Our Team

The WFF Board of Directors is composed of many of the most influential executives across the Food Industry who are steadfastly committed to increasing opportunities for women and cultivating gender-diverse leadership.

With extensive executive-level experience across the Food Industry, our senior leadership team knows the opportunities our industry offers to build and grow rewarding careers. They possess a deep understanding of where women face the greatest obstacles and are uniquely positioned to help companies access proven interventions to address them.

Executive Committee

Tracy Skeans
CHAIR
Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer
Yum! Brands

Tracy Skeans

CHAIR
Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer
Yum! Brands

Tracy Skeans is Chief Operating Officer and Chief People Officer of Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE: YUM) and reports to the Yum! Brands CEO. YUM is one of the world’s largest restaurant companies with over 50,000 restaurants in more than 150 countries. Its restaurant brands – KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – are global leaders of the chicken, pizza and Mexican-style food categories. The Company’s family of brands also includes The Habit Burger Grill, a fast-casual restaurant concept specializing in made-to-order chargrilled burgers, sandwiches and more.

 

As COO and CPO, Skeans has global responsibility for leading cross-brand collaboration on operational execution, people capability and customer experience imperatives that will fuel same-store sales and net-new unit growth around the world. In 2020, as Chief Transformation and People Officer, Skeans partnered with the CEO and global leadership team to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while integrating The Habit Burger Grill and Heartstyles, a team member leadership development program designed to transform the employee and customer experience, and championing the company’s Unlocking Opportunity Initiative. From 2016 to 2019, Skeans played a central leadership role in the Yum China spinoff and Yum! Brands’ multi-year transformation strategy to accelerate the Company’s growth by moving to a heavily franchised and more profitable business model, and at the same time, drove Yum! to create a more inclusive culture and accelerate system-wide progress on gender equity in leadership. She also oversees business transformation, operations, food safety, human resources, equity and inclusion and communications.

 

Since joining the Company in 2000, Skeans has developed a strong track record of business leadership and has expertise driving results at the powerful intersection of talent, culture, finance and strategy. Prior to assuming the position of Chief Transformation and People Officer in 2016, Skeans was President of Pizza Hut International, which at the time was a business with more than 5,900 restaurants across more than 85 countries. She previously served as Chief People Officer of Pizza Hut Global and, before leading HR, she spent the first half of her career in finance roles including strategic planning, asset development and accounting at Pizza Hut.  

 

Prior to Yum!, Skeans worked in an international treasury role at Union Switch & Signal, a leading global developer of equipment for light rail systems, and was a senior auditor with Price Waterhouse LLP. In addition to her role at Yum!, Skeans serves on the board of directors for the Brown-Forman Corporation and the Women’s Foodservice Forum. She holds an MBA in Finance from the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh and a BS in Accounting from Lehigh University.

 

Therese Gearhart
WFF CEO
President & CEO
Women's Foodservice Forum

Therese Gearhart

WFF CEO
President & CEO
Women's Foodservice Forum

Therese Gearhart

A senior executive with extensive international operations and consumer marketing expertise, Therese Gearhart brings decades of leadership in the Food Industry to her role as President & CEO of WFF. She launched her early career in foodservice and hospitality and advanced to senior leadership with a record of unlocking business performance as an inclusive and authentic leader.

As a 20-year veteran of The Coca-Cola Company, Therese led multi-billion-dollar P&Ls in Latin America and Southern Africa and spent six years working within the North America Foodservice business. She has inspired operational and organizational change across borders and cultures, consistently creating value and driving growth in challenging environments.

Throughout her career, Therese has been a strong role model and staunch advocate for women’s advancement and the role of gender equity in driving business performance. She co-chaired and was a member of Coca-Cola’s Global Women’s Leadership Council advising The Company Executive Committee on strategies to accelerate the advancement of women in leadership. She has been a long-time member of WFF and previously served on the Board of Directors.

She has also served on the boards of affiliated Coca-Cola companies and influential industry groups and is a sought-after speaker on business strategy, inclusion and female entrepreneurship.

A fearless and optimistic leader, Therese has a reputation for creating effective teams and inclusive cultures by gaining trust and collaboration with key stakeholders. She has a passion for mentoring women leaders and embraces the opportunity to advance gender diversity and equality across the Food Industry through WFF and its Partner companies.

