Mary Moorkamp | Chief Legal Officer of Schnuck Markets
Ingenuity, Community & Covid-19 | Relational Leadership | 4th Gen Family Business | Say Yes | Know Your Clients | Five More Minutes | For the Love of St. Louis
I interviewed Mary Moorkamp | Chief Legal Officer, External Affairs Officer, & Corporate Secretary of Schnuck Markets on Friday, May 8th, 2020.
We began the episode with Mary giving us an overview of Schnuck Markets, her role, and how this St. Louis company responded in the middle of COVID-19 and the creative steps taken to collaborate and partner with other businesses. Mary also shared her key takeaways coming out of the pandemic from both her professional and personal perspectives. We then touched on Mary’s leadership philosophy as boss, mentor, and coach. Mary also shared her career advice for attorneys who want to advance in their career, attorneys working in a privately owned family business, and attorneys looking to go in-house. We ended the episode discussing her family, a book she’s writing for her kids and her love for St. Louis.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Mary Moorkamp:
As a supermarket company, our business was significantly disrupted by the pandemic but our team has aligned itself and approached this crisis with decisive, prompt, and proactive action.
It’s not about just getting through this, but how do we thrive to make it better for our customers, teammates and have a long term effect on our company.
Historically, our company was opposed to the notion that people could work productively from home which has now changed. The work was done, and things didn’t fall apart.
I’m a big proponent of servant and relational leadership. The higher one goes in an organization, the more people you get to serve versus how many people report to you.
My job is more about planting seeds than harvesting. The more time I put into actively connecting with people and understanding their roles the more impact I have on the organization.
Say Yes. Don’t talk yourself out of pursuing opportunities and taking on new things because you do not feel as if you’re ready.
Don’t wait to be asked; put your name in the hat. Don’t wait until you can do everything that that job entails; you’re smart and will figure it out.
I have a saying that goes: “I’m the combination of your worst nightmare – your wife and your mom. Neither of whom you will let work here.”
I’m a lawyer, so you can speak legal to me, but you’re also helping counsel our clients so that business hat should be close by.
I tell my girls to breathe fire. You go, “Well, what does breathe fire mean?” It means that be confident, be assured…Don’t get so caught up in doing the right thing that you make yourself small.
Links referred to in this episode:
Mary Moorkamp | LinkedIn Profile
2018 Missouri Lawyers Weekly Women’s Justice Award Article
St. Louis Business Journal’s Most Influential Business Women 2005 Award
John Maxwell | Author on Leadership
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Explore St. Louis
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Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. In today’s episode, I spoke with the General Counsel of a well-known St. Louis brand and essential business during the COVID-19 crisis. Be inspired by her stories, her passion for mentoring and leadership, and her love for St. Louis.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review on iTunes.
As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You are listening to episode forty-two of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
A Story of Ingenuity and Community
Chris: Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with The Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Mary Moorkamp, Chief Legal and External Affairs Officer and Corporate Secretary at Schnuck Markets.
Mary became the General Counsel of Schnuck Markets in 2002. She brings over 30 years of experience in the legal profession, which includes in-house and private practice all within St. Louis. Prior to Schnuck Markets, she was the General Counsel at its sister company, The DESCO Group.
In addition to receiving the 2018 Missouri Lawyers Weekly Women’s Justice Award, Mary has been honored as one of the top women in grocery by Progressive Grocer Magazine and as one of the most influential women of St. Louis by the St. Louis Business Journal. She received both her law and bachelor degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Welcome, Mary, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Mary: Thank you, Chris. It’s very, very exciting to be here.
Schnucks, Her Role and Covid-19
Chris: Mary, please give us context to what Schnuck Markets is?
Mary: Sure. We are a regional supermarket operator. We operate in the five Midwestern states. We’re headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. We were founded in 1939 by Anna Donovan Schnuck, which is pretty amazing in the sense that it was a woman in the height of the depression. She created the company to feed her family and to feed her neighbors. From that, we’ve always said our mission and our purpose is to nourish people’s lives. We’ve now grown to about 120 stores in five Midwestern states. We have our own floral design center, warehouse, transportation, and logistics. We operate in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri. We employ over 14,000 teammates.
