was paying them to fight against me on four of my top five priorities.

 Joel Leftwich, Molly and Senator Roberts.

Joel Leftwich, Molly and Senator Roberts.

If I had just been doing business as usual, I wouldn’t have stepped back to do that reflection. However, because I try to show up curious about things, both positive and negative, I did take the time to do a review and it allowed me to approach my work differently. We left 57 trade associations that year based on the analysis that was generated by that thought, and I ended up doubling my team and co-creating a new coalition with three competitors in the food space.

I learned from something that felt like a failure, and it allowed me to think differently and bring creativity into the process. The older I get and the more settled I get in what I do, the more confidence I have. It allows me to bring in creative thinking, and allows different solutions to surface, making us more nimble and flexible, and therefore more effective.