As President & CEO, Therese sees WFF as a daily source of inspiration, connection and learning that supports women’s holistic development and helps Partner companies create sustainable traction around gender equity with unique insights, proven solutions and shared knowledge.

Therese embodies WFF’s passion for advancing women and leads the organization into an exciting chapter of growth and increased impact. 

Anita Zielinski
CHAIR-ELECT
SVP, Chief Financial Officer, Foodservice US
Sysco

Anita Zielinski

CHAIR-ELECT
SVP, Chief Financial Officer, Foodservice US
Sysco

Anita Zielinksi is Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Foodservice US of Houston-based Sysco Corporation, the leading global foodservice distribution company. Ms. Zielinski joined Sysco in 2017 and oversees the Company’s accounting functions, with responsibility for financial accounting and reporting, accounting policy, tax compliance and strategy and internal controls. She also acts as the key liaison to external auditing firms, with responsibility for confirming the Company’s views on technical accounting matters.


Prior to joining Sysco, Ms. Zielinski served as partner of Ernst & Young LLP, a public accounting firm (“E&Y”), since 2013 and was a member of E&Y’s assurance practice for over 20 years. She has extensive experience working with both large and midcap public registrants on securities law filings, business combinations and complex accounting and financial reporting matters.


During her tenure at E&Y, and now at Sysco, Ms. Zielinksi has been and continues to be actively and passionately involved in diversity and inclusiveness initiatives. This includes championing initiatives which focus on advancing women in the workplace, as exampled by her involvement in numerous steering committees and mentorship programs. Her continued leadership in these areas has led to tangible outcomes, including the creation and implementation of flexible working arrangements and increased retention of diverse associates.


Ms. Zielinski is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas A&M University.

Sarah King
TREASURER
Senior Vice President, Chief People & Diversity Officer
Darden Restaurants

Sarah King

TREASURER
Senior Vice President, Chief People & Diversity Officer
Darden Restaurants

Sarah King serves as Darden’s Chief People & Diversity Officer. A member of Darden’s Executive Team, she leads the execution of Darden’s people strategy as well as building organizational capability and employee culture to further enable Darden’s growth. She is also responsible for all aspects of the HR functions within Darden, including oversight of the HR organizations within each of Darden’s operating companies.

Darden owns and operates more than 1,800 Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s restaurants in North America.

Prior to joining Darden in 2017, Sarah spent 19 years with Wyndham Worldwide Corporation where she worked closely with operators and executive leaders to execute successful people initiatives around the world. Most recently, she served as Executive Vice President, Human Resources for Wyndham Vacation Ownership. In this role, Sarah was responsible for developing and rolling out the company’s people strategy, which focused on enhancing the culture to attract, engage and retain top talent.

A native of New Zealand, Sarah studied communications at the Auckland University of Technology.

Ryan Elwart
Chief Customer Officer for Consumer Products Group
Georgia-Pacific

Ryan Elwart

Chief Customer Officer for Consumer Products Group
Georgia-Pacific

Ryan Elwart is the Chief Customer Officer for Georgia-Pacific. Ryan leads the combined Consumer Products Group sales teams for both the Retail and Away-From-Home markets. This role drives integrated teamwork across CPG, leveraging talent to surround our customers with world-class capabilities and to identify bigger and bolder strategies that create value for our customers and GP. Ryan was previously the SVP, Global Sales for Georgia-Pacific responsible for North American and International GP PRO sales, sales strategy, and sales capability teams.  

 

He has been at Georgia Pacific since 2008, where he was also responsible for GP PRO channel sales and channel development capabilities which included channel marketing, category management, and joint business planning. Additionally, he led sales strategy, emerging business, and eCommerce sales for GP consumer products.  

 

Prior to joining Georgia Pacific, Ryan spent the majority of his career at PepsiCo in the Frito Lay and QTG divisions leading customer and capability teams in addition to multiple sales responsibilities at Hormel Foods.  

 

Ryan is a graduate of the University of Georgia and has a passion for coaching youth lacrosse, basketball, and singing and playing guitar whenever he can with a local rock band. He and his wife reside in Marietta, GA with their 3 children. 