Chris: Please explain your role and responsibilities at Schnucks.
Mary: Currently, I am the chief legal officer and external affairs person. What that means is I have responsibility for all things legal in addition to government relations, regulatory, asset protection, safety, food safety, quality assurance, insurance, risk, those pieces of the company. At any given point in time, I kind of like to say that I’m like Mikey of the cereal commercial, “Just give it to Mary. She’ll take it.” I’ve been very fortunate to work with lots of different parts of the company throughout my career, including leading our culture shift. I proudly wear a badge that says I’m a culture champion, which you wouldn’t think of a lawyer, so that’s pretty cool.
Decisive Action & Communication
Chris: I would love for you to share how COVID-19 has impacted Schnuck Markets, your role, and St. Louis.
Mary: I would be happy to because it’s a story that I’m very, very proud to be part of. I would say that I would call our story COVID-19 a story of decisive action, which is – I’ll talk about it a little bit and you’ll start to understand why I say that. As a supermarket company, obviously, our business was significantly disrupted by the pandemic, but our team has really aligned and really addressing this crisis with decisive, really prompt, proactive action. We have learned new ways to work and to operate as a collective force, eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy. We really have shone – we shine with our communication and how we have been transparent with our communication to our customers, to our teammates, and to the outside world. The reason I highlighted those three things is pre-COVID-19, I think people would internally say that we were an 81-year-old grocery company that was resistant to change, that didn’t communicate very well, and was bureaucratic. Within the span of seven to eight weeks, we have dismantled all of those old adages and creating those muscles. We just have to be very, very cognizant of not getting out of shape again and going back to the old ways.
As to how we’ve been impacted, very – I have to knock on wood, so I’m knocking on my forehead when I say this – out of over 14,000 teammates, only 23 of our teammates have been diagnosed positive with COVID. Out of those 23, 18 have already returned to work. I look at that as a testament to how we have tried with our restrictions, wearing masks, social distancing, putting up barriers. We’ve really tried to protect our teammates and then by – obviously then protecting our customers.
Partnering Locally for Inventory & Supply Chain
We’ve seen our shelves be bare as have probably every other retailer that you’ve walked into when you thought you were going to the grocery store. We’ve seen a lot of items that aren’t available anymore, a lot of manufacturers are reducing and there are just core items available. There have been major shortages on paper, cleaner, wipes, sanitizer. It’s forced us to be creative. It’s forced us not to rely on P&G and Campbell’s and all the traditional people that we normally did business with, but it’s forced us to say, “Guess what? Restaurants aren’t buying as much anymore. Let’s pick up their product. Hotels aren’t buying – as active anymore. Let’s take some of their product.” Actually, I think we probably have some hotel toilet paper in our stores.
Our supply chain, if you think about capacity as the pandemic started and started to take hold, there was a lot of panic buying. There was a lot of stock up. That was something that was hard on our supply chain. But we figured out a way to, okay, we can’t necessarily get to all 120 stores every single day like we were doing before with as much product, so we created hub stores in every division so that it’s like a hub and spoke. You’ve got – if you need a product and you’re out, go to this store because they’re your hub store.
That was something that we creatively had to invent to get through. We also had a shortage of drivers. We had more trucks that needed to go out. Well, guess what? There are food companies that, for example, US Foods, that had a union driver workforce that they were furloughed. Well, we could use you. We needed you. We would use their drivers. We would work with their drivers.
Local Workforce Collaboration & Support
We did a lot of things. We’re also trying to be mindful of the community and how we can help people through this tough time. Then we used – if you think about so many more people in our stores and this concern, “Oh my gosh, what if we lose 30% of our workforce,” which were some of the numbers coming out early on, well, we partnered with hotels and casinos that were some of the first people to get laid off and said, “Can we hire you? You can come to work in our stores.” That has been so amazing. We’ve got access to talent. We’ve hired teachers. We’ve hired – if you think about people that are not necessarily fully employed at the moment, we’ve used them. We’ve hired them.
