For many women in leadership, the path to the C-Suite is often filled with adversity. At JM Search, our work as a premier executive search firm lends us the privilege of hearing their stories each day—and our Women Rising Series enables us to share their incredible insights and experiences with you.
This edition features Oksana Woloszczuk, who very recently stepped into her new role as Chief Supply Chain Officer of Sara Lee Frozen Bakery. Prior to this role, Oksana proved her leadership in the food industry as Chief Supply Chain Officer at Amy’s Kitchen and VP of Integrated Supply Chain at McCain Foods, as well as through five leadership roles at Kellogg Company—including VP, KNA Manufacturing; VP, Cereal Supply Chain Kellogg Europe; and VP, Snacks Supply Chain – Cookies and Pringles.
Throughout her career, Oksana has endlessly pursued her professional goals and taken new opportunities by storm to gain the experience needed to thrive in her current role. Here’s what she has to share about her path to the top.
What are key moments in your career that have helped you get where you are today?
There was a moment early in my career when I realized people are the most important part of a company. Everything you do depends on how you engage people at every level of the organization. Whether I was a process engineer, a leader of a manufacturing site, or a leader of multiple sites, it’s always been about figuring out what makes people tick and how to bring out the best in them. Success isn’t only yours. When you surround yourself with great people and figure out how to work together, it’s amazing what can happen.
I also learned to take risks when I went abroad. You can fail miserably, or the company can forget about you—but it was the best personal and professional decision I ever made. I also took the risk of leaving Kellogg. I was comfortable. I could have stayed there for a while. But that risk led me to where I am today. You’re going to take some risks that will pan out, some that won’t, but you can’t be risk averse and get to the C-Suite.
In the middle of my career, I learned you need to ask for what you want. I used to assume things should fall in my lap. When I went to Kellogg, I told them I wanted to become a leader of multiple plants—but they gave me a role I didn’t want. I went to my leader and asked, “What will it take for me to get to this role?” He just didn’t know I wanted it, and we talked about how to make it happen.
What are some things you’re grateful for that have helped you in your career?
My father gave me really good advice early on in my career: Use all your vacation days. Nobody will ever thank you for not using your vacation, especially when it comes to promotions. It’s important to step away to be better at what you do.
I’m also thankful for the work ethic I got from my parents. As you move forward in your career, there are times when you need to dive into tasks and you think, “This is not why I got hired. This isn’t what I want to do.” But if you have that work ethic and humbleness, you realize, “This could be fun.”
Let’s take a minute and talk about Kellogg. You had a great career there. Is there anything in particular within your career at Kellogg that you’re most grateful for or that has made you the Chief Supply Chain Officer you are today?
The opportunities Kellogg gave me, I’m not sure I would have gotten somewhere else. I was able to run multiple plants, run a supply chain, and work in a business setting in Europe, which I loved. Then, coming back and running North American manufacturing was a huge opportunity for me. They had faith in me.
Kellogg gave me a lot of experiences, but in these big corporations, there are always people ahead of you in line. They’re very strong on succession plans, and at that point in time, I would say they weren’t willing to take a risk on a female in supply chain. They’re very different now, but I didn’t see myself getting a role I wanted in the next three to four years. McCain found me and gave me the opportunity to take the role I wanted.
Did you draw on that Kellogg background at McCain?
When you go from a public to a private company, there are two things that change. Number one is you get to think long-term. When you’re in a public company, you have to think about the quarters. That goes away a little bit in a private company. Second, you are working with a lot fewer resources. You have to be able to adapt. When I was at Amy’s, I was working with fewer resources—but because I had that time at McCain to adapt, I became even better at what I do today.
As you think about women you worked with throughout your career, what have you witnessed getting in the way for many of them?
Number one is we as women should never, ever hire a female who is not qualified for the role. Hire women for what they know. Gender doesn’t make a difference when you need a certain skill set.
We also get in our own way sometimes. There can be a tendency to think, “Am I as good as this guy?” You can fall into a trap of thinking you have to act like a man. Don’t. Be yourself. Don’t get in your own head because that is the worst thing you could possibly do.
Plus, support each other. If you see a woman doing great, talk to her. Figure out how to learn from her—or if you see someone struggling, help them. Don’t throw them under the bus.
As you think about the mentors, sponsors, or leaders you’ve had, which of their qualities do you admire and most want to emulate?
Some of the qualities I definitely want are trust, transparency, and curiosity. The best leaders I’ve worked for also let people lead. Micromanaging won’t help anybody. Great leaders work with their team members to determine their end goals, then let them get there in their own way.
I absolutely want my team to be able to challenge me and say, “You know what, I don’t agree with that.” We can have a discussion on it and come to 70% agreement, 100% alignment. When we walk out of the room, they don’t have to agree with every decision, but we need to be aligned to it and we have to come out as one team.
The last thing is I think listening is a lost trait. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a boardroom with people who are just talking and talking. The best leaders I’ve ever had would listen and ask questions, then make decisions.
What advice would you offer if you were speaking to a room full of women at the director level?
I tell this to every female who asks me how they can get to where I am: You cannot have it all. I don’t care what book you read or self-help practice you find—you cannot have it all. You will have to give something up. And it’s not easy. It’s extremely difficult. You won’t be able to attend all of your childrens’ baseball or soccer games, and you won’t be able to go to every parent-teacher night.
The key is to know your limit. I am very clear on the things I would never miss. For me, it’s a few weeks of vacation each year, when I go places my company can’t reach me and spend time with my family.
My second piece of advice is to take risks. I can’t emphasize this enough. There are times when opportunities come up and you don’t feel comfortable because you don’t know enough. Sometimes, you have to lean in and take that risk, then enjoy it.
Third, ask for help. When you’re not sure what to do, don’t be afraid to ask for external or internal help. Plus, have a confidant. In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve had that one person who I could go to and say, “I need to figure this out. I’m going to throw something at you. Throw it back at me. Tell me if it makes sense.” When you’re at the highest level of a facility, your confidant can be someone who works for you who you inherently trust.
A very special thank you to Oksana Woloszczuk for her insights and contributions!
For more insights from women in executive leadership, read the previous installment of our Women Rising Series:
Women Rising: Unleashing the Power of Trust and Self-Advocacy – Learnings from Brigette Wolf, My/Mochi CMO
Women Rising: Taking Risks and Embracing Self-Confidence – Learnings from Helayna Minsk, PPI Beauty Board Director
Women Rising: Staying Agile in the Path to the C-Suite – Learnings from Zena Srivatsa Arnold, Sephora CMO