 

Kate Jaspon
Chief Financial Officer
Inspire Brands

Kate Jaspon

Chief Financial Officer
Inspire Brands

Kate Jaspon is the Chief Financial Officer of Dunkin’ Brands. In this role, she is responsible for the global financial planning and analysis, accounting, financial reporting, business analytics, tax, debt and cash management, enterprise risk management, electronic payments, insurance and demand planning functions for domestic and international Dunkin’ Baskin-Robbins. Kate has lead Dunkin’ through a number of transactions including the Company & IPO and follow-on equity offerings, securitization and numerous other debt transactions, the divestiture of a brand and several system implementations.

 

She also currently serves as the Audit Committee Chair of the Board of Directors for MOD Pizza.

 

Kate joined Dunkin’ Brands in December 2005 as Assistant Controller. She was later promoted to Vice President, Finance and Treasury and Corporate Controller, and was appointed Chief Financial Officer in June 2017.

 

Eight years prior to joining Dunkin’ Brands, Kate started her career with KPMG LLP, the international financial services corporation, culminating in a role as Senior Manager, where she supported both public and private companies as an auditor.

 

Kate earned a B.S. in Finance from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts and is a CPA licensed in Massachusetts. She is drinkin’ Dunkin’ Iced Coffee with skim milk and scoopin’ Baskin-Robbins Jamoca.

Ann Mamer Lloyd
SVP Distributor Sales
Ecolab

Ann Mamer Lloyd

SVP Distributor Sales
Ecolab

Ann currently serves as Senior Vice President, Distributor Sales N.A, in the Institutional division of Ecolab.  Ecolab (ECL) is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. With annualized sales of $14 billion and 48,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions, data-drives insights and on-site service to promote safe food, maintain clean environments, optimize water and energy use and improve operational efficiencies for customers in the food, healthcare, energy, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world.


In her current role, Ann is responsible for management of the North American Distributor Sales team, delivering strategic direction to enable profitable growth with our Distributor Partners. During her 12-year tenure at Ecolab, Ann has held key Executive positions including Senior Vice President Marketing and Operations – Global Institutional, Vice President Marketing – North America Institutional, and Vice President Marketing – Pest Elimination.



Prior to Ecolab, Ann was Vice President, General Manager for ConAgra Foods, a $12 billion branded food company, where she was responsible for a portfolio of well-known brands, including Slim Jim, DAVID sunflower seeds, and Crunch 'n Munch. She also managed product lines in the company's private label business. She also held management positions at General Mills and Pillsbury as well as positions of increasing responsibility in finance and accounting at both Pillsbury and Jostens, Inc.


Ann is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Economics and Business Administration. She received her MBA from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Business. She is a CPA and serves on The Board of Directors for The Women’s Foodservice Forum and is involved in other local community activities. She lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with her husband and two daughters.

Loraine Yalch
Chief Commercial Officer
Armada Supply Chain Solutions

Loraine Yalch

Chief Commercial Officer
Armada Supply Chain Solutions

Loraine Yalch is Chief Commercial Officer for Armada, a $3 billion supply chain solutions provider to the foodservice industry. In her role, she leads all aspects of our National Account client partner relationships, business development, marketing, communication and supply chain engineering while also driving Armada’s commercial strategy.

 

Loraine joined Armada in 2001 as a Supply Chain Engineer. Early in her tenure, she headed an instrumental project that led to the development of Armada’s supply chain visibility tool, which evolved into its Supply Chain Technology Platform. As Director of Account Management, she successfully took the technology solution to market. She was promoted to Vice President of Business Development in 2010 and into her current role in 2020.

 

Prior to her time in the foodservice industry, Loraine was director of operations for OnlineChoice.com, an online demand aggregator in the personal and home services arenas and served as a project manager for several environmental engineering consulting firms.

 

Loraine holds a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.S. in Industrial Administration from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Loraine lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Bill.

Armada creates innovative, fully integrated supply chain solutions that deliver competitive advantages and improve business performance for its clients. Through its long tradition of partnering with clients, Armada has become one of the largest fully integrated logistic providers to the foodservice industry, as well as, a respected provider among retail and other industries, with operations and offices around the country. Current clients range from Fortune 500 companies to privately held and family-owned businesses.

