Not only does Kerr have an incredibly successful job at Nestlé Purina (following in her grandfather’s footsteps), a company that has supported her throughout her entire career, she also has a family of four and loves animals.
Kerr joined Flagstaff Nestlé Purina Pet Care facility in March 2013. She is the one of the first female plant managers within the 24 Purina factories in the United States and Canada. Kerr leads a team of 250 employees and a facility that produces 230,000 tons of dry dog and cat food a year.
Kerr was hired by the Ralston Purina Company in 2000 as an accounting trainee at the Davenport Plant in Iowa after graduating from Western Illinois University with a degree in accounting. But rather than use that degree for taxes, “I knew I had a great interest in manufacturing,” she said.
“Growing up in the Midwest in a small farming community, I’m rooted in agriculture and manufacturing,” she continued. “I love the plant floor. There’s so much energy out there, and it’s good energy – watching the flow and the people and the interaction.”
The company has been very supportive of Kerr’s career. She rose through the ranks, transitioning into the production career track, and being successively promoted to treats production manager, production manager and manager of manufacturing operations, before attaining her current position.
She also was dedicated to the company through her family. “My grandfather did sales distribution for Purina. When I was young, I just remember him coming home with the checkerboard on his shirt. He worked in a small little feed mill store. We always had Dog Chow or Little Bites in our houses,” she said. Kerr has a few shelves in her office with antique Purina collectibles that were passed down to her when her grandfather died.
Part of the collection is an early edition of “I Dare You” by William Danforth, who founded Ralston Purina in 1894. “He just wanted everyone to do their best and I think that still resonates throughout the facilities and the company,” she said.
Kerr manages in a similar way. “The more I’ve gotten into this job, the people aspect has just been incredible, especially here in Flagstaff. We’ve just got amazing people we work with.”
The young plant manager also has a husband, two children, and an English mastiff named Jemma. She credits the partnership and “a lot of communication” with her husband as playing a huge part in her success.
“My family, they just know that when I get a phone call, that’s going to have to take priority no matter what we’re doing. And they’ve been very receptive [to] that. But you’ve got to have a spouse that’s understanding of it. It’s definitely a different world that we’re just starting to break through and get a different perspective on. There are sometimes when you feel guilty. At some point you go, ‘I’ve got to get over that.’”
Kerr credits her mom, a restaurant owner, and dad, who still works as a petroleum salesman in rural Illinois, with instilling a strong work ethic in her. She admits that she puts a lot of demands on herself. “I stretch it thin mentally, because I feel like I want to do it all and I can’t do it all. You’ve just got to figure out ‘what can I back off of a little bit’?
She focuses on teamwork to make the organization better. Her philosophy is that any business can be successful. “You definitely cannot work in silos to make that happen. You’ve got to have a strong connection between the group and understand what the vision is and how you’re going to get there. I think once you communicate that and find out what your strengths [and] your weaknesses are, where your opportunities are, that group can drive forward and make anything happen. And that’s really cool to see that happen, and the Flagstaff team does that.”
Her advice for other women is, “Don’t let anything get in your way of what you want to be. Once you put your mind to it, just strive for it. Pull off your resources – you’ve got a support system out there. Figure out how you can work around in it and accomplish what you put your mind to. Set goals. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Kerr works to make her organization a strong team. She also likes to give back to the Flagstaff community. Flagstaff Nestlé Purina has contributed to elementary schools as well as middle schools, engaging with the STEM initiatives and teaches students how the factory uses science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout the entire facility every day. For example, preschoolers and kindergartners learned about the extrusion process used to made Dog Chow kibbles by using a Play-Doh fun factory and cutting the Play-Doh rope.
The company also strives for a zero waste policy in an effort to be sustainable in all its environmental practices.
“Purina is just a fantastic company and I’m extremely proud to work for them,” Kerr said. FBN