How does a rising finance professional in healthcare services find herself defining a 10-year sustainability strategy for the dairy industry? “When you follow a passionate interest and purpose, life can take sudden turns,” says Erin Fitzgerald.
“Working in France for four years, I was inspired by the connection to the farm, the expérience du terrior, when you shop for food there,” Erin explains. “I realized I cared about food and agriculture and wanted to make that my purpose as a business person. One day back in the U.S., I mentioned that goal to someone on an elevator. He happened to know the CEO of Dairy Management.”
Erin spent the next 10 years at Dairy Management, Inc., most recently as senior vice president of global sustainability for its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. She’s described as an extraordinary change agent and strategist who mobilized the dairy industry to tackle its carbon footprint, forming a model for other industries.
“There’s strength in collaboration,” Erin says. “We need more stakeholders to approach the world’s food challenges with an empathetic and anthropological eye. This isn’t to say we’re confrontational, but we tend to talk past each other. My passion is getting Ag on the same page, to ‘host a dinner party’ where farmers, cooperative leaders, companies, and other organizations solve issues none of us can address alone. The consumer is receptive to understanding sustainable food systems and the complexity and beauty of Ag. We have the opportunity to lift all boats when, together, we approach the future with clarity.”
Now, Erin is turning a collaborative eye toward leading U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) as CEO, where, one week into the role, she has already met with leadership from the National Corn Growers Association, United Soybean Board, and American Egg Board. USFRA’s focus is to convene agriculture in encouraging stakeholder and consumer dialogue about how food is grown and raised. “I’m very excited about this job. The USFRA board is amazing. The farmers are fully committed to be at the table, and the work has to be farmer-led. My job is to listen and be an ambassador.”
When asked about being a woman in agribusiness, Erin said, “For anyone, you have to hold your own and not be distracted by small-minded comments. We have work to do, and our mission is bigger than that.”
We at Kincannon & Reed believe Erin will be influential in driving positive change in the next decade and beyond. As one individual says, “Erin is a consummate enroller, activator, and practical strategist who can skillfully engage business, NGOs, government, and academics to work together on big and bold opportunities that make the world a better place and create business success at the same time.”