 

Board Of Directors

Carla Balakgie
President & CEO
National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA)

Carla Balakgie

President & CEO
National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA)

Carla Balakgie, FASAE, CAE is President & CEO of NAMA. Founded in 1936, NAMA is the national trade association representing the $31 billion convenience services industry including vending, coffee service and foodservice management in the business and industry market. With nearly 1000 member companies—including many of the world’s most recognized brands—NAMA provides advocacy, education, research and business development forums to its membership.

 

Prior to joining NAMA in December 2011, Carla served as Chief Executive Officer of the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA), a position she held for nine years. ETA is an international trade association representing companies that enable acceptance of electronic payments by merchants at the point of sale.

 

Previously, Carla served as Senior Vice President and COO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), where she held management and executive roles during her 15-year tenure. She began her career in association management at the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) following several years in commercial publishing.

 

Carla, a certified association executive (CAE) and a Fellow of the American Society of Association Executives, is the first woman to lead NAMA in its 84-year history. Ms. Balakgie is an active volunteer leader having served on numerous committees, task forces and governing boards of non-profit organizations. Currently she serves as a Director for ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) and on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of WFF (Women’s Foodservice Forum).

Tanika Cabral
SVP of Customer Leadership and Chief of Staff, North America Chief Customer Officer
The Coca-Cola Company

Tanika Cabral

SVP of Customer Leadership and Chief of Staff, North America Chief Customer Officer
The Coca-Cola Company

Developing high performing teams, setting a bold vision, exploring possibilities, and taking on challenges with considerable energy are the drivers behind Tanika Cabral’s career with The Coca-Cola Company. Her tenure in the Coca-Cola System spans customer operations, commercialization, channel strategy, global marketing, sales, and business development. Today, Tanika is Senior Vice President of Customer Leadership and Chief of Staff to the Chief Customer Officer of the North America Operating Unit. 


As a passionate advocate for women in business, Tanika previously served as the Global President of women’s LINC, the Company’s 6,000-member business resource group focused on the professional development of women across 70 countries. She was appointed and sits on the Coca-Cola Company’s Multicultural Leadership Council to evolve mindsets, behaviors, and systems to drive business value by fostering an inclusive workplace. In the past year, Tanika was also charged with co-chairing Coca-Cola’s Social Justice Agile Team & Action Plan to address and improve critical areas of racial equity.  

 

Tanika has been an active contributor in her community, and she was also the recipient of the YWCA Corporate Women of Achievement award for work done to uplift women and girls. Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she resides in Atlanta and is the proud mom of Benjamin, Saige and Jade.

Kathleen Ciaramello
IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIR
Former Chief Customer Officer
The Coca-Cola Company

Kathleen Ciaramello

IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIR
Former Chief Customer Officer
The Coca-Cola Company

Kathleen Ciaramello is the Former Chief Customer Officer for Coca-Cola North America. In this role, Kathleen had responsibility for customers across the full portfolio and all routes to market, including retail, drug, restaurants, hospitality, entertainment and more. 

 

Kathleen joined The Coca-Cola Company in 1985 and served in various account management, sales and marketing roles. Most recently, she served as President, Foodservice & On-Premise, Coca-Cola North America, where she led 1,500+ teammates responsible for all Global, National, Regional and Local customers headquartered in the U.S. and operating within the Foodservice and On-Premise channels of business across all functions.

 

Kathleen was one of 12 inaugural members of the Coca-Cola Women’s Leadership Council, an advisory organization designed to help the company meet the global leadership demands of a rapidly changing marketplace by increasing the focus on the development and movement of women into leadership roles.

 

She has served as the chair of the advisory board for the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s “Atlanta’s Table”, a member of the YMCA Metro Atlanta board of directors and a director on the Monster Energy Company board.

 

Today, Kathleen is a director on the National Restaurant Association board and member of the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation (JAJF) board of directors/ambassadors. 

 

A strong proponent for diversity, equity and inclusion, Kathleen is a spokesperson for the ALLY Project, an awareness campaign created to promote LGBT and straight ally relationships and discussions at Coca-Cola. She was also appointed to The Coca-Cola Company’s Social Justice Executive Steering Committee to address and improve critical areas of racial equity. Kathleen also serves as the Board Chair for the Women’s Foodservice Forum.

                                                

A native of Massachusetts, Kathleen has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Boston College. Kathleen and her husband, Paul, are the parents of two children, and welcomed their first grandchild in 2020.

Christina Clarke
Chief Marketing Officer, Fry Cook and Cashier
Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers

Christina Clarke

Chief Marketing Officer, Fry Cook and Cashier
Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers

Christina Clarke has served as Chief Marketing Officer since July 2021. At Raising Cane’s, Christina leads brand and communication strategy, content development and activation across mass and hyperlocal channels. All of which is to ensure the successful execution of the Company’s vision - to build Restaurants all over the world and be the brand for quality chicken finger meals, a great Crew and cool culture and active community involvement.


Prior to Raising Cane’s, Christina was the CMO at Wingstop and held various leadership roles at PepsiCo Frito-Lay North America across brand, foodservice, innovation, shopper, and portfolio marketing and Yum Brands (Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) marketing and operations.  


Christina achieved her BS and MBA degrees while working full time in the foodservice business and currently resides in north Texas with her husband and two sons.  

Linken D'Souza
Global Head and VP of Food and Beverage
Royal Caribbean International

Linken D'Souza

Global Head and VP of Food and Beverage
Royal Caribbean International

Linken Nigel D’Souza is a 20-year Food & Beverage operations veteran. He started his career in Switzerland in boutique 5-star hotels in the Geneva area while completing his formal education in Hotel and Restaurant Management.


After graduating from the Hotel Institute of Montreux, he returned to Dubai working with the Jumeriah International group. He moved to Canada in the late 90’s working in hotels in Toronto. He later joined Darden restaurants and over a 13-year period with the Red Lobster brand he grew to VP of Operations running Canada and the US East Coast. In 2017 he moved to Miami and joined Royal Caribbean International leading the Global Culinary, Dining and Beverage operation for the world’s largest cruise line. 


A consummate leaner in 2016 he was earned his CFBE designation (Certified Food and Beverage Executive). In 2020 he graduated with and MBA in Hospitality and Tourism, from the Lang School of Business, and in the same year was recognized as a 40 under 40 honoree in South Florida.

Catherine Fox
Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing
Land O'Lakes

Catherine Fox

Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing
Land O'Lakes

Catherine Fox is the Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing for Land O’Lakes, Inc.'s Dairy Foods Foodservice and Retail businesses, which include Butter and Spreads, Cheese, Kozy Shack, Licensing and New Products. Prior to joining Land O’Lakes, Catherine was a leader for 14 years in food marketing with nine years in consumer products at Pillsbury and General Mills.

Alisa Gmelich
Chief Brand Officer
Auntie Anne's

Alisa Gmelich

Chief Brand Officer
Auntie Anne's

Alisa Gmelich is an industry leader with over 25 years of experience working with top US restaurant brands. Today, Alisa currently serves as Chief Brand Officer for Auntie Anne’s which is a division of parent company, Focus Brands. Alisa is responsible for the overall strategic direction for all functional areas of Auntie Anne’s.

 

Prior to coming to Auntie Anne’s, Alisa was the VP Marketing for IHOP Restaurants where she worked on ground-breaking programs like the IHOb campaign which generated record-setting impression and engagement levels nationwide and delivered busines results that changed the trajectory of the IHOP’s business in the PM daypart. 

 

Alisa has also worked for large QSR brands McDonald’s and Burger King in regional and division marketing management roles. She has developed a strong affinity for working closely with franchise systems to drive business plans forward and quickly adapt to the ever-changing restaurant environment.

 

Alisa holds a BA from the University of California, Riverside and was the keynote speaker at the UCR Women’s Leadership Conference in 2018.

Elizabeth Horvath
VP Marketing, North America
Kerry Group

Elizabeth Horvath

VP Marketing, North America
Kerry Group

Elizabeth Horvath is Vice President of Marketing in North America for Kerry, the industry-leading taste and nutrition company for the food and beverage industry. In her role, she leads a team of strategic planning, brand marketing, consumer insights, marketing communications, channel activation and sustainability professionals to drive business growth for Kerry in the region through best-in-class integrated marketing activities.


Prior to Kerry, Elizabeth held roles in both the arts & entertainment and higher-education industries, translating her “can-do” entrepreneurial mindset from past experiences into the food and beverage industry. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Saint Mary. 


When not at work, Elizabeth is a semi-professional flautist, performing with local orchestras and musical productions, while juggling an overly ambitious project list of DIY home renovations, a husband, Jeff, and two kids, Clara (6) & Henrik (5).

Kelly Lefferts
Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary
Bloomin' Brands

Kelly Lefferts

Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary
Bloomin' Brands

Kelly Lefferts is the Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary of Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. She began her career at Bloomin’ Brands in 1997 as Corporate Counsel and has held positions of increasing responsibility within the Bloomin’ Brands legal department. She is the Founder and Steering Committee Member of Bloomin’ Brands, Inc.’s Women’s’ Interests Network, and an Executive Sponsor and member of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Jamie McKeon
SVP, Demand Creation
Rich Products Corporation

Jamie McKeon

SVP, Demand Creation
Rich Products Corporation

Jamie McKeon is the Senior Vice President of Demand Creation for Rich’s Foodservice Division where she is contributing to the advancement of Rich’s position as a leading innovator and solutions provider to the foodservice industry. She is responsible for division strategy and execution, marketplace analysis and insights, brand equity development, portfolio management, product category management, new product innovation, integrated marketing/demand creation and division financial performance.

 

In addition, McKeon chairs Rich’s Marketing Leadership Team for the USC Region, which is responsible for advancing Rich’s marketing capabilities and effectiveness through process improvement, marketing competency development and technology initiatives.

 

She also oversees the U.S. Canada Region’s Business Intelligence Team and Digital Experience Team; and is a member of the region’s strategic planning team. She also serves on the Niagara University Food Marketing Advisory board which was founded to support NU on the development of a new Food Marketing curriculum within the College of Business. The board informs, supports and promotes the program; attracts industry support; and advises the university regarding the curriculum and programming. McKeon chairs the Marketing Committee which is developing a strategic plan and marketing plan for the program in collaboration with the university.

 

A Rich’s associate since 1997, McKeon has contributed in several marketing roles and was named Vice President of Marketing for the Foodservice Division in April of 2013. She previously served as the Vice President of Marketing for the Consumer Brands Division, where she led the team responsible for growing Rich’s leading consumer brands, SeaPak and Farm Rich.

 

Prior to Rich’s, Jamie spent 10 years at Georgia-Pacific in Atlanta in marketing leadership, marketing communications and product management. She also worked in marketing for five years in the electronics industry at Pioneer-Standard Electronics in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

A native of Lorain, Ohio, McKeon resided in Georgia for 26 years before relocating from St. Simons Island to Buffalo in 2013 with her husband Matt. She has two daughters, Erin who is a graduate of Georgia Tech and currently an engineer with Georgia-Pacific and Kelly who is in her fourth year at Georgia Southern University and is studying Marketing. She earned a bachelor of science in business administration from Bowling Green State University and enjoys tennis, speedwalking, biking and paddle boarding.

Heather Neary
EVP and General Manager
KBP Brands

Heather Neary

EVP and General Manager
KBP Brands

Heather Neary was named EVP/General Manager at Overland Park, KS-based KBP Investments in March 2021. KBP Investments is one of the largest YUM! Brands franchisees in the country and Heather oversees the Taco Bell business unit. Previously, Heather served as President of Auntie Anne’s from November 2015 through December 2020. As President, Ms. Neary was responsible for the overall strategic direction for all functional areas of Auntie Anne’s.

Heather joined Auntie Anne’s in 2005 and held various roles in the company in which she was responsible for the oversight of marketing, communications, operations, research and development, product innovation, and the franchisee advisory council. Prior to her role as President, Heather served as Vice President, Global Marketing.


Before joining Auntie Anne’s, Heather held roles in marketing and as a managing editor for a business magazine.


Heather serves on the board of directors for Essential Property Realty Trust (NYSE: EPRT) and the National Restaurant Association. She also serves on the advisory board of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the board of advisors for Penn State Harrisburg.


Heather received a B.A. from Millersville University and an M.B.A. from Penn State University. 

Coley O'Brien
Chief People Officer
The Wendy's Company

Coley O'Brien

Chief People Officer
The Wendy's Company

Coley O’Brien has served as Chief People Officer at The Wendy’s Company since March 2018, beginning his career with the Company in 2007. During his time at Wendy’s, Coley has established the Top General Manager program, celebrating restaurant General Managers for their leadership, performance, and dedication to the brand. He has also implemented a new employment branding strategy, and increased focus on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Coley serves as the executive sponsor of Wendy’s Young Professional Resource Group, which is focused on the growth and development of young professionals. Prior to Wendy’s, Coley worked at Sears Holdings Corporation, where he served as Director of Retail Training and began his career with Arthur Andersen LLP as a Senior Consultant.

Shawn O'Grady
Group President, Convenience & Foodservice; SVP, Global Revenue Development
General Mills

Shawn O'Grady

Group President, Convenience & Foodservice; SVP, Global Revenue Development
General Mills

Shawn O'Grady leads the Convenience and Foodservice organization. This $2B business is focused on growing sales and profit for General Mills by serving the needs of convenience store and foodservice operators across the United States, including schools, restaurants and hospitals. In addition, O'Grady oversees the development of two of the company’s global capabilities focused on accelerating topline growth, Strategic Revenue Management and Ecommerce. He was named to this position in December 2016.


O’Grady joined General Mills in Marketing in July 1990. He was promoted to Vice President in 1998, and concurrent with the General Mills acquisition of The Pillsbury Company in 2001, took the helm of the Refrigerated Baked Goods business.


Late in 2004, O’Grady joined the Consumer Foods Sales Division with responsibility for retail customers across the Midwest. He was promoted to President for U.S. Retail Sales in 2007. In August of 2010, O’Grady was elected Senior Vice President of General Mills, and assumed leadership of all remaining customer activities in the U.S.


Prior to joining General Mills, O’Grady graduated with honors from Notre Dame with a Bachelor’s of Science in chemical engineering. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School.


Shawn lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Becky and two children, Jack and Mary. He serves on the board of trustees of the General Mills Foundation, Feeding America and Second Harvest Heartland. He is passionate about ending hunger in the U.S. In his free time he is an avid tennis player and runner.

Dawn Rasmussen
Chief Revenue Officer
Woodland Foods Inc.

Dawn Rasmussen

Chief Revenue Officer
Woodland Foods Inc.

Dawn’s broad career spans both Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial custom and branded food manufacturers. Dawn joined Ventura Foods in 2014 and assumed responsibility for the Innovation Team—Marketing, Strategic Insights, Research and Development, and Culinary—in April 2021. Previously, she oversaw the growth and development of Ventura’s international business in Canada, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East, including manufacturing plants in Canada and three strategic partnerships in the Philippines and Mexico.

 

From 2004 to 2014, Dawn was Vice President, Business Development for Bakkavor USA, formerly known as Two Chefs on a Roll. There, Dawn helped grow the private-label food company from $20 million to $75 million by expanding products, categories/capabilities, and facilities to support customers such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, California Pizza Kitchen, and Panera.

 

Prior to joining Bakkavor, Dawn was Sr. Business Manager for the Bakeries and Foodservice division of General Mills, which acquired Pillsbury. During her time with both companies, she held multiple customer marketing and business development roles. She also served as Director of Foodservice for Holiday Station stores, a chain of 300 gas/convenience stores. Dawn started her career at Frito-Lay, where she was recruited for a fast-track management training program.

Debbie Roberts
EVP, Chief Operating Officer
Panera Brands

Debbie Roberts

EVP, Chief Operating Officer
Panera Brands

Debbie Roberts is Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer of Panera Bread, where she is responsible for driving long-term growth for more than 2,100 company-owned and franchise bakery-cafes in the United States and Ontario, Canada.


During her nearly 30-year restaurant industry career, Debbie has held a variety of leadership roles in finance, field marketing and operations. Prior to joining Panera in September 2020, she was a Zone President for McDonald’s USA, overseeing more than 7,000 McDonald’s restaurants across the Eastern United States.

 

Before that, Debbie served as Senior Vice President/Restaurant Support Officer (RSO) for the East Division of McDonald’s USA. In partnership with the Division President, she drove growth through restaurant operations for approximately 5,800 McDonald’s restaurants.

 

Prior to her appointment as RSO, Debbie served as Vice President, General Manager for the Midwest Region.

 

Debbie began her career with McDonald’s as a Staff Accountant in 1990, transitioning into marketing and ultimately becoming Senior Marketing Director for the Central Division. In 2004, she was chosen for McDonald’s Accelerated Operations Program in which participants gain knowledge and experience in a variety of field functions. While in the program, Debbie moved to the frontlines, working her way up from crewperson to Restaurant Manager to Vice President/General Manager of the Midwest Region, where she was responsible for the performance of 704 restaurants in nine states.


Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and is a Certified Public Accountant. Debbie has received numerous awards, including Black Enterprise Most Powerful Executives & Chicago United Business Leaders of Color.


Debbie’s community and industry involvement includes serving on the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, membership in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, and The Executive Leadership Council.


Debbie and her husband Warren have one daughter, Delaney, and reside in Chicago.

Dr. Merary Simeon
VP Diversity & Engagement
PepsiCo

Dr. Merary Simeon

VP Diversity & Engagement
PepsiCo

Dr. Merary Simeon is a wife, mother, co-founder of Color Forward podcast, founder of the ACTivate Conference, board member, kingdom work advocate, and proven human resources executive with more than 20 years of experience working for various Fortune 100 companies. Merary is a celebrated human resources executive who is community-minded and people-invested. Merary’s diverse experiences have equipped her with a deep understanding of the needs and opportunities critical to leaders at all levels. Her leadership expertise includes Talent Management, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Leadership Consulting, Culture Change, Executive Coaching, and Public Speaking.

 

Merary holds a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University and a master’s degree in Human Resources from Fordham University. She is a native of Puerto Rico and currently resides in Frisco, Texas, with her family. She credits her success to Jesus Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:13. 

Kelli Valade
President and CEO
Denny's

Kelli Valade

President and CEO
Denny's

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” Aristotle’s wisdom has guided Kelli Valade’s career since the age of 16, when she landed her first restaurant job as a hostess. It was there Kelli found the same hospitality, the same love of great food and the same connection around the table she’d experienced her entire childhood, cooking and eating Italian food around her grandmother’s kitchen table in New York. Kelli discovered early where her passion for life intersected with work, and she’s built a career living out that passion.

 

Determined to make a big impact on the industry she loved, Kelli worked her way through school, earning a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and an MBA from Syracuse University. She rose to General Manager of a local restaurant at age 21, then her people-first style quickly directed her career to Human Resources, where she led HR, Recruiting and Compensation for national chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.

 

Kelli then spent over 20 years at Brinker International in various roles including SVP of Human Resource for Chili’s Grill & Bar, and later serving as Chief Operating Officer. In 2016, she became the first female President in the brand’s history and was responsible for 80,000 + ChiliHeads and more than 1,600 restaurants in 31 countries and two territories. In this role, she established a clear vision and bold strategies, cultivated a purpose-driven culture and executed the biggest menu change in the brand’s history, all with uncompromising dedication to the guest, and her team members.

 

In 2019, Kelli joined restaurant insights powerhouse Black Box Intelligence™ as the CEO and President. Black Box Intelligence is the leading provider of data and insights to the restaurant industry with a product suite that is the industry standard for operators seeking to achieve best in class performance. With the largest and most reliable set of real restaurant data in the marketplace, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes more than 300 companies, over 2.8 million employees and over $75 billion in annual revenue.

 

To give back to the industry, Kelli serves on the board of the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) and on the executive committee of the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). Kelli also served alongside her daughter Morgan on the Allen Chapter of National Charity League (NCL) and currently sits on the Board of Trustees for the Shelton School in Dallas. A compelling and

passionate keynote speaker, she also frequently speaks to students and professionals across the industry, sharing best practices and lessons from her lifelong journey. 

 

Kelli has been recognized often by the industry she loves. Nation’s Restaurant News added her to their Top 50 Power List in 2017, The Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo gave her the Beacon Award in 2016 and Dallas Business Journal named her a Woman Worth Watching in 2013.

 

Together with her husband Don and their two children, Morgan (19) & Christian (17), Kelli has lived in Texas long enough to be called a native, but her heart (and her accent) remain firmly rooted in New York. You can connect with her on Twitter @kvpalooza, find her on Facebook or just follow the scent of the homemade meatballs. They’re worth the trip.

Libby Wanamaker
VP Talent Experience
Chick-fil-A

Libby Wanamaker

VP Talent Experience
Chick-fil-A

Libby Wanamaker is a veteran HR Leader who currently serves as the VP Talent Experience for Chick-fil-A. In this capacity she leads Human Resources for Chick-fil-A’s Corporate Staff including Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, Talent Development and Talent Operations.

Prