A dual talent in today’s technology-driven business environment, Mel Hudson-Nowak (MBA, Finance and Marketing ‘99) spoke to MBA students at the Eli Broad College of Business recently regarding her role at US Foods, where she is an IT leader with a business focus.
“A digital leader is someone who encompasses a technology competence, as well as business fundamentals,” said Hudson-Nowak, vice president for corporate systems & strategy, who appeared at the Broad College on Feb. 21 as part of the Pung Executive Speaker Series.
Hudson-Nowak told students of two paths one can take to becoming a digital leader: through being technically trained and then gaining a business acumen, or the reverse; being business trained and later gaining a technology acumen. Hudson-Nowak took the latter path.
“The ‘and strategy’ part of my job title is knowing what I am saying yes to when it comes to the IT side of things in the business sphere,” said Hudson-Nowak.
US Foods is one of the nation’s leading foodservice distributors, partnering with around 250,000 restaurants and foodservice operators. The company provides customers with innovative food product offerings and a comprehensive suite of e-commerce, technology, and business solutions.
US Foods places a great emphasis on IT. The company has an application that allows its customers to track the truck carrying their deliveries in order to see the amount of time until it reaches them. They also utilize geo-fencing for delivery purposes.
Though confident of its leadership position, the company is hyper-aware that the gap between it and its competitors is always narrowing. As a result, the company is always on a continuous improvement journey, asking the question of, “what’s next?” US Foods is currently investing heavily in its supply chain to make improvements, according to Hudson-Nowak.
“We want people to value our value-added selling. We are product experts, have test kitchens, restaurant operation consultants, and more. We do not want to compete on price,” said Hudson-Nowak.
While her portfolio is diverse, each career move made by Hudson-Nowak was strategic. “Be intentional,” she said. Starting off with Ford Motor Company as a finance manager, Hudson-Nowak later transitioned to academia at Bowling Green State University before arriving at her latest role at US Foods where she has been for the past six-plus years.
Through her work transitions, Hudson-Nowak has cultivated a strong and diverse network. “It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” she said.
She encouraged students to build a fan club, where each contact you add to your network is someone genuinely enthusiastic about you as a person.
“Putting yourself in a situation where you can show versus tell your capabilities is optimal,” said Hudson-Nowak. “Create great experiences for people and do not lose touch with your contacts. This way, it is not a hard sell for them when they are recommending you.”
She also urged students to take advantage of all opportunities, even if they feel it is going to be a stretch from where they currently are, and where they plan to go.
Hudson-Nowak, who is passionate about diversity and inclusion, is the founding president of the US Foods Women in Network Employee resource group. This is one of eight employee resource groups at US Foods which seek to promote diversity and inclusion, encourage personal and professional development, and strengthen networking among colleagues.
Another passion of Hudson-Nowak is her personal blog, Too Much Mel, which says it is “focused on providing busy women with big thoughts in bite-sized chunks.”