Kellie Melton At Land O

Leadership through grit, heart and optimism

The story of a Land O'Lakes leader who learned a very tough -- but lasting -- lesson about resilience

When Kellie Melton was growing up, she thought she would never leave Colorado. But one college degree, a college job fair and a conversation with a Purina recruiter later, she was boarding a plane to St. Louis for a job interview.

Kellie decided it was time to try something new. With her strong roots, optimistic outlook and tough going, she landed the job with Purina and hasn’t been back to live or work in Colorado ever since. Twenty-three years and seven moves later, Kellie currently serves as the Income Optimization Director for Purina Animal Nutrition where she oversees a high-performing team. The Income Optimization Team is responsible for Purina’s Formulation and Pricing, whom optimize the value of our vast portfolio with the one goal of delivering greatness to our customers.

Kellie’s biggest passion is her team. She leads through example, relationship-building and trust. Her expectations are high, but her results are higher. It’s no wonder why she received a 100 percent score on a Land O'Lakes leadership survey.

The index reflects a Land O'Lakes people leader who embodies a talent mindset and Kellie shows it through her focus on developing people, providing frequent coaching and feedback and believing that talent is critical to our organization's success.

“My team is why I work. My team that gets me out of bed in the morning, it’s not the job itself. If my team isn’t successful, then it’s a direct correlation that I’m doing something wrong as a leader, and we figure it out together.”

Kellie Melton Working At Land O'Lakes Headquarters

When the tough gets going

Kellie grew up on a farm and ranch in rural Colorado, always involved with FFA and 4-H and a passion for finance. At a young age, she learned a very tough but lasting lesson about resilience when her father passed away from lymphoma.

“It forever changed and shaped my life as well as my career,” she says. “My childhood journey molded me into who I am today with a passion for agriculture, always having a ‘plan B’ and working with grit. I gained these attributes by watching my mother rebound from losing her husband, raising two young daughters on her own and balancing work and home while putting food on the table. Plus, always making time to teach us strong values.”

When her father was fighting for his life from cancer, he had a poster hanging by his bed that said, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” and it took her many years to realize that the poster wasn’t for him, it was for his family he left behind.

“We had to find ‘our tough’ after his death. But furthermore, I’ve had to get my ‘tough going’ when I left home and went to college, then moved across the U.S. with different job responsibilities for Purina. And, this year isn’t any different at Land O’Lakes. We know the economics are ‘tough’ in ag right now and our business is feeling it. Beth Ford mentioned the ag economics in our employee Town Hall. This is the time that we all must get our tough going.”

Never stop learning and growing

Kellie says, you can always go back to your roots. This is what pushed her to get on that plane to St. Louis and leave her comfortable world behind. She always encourages her team to try new things, go get uncomfortable; this is where the biggest life lessons happen.

She explains that if she never moved around to different positions, including working as a distribution center manager or left Colorado, she never would have met the people or gained the background and insights that drive her today.

“You learn how to adapt to different people’s styles and cultures. By working directly in a plant, I was able to really understand our customers and how to service them, and that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take a chance and try something new.”

She says, “here’s the deal, each person that I cross paths with I use the mindset of ‘what can I learn from this person?’ Be present and available, listen and ask questions. Lead by example, never stop learning and remember a little humility goes a long way.”

Driven by supporting others

Kellie thrives on building and retaining talent, and that shows in the way she talks about her team.

“One of my greatest passions is to develop talent. I’m not doing my job If I’m not building the next generation of leaders for Land O’Lakes, Inc. I’m confident almost any job can be meaningful, but it comes with understanding your employees and their purpose so that ultimately, they can have an impact. While also keeping in the forefront that purpose isn’t magic -- it’s something we must consciously pursue and create.”

On her team, Kellie focuses on making employees responsible and accountable coupled by rewarding and recognizing them for outstanding performance. This could be something as simple as a handwritten note, maybe a Purina memento or even having Dave Hoogmoed speak and recognize an employee or sub-team during a meeting.

Additionally, she knows that it is essential to make it very clear to top talent that they will have opportunities for growth and advancement -- like she did.

How does she grow her top talent? Frequent performance conversations, including quarterly talent talks and personal development items.

“Not just once, at least every quarter if not more often. Talent talks are essential to having open and honest conversations with employees. I provide my employees with new opportunities based on performance conversations and balancing that with business strategies and long-range plans for the business. It’s also about staying connected with other leaders in the business and understanding upcoming roles and skills they are looking for in the future.”

High expectations lead to high results

When asked what type of leader she was, she replied, “I want to be an authentic leader and be known as delivering direct and indirect superior performance. I strive to be a leader that encourages my team to be better-than-average and to exceed expectations versus just meeting expectations.”

She also wants to be a leader that encourages employees to be curious and engaged about their work.

“I encourage my team to spend time thinking about how things could be done better and how to add value to the organization, no matter what role they are in.”

For her, it’s not about just doing a job, it’s about doing a job together while utilizing the strengths of each and every person on the team.

“When my team is successful, I’m successful. We all work hard, with a little heart and a little grit, we all have the ability to weather through the tough times and come out on the other side.”