Then restaurants – these poor restaurants that are just languishing because of all the restrictions, well guess what, we’ve worked with them. We feed our teammates lunch and dinner now. We’ve partnered with restaurants to cater food for our teammates in our stores. We also are partnering with restaurants in having their product in our stores. Some of these great, local, favorites, we’ve been able to keep them going by having their product in our stores.
It is a really special tale of ingenuity, creativity, community, and this whole notion that we’re one team and we’re one team strong.
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Insights During the Covid-19 Health Crisis
Chris: Mary, what are your biggest insights as a mom or as an executive in a corporation going through this health crisis?
“We sell groceries; it shouldn’t be that complicated.”
Mary: I’m going to take that maybe three different layers. There are some aha’s that going forward, our business as a business is going to be changed. It’s going to be changed from customer buying habits. It’s going to be changed from people working more from home. It’s going to be changed more from looking at – we use this very small team of teams approach that had autonomy, that could bust through bureaucracy, that had decision making authority. That worked very, very well. Looking at it from our company’s perspective has really put in place certain things that have streamlined and simplified our business and a recognition that boy, it was way too complicated. We sell groceries; it shouldn’t be that complicated.
“We can do this. People got their work done.”
From an executive position, I look at some of the changes coming from this being that historically our company had been pretty opposed to the notion that people could work productively from home and boy that has changed on a dime. Effective probably in the middle of March when stay-at-home orders were issued, we had already issued Chromebooks and laptops so that in the eventuality that people had to work from home, we were ready. We’ve really looked at, wow, things didn’t fall apart. People got their work done. We didn’t have to look over their shoulders all day. We didn’t have to show up and have face time in the office, but things got done and it got done well. I think looking at it from an executive position, it’s not so bad. We can do this.
“I’m a lot more productive working from home, and I get to spend time with my kids.”
Then from a mom’s perspective, I look at this from what a gift, what a blessing. I know – I’m very, very cognizant of the drains on families that they have to homeschool, they have to daycare. They have to do their job. They have to keep their household running. Oh, and they probably or may have relatives or friends that are ill with COVID and a lot of different strains going on. But I look at this as an unbelievable gift from the standpoint that I’m working from home for the most part and getting to spend time with my kids, who are also home, whether it’s they got sent home from school or they’re not going to school. It’s just been a very, very special time. I’m one of the advocates of, “Boy, I really do like working from home and I’m a lot more productive and boy, I hope I can shape some minds to say, ‘Let’s keep doing this.”
“…an enormous opportunity for us to slow down.”
Chris: COVID-19 is going to leave a lasting impression and change on American life, hopefully for the good.
Mary: Oh, I agree completely. I just think that this has been an opportunity and an enormous opportunity for us to slow down, for us to turn inward, for us to be creative and innovative in how to stay connected and how to do amazing things for your family when you’re not necessarily in the same house with them. I just think that it’s one that has really – I don’t know. It’s changed me for the better. It’s continuing to change me for the better. I have said that I am more connected with my family and my friends and my coworkers than I ever was before this happened even though then I thought I was.
Chris: Mary, pivoting to the subject of leadership, how do you personally define leadership?
Mary: I’m a big proponent of servant leadership, of relational leadership. I really believe that the higher one goes in an organization, that does not mean it’s more people that report to you, it’s more people that you get to serve. My job is to remove friction and barriers to enable people to do their job in the best way that they can. I believe in relational leadership, where it means that you’re helping people feel connected. You are helping people understand that the work they do matters, and I think that directly leads to greater engagement and greater results. I really believe that my job is to plant seeds more than harvest. The more that I can do to actively connect with and understand people’s lives and what they do, not just in the work setting, has an impact overall on the organization and on them personally as well as professionally.
Chris: Mary, who or what has inspired you in life to lead? Was it family? Was it a mentor? Was it a book?
Mary: Very good question. I think it’s something that’s always been – and I never really probably defined it until I got a little bit older. When I was in college I would volunteer and would lead different things. Then I went to law school and became a lawyer. Your perception of what you’re able to lead when you’re an associate in a law firm is a little limited. Although now I try to coach and mentor some of the younger associates with whom I am familiar or I mentor. Take on leadership roles. Volunteer for something. Don’t just volunteer and put it on your resume. Volunteer and take something on. That’s leadership. It doesn’t mean you have people reporting to you necessarily, but you’re leading.
John Maxwell was an author that I don’t even know how long ago. I found one of his books, then just kept consuming them. Then kept consuming. A lot of my tutelage was from books. I love to read. Then I would say I probably did not have very many role models when I was in private practice, had then started working with people that I really gravitated towards, and saw that they were good leaders and I wanted to learn from them. They became my mentors, my coaches, and then as I’ve grown, I actively seek outside people that are maybe not in my industry and maybe not lawyers, but can help me. I look to them because of what they do that I think they’re great leaders.
Chris: You had mentioned that you do coaching and mentoring of other people. Can you share examples of and help my listeners understand your approach to that and who you do that with?
Mary: I would say formally, I do it for certain people within our organization. I also do it for an organization outside of my company. It’s a group of women that are involved in real estate. It’s commercial real estate women. I have a background in real estate, but that’s not why I mentor. That’s a formal approach. My approach for all of them is really looking at what is our goal, what is our objective, what are we working towards. It’s not just this “Come in my office and let’s talk.” It’s – I will work with their leader. I’ll work with them and then also with their leader as to “Okay, what’s the gap, or what’s the opportunity that you want to work with to grow, to develop?”
Then really look at it as a – I lean into them for “You set it up. You decide what the agenda is and let’s work towards – we’re going to have benchmarks. We’re going to have accountability.” But I also like to – “What am I going to get from this. What can you teach me? You’re in social media – you’re in charge of brand marketing or the social media of our company. I’m not that good at that. Can you help me? I want to learn from you.” I like to make it a two-way street as a way that it’s not just a push; it’s a pull as well.
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Career Advancement Advice: Say Yes
What advice would you give, Mary, to females and diverse attorneys who are looking to advance in their career?
Mary: My advice is two words, “Say yes.” Don’t talk yourself out of pursuing opportunities, jumping into different roles, taking on new things because you don’t feel like you’re ready. I had a little voice inside my head forever and I still do. It comes up and it’s like, “You don’t know enough about this. You’re not good enough to take that on. Why would you think about doing that?” You’ve got to silence the voice and say yes.
By saying yes, Sheryl Sandberg, the Lean In concept comes up. It’s don’t wait to be asked; put your name in the hat. Don’t wait until you’re perfectly resumed so that you can do everything that that job entails. You’re smart. You’ll figure it out. Say yes. Don’t wait until other people have done it before you think you can do it better. Say yes. Just get in there and take it on. That would be my number one. It’s just also saying yes to opportunities that aren’t necessarily – maybe it doesn’t fit with your plan, but I guarantee everything you can learn from it. I’ve learned more from bad leaders or bad situations and I’ve learned of – “Boy, I’m never going to lead like that. I’m never going to do that,” as well as great leaders.
Then I’d also say anytime something bad happens or you are – have adversity that has impacted you, look at it that that’s a horrible thing to waste in the sense that how are you better because you had to go through that and how is it that you are better because of that challenge. Those are just some things to look at. Everybody has something to contribute. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a title, that you don’t necessarily have the time invested or the lineage or whatever you want to call it. Just go for it.
Anecdotal Advice Serving a Family Owned Private Business
Chris: Mary, you are the chief legal officer of a family-owned private business. Would you share your advice to attorneys who are either in that situation or looking at opportunities to be in a company that is family-owned and privately owned?
Mary: I would say that you have to get comfortable and understand the culture, but in a company, particularly those that are family-owned and privately held, it starts at the top. It’s not – you can’t force things from the bottom. I’ve been so blessed and so fortunate to have – work for a company that our mission is to nourish people’s lives. The heart enough, the care, and the empathy and compassion are so prevalent from the top down, that that has been something that has been such a draw for me and for others within this organization, people that have joined.
I would say as an attorney and as a trusted advisor within the company, you don’t get there because of the title. You get there because you roll up your sleeves, you get stuff done, you work side by side. You are not their best friend. I say that tongue in cheek a little bit. I have a saying and people here know it. I say “I’m the combination of your worst nightmare – your wife and your mom. Neither of whom will you let work here.” I say that because I view it as my job to take the rose-colored glasses off, to take whatever great news people are telling you because they think that’s what you want to hear and at least be objective to say, “This is – these are the facts. This is the truth as I see it, like it or not. You can decide what you want. At the end of the day, your name is on the building, not mine, but I owe it to you to give you the straight story.” You have to have the fortitude to do that.
Chris: I love that phrase, “I am your worst nightmare.”
Mary: I also will come with a stack of pennies that’s like 50 pennies tall, sometimes it’s towers. I’m like, “Here are my two cents.” I’m like, “Here are my 25 cents. Here are my 50 cents.” Then they just know to go, “Oh, what’s coming now? What’s she going to tell me?”
Being Mindful of the Hot Buttons
Chris: Next question, what are some of the let’s call it overarching non-grocery industry-related issues facing in-house counsel right now that you notice?
Mary: I would say there are overarching issues on privacy, on data security, on MeToo still. I think there are going to be issues for everybody going forward as to how they handle the COVID crisis from labor and employment, from regulatory. I think there are issues ongoing, well, particularly for us, but in the sense that we’re in the food industry, but there’s always regulatory activity. I think we need to be mindful of the outcome of elections and how those things will and may shift. I think in-house counsel are always dealing with personnel, HR-type issues, merchandising, advertising, those sorts of things. Sometimes getting your arms around those is like getting your arms around water. Those are just some things off the top of my head that I can see as hot buttons.
Want to Go In-House? Know Your Clients
Chris: Mary, next question, what advice would you give private practice attorneys wanting to go in-house?
Mary: I would say, get to know your clients. Look at what you do as how are you providing counsel to business people in the sense that I ask my lawyers to put on their business hats and when I do that it’s not tongue in cheek. You can speak legal to me, but you’re also helping counsel our clients, our customers and you need to have a business hat on. You need to understand we don’t need it memoed with footnotes. We need an answer. What’s your recommendation? I don’t want the, “Well, uh, I’m not going to say,” well then you’re not going to be our lawyer for very much. Learn your business. Learn the business. Communicate well. Be proactive. Reach out.
We offer and we’ve partnered with our firms to – we love them to learn our business and get to have a better understanding of who we are and we’ve actually traded – I’ve traded attorneys to go work at a law firm and they’ve sent associates to our department. It was “You’re going to learn us. We’re going to learn from you. You’ve got skills and talents that may be one of my newer attorneys needs to learn, so go work there for a period of time. You have succession issues, so don’t you want to have some of your up and coming associates work in our company so that they can start making lasting relationships that will help continue that – forge that partnership that we have going forward?”
People wanting to get in-house, I’d just say be involved, make contact, learn, have an interest in business, work with your clients, let them know that you’re interested, be curious to learn more. Those are some of the things that – and network. I’m a big proponent of creating relationships and building networks and having – forging relationships because – don’t do it for the sense of “Well, I hope to get something out of this,” do it from a sense of, “Boy, it’s really interesting to get to learn something about somebody new.”
Raising 6 Children and Leadership Lessons
Chris: Mary, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you a little bit more. I understand that you have six children. Is that correct?
Mary: Yes, they’re all mine. Same marriage. No multiplies.
Chris: Okay, that’s amazing.
Mary: I’m just trying to circumvent every question I ever get. How many marriages? How many multiples? Are they all yours? No, I picked them up in the neighborhood and took them all with me to Target. Yes, they’re mine.
Chris: Tell me about lessons you’ve learned about being a mother and raising six kids and being a chief legal officer.
Mary: Well, the lessons I’ve learned. I’d like to say sometimes I’ll be at meetings and someone will say, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is so bad.” I’m like, “Did we break any bones? Is there blood on the carpet? It’s not that bad. It’s okay.” Similarly, people having issues at work, I look at them and I go, “My kids are better behaved than you are. Get over it.” I think I just say it in jest, but it really has given me perspective because I come to work every day with the fact that yes, I have six kids. That’s not easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding, but it gives me perspective.
A lot of the perspective is really, it’s not that bad or my perspective is, “Bob, that’s interesting. I haven’t seen that one before,” because that’s the same mindset that I have at home of “Wow, really, you think I was born last night. I was born at night, but not last night. I’ve seen through this one before,” or “Wow, that’s a new one. No one’s ever told us that they broke the windshield in the car because they drove under a tree and a shoe dropped off,” like, “Wow, that’s really a good story.” I’d say it just gives me some perspective of really in the big scheme of things, nothing is that bad.
Five More Minutes and Leaving a Legacy
Chris: You also shared with me that you are writing a book for your kids. You’re not going to publish it per se, but more of a legacy. Would you mind sharing some of the topics or things that you plan on sharing with your kids in that book?
Mary: Sure. Well, it’s called Five More Minutes. The notion of why I said that is that I always look at different parts of their lives and say, “Oh, I wish I just had five more minutes.” But here’s the irony – it’s not really an irony if you know my values and my beliefs, but I’m getting my five more minutes right now. With this whole COVID, it’s – I’m getting my five more minutes, which is what I always say. It’s like “I wish I had five more minutes to see you at a high school lacrosse game or a football game or a concert or whatever.” But a lot of it is – it’s things like, say yes. It’s things like – I tell my girls to breathe fire. You go, “Well, what does breathe fire mean?” Well, it just means that be confident, be assured, be a disturber. Don’t get so caught up in doing the right thing that you make yourself small.
I talk about put the stupid phone away. That’s a lesson that when you hear from one of your kids the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when you’re on vacation because they’re doing work and they say, “Well, you always do work.” That’s a wakeup call. One of the things in my little legacy, if you want to call it, is when you get home, be home, be present with the people that you’re with. Put the phone away. Put the phone away at night so it’s not the last thing you see and it’s not the first thing that you attack in the morning. Leave it alone.
Journal. Go to bed at night and what are you thankful for, what are you grateful for. Some days it may just be that you have a bed to sleep in because the day’s been so crazy. But a lot of times it’s way more than that. Put yourself to sleep with everything that you’re grateful for and guess what, you always go to sleep. There’s just a lot of different things along those lines, but it’s really about helping them to be confident, helping them to be good people, which they all already are, be good friends, make a difference, those sorts of things.
For the Love of St Louis
Chris: Mary, are you from St. Louis?
Mary: Born and bred
Chris: Would you mind sharing some things about St. Louis that you love?
Mary: Oh my goodness, I love the sense of community. I love the sense that – I call it – there’s like St Louis geography, you always can make a connection with somebody somehow. I love the crazy, crazy things that the city has for everybody, if you know St. Louis, the first question people ask is “Where did you go to high school?” I love our pizza, notwithstanding that people can’t stand the thin crust and the Provel cheese if you’re away – not from here. I love our zoo. I love our arts. I love our city museum. I love our parks and our trails and outdoor open things. I love our Cardinals. I love our Blues. I did love our BattleHawks until the league folded. It’s just – it’s our home. It’s just a really special place where we have chosen to raise our kids and where some of them are choosing to stay.
Chris: Mary, last question, what would you do if you didn’t become an attorney and a legal executive?
Mary: Wow, what would I do? That’s a very good question. I’d probably do something in the business with people. I don’t know – it’s just because I have an affinity and I love business and I love that piece of it, but I also love people. I love coaching and mentoring and guiding and just sharing. I don’t know. You know what? I’d be just as happy even working in a little retail shop, sold some really cute stuff, and I got to be friends with the people that came. That’s a bad answer, but you know what, that’s a good question.
Chris: Mary, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time today.
Mary: Oh, you are very welcome. Thank you.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
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