How She Leads: Lynn Marmer, Kroger

How She Leads is a regular feature on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Lynn Marmer, Group Vice President for Corporate Affairs at The Kroger Company.

Lynn is a member of the Kroger executive team and is responsible for a wide array of important initiatives, of which corporate sustainability is just one important component. She has been recognized for her outstanding female leadership by the Progressive Grocer Top Women, YWCA Career Women of Achievement, and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year Awards.

Kroger is one of the world’s largest retailers. More than 340,000 associates serve customers in 2,425 supermarkets and multi-department stores located in 31 states. The company operates two dozen banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Jay C, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry's, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith's. The company also operates 789 convenience stores, 337 fine jewelry stores, 1,109 supermarket fuel centers and 38 food processing plants in the U.S.

In 2011, Forbes recognized Kroger as the most generous company in America for its support of hunger relief and breast cancer awareness, as well as its support of the military and military families. It also supports more than 30,000 schools and grassroots organizations located it communities where their supermarkets are based. Kroger just released its 2012 Corporate Sustainability Report, which provides updates on its goals in social, environmental, and economic factors that affect sustainability.  

In this interview, Maya asks Lynn to tell us about what it’s like to be the first female officer working for social and environmental responsibility at one of the world’s largest grocery businesses.

MA: Can you share how you arrived at your current position with Kroger?

Lynn: Well, it is an interesting path. I was a teacher when I first got out of college, then I became a city planner and then a lawyer. In 1997, I came to Kroger in the legal department. After about six months there, I moved into my current role. Ten years ago, it became apparent that sustainability was not just a large social issue but also a large opportunity for corporations. That was about when we came up with a more focused strategy around sustainability.  

MA: How does your background align with what Kroger was seeking for this position?

LM: Both of my prior professions taught me to think about new ideas. The most important qualification for leading in this kind of role in a company is to be a curious person, a continuous learner and also someone who can connect well with technical experts. Although I’m not a technical expert myself, I can take their expertise and see the global picture of all of the areas of opportunity, who is going to embrace them and always keep them deeply connected to the business. 

MA: Was there an a-ha moment that led you to want to work for social and environmental change?

LM: It may sound old school, but Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring made a huge impact on me. There have also been a number of people who have influenced me as well.

MA: Do you have a family and has that had an impact on your career?

LM: I have a daughter who is 18 and I am always so impressed by how differently she sees the world. She is typical of her generation in that she looks at mine and does not admire our lifestyles. They think we are wasteful, that we’re out of balance and we work too much, and that we don’t devote enough of ourselves to the broader world. But she admires and respects me for how I’ve been able to engage my corporation in serious social issues. It is sobering and wonderful to be connected to a different generation through your children.

Next page: Importance of recognizing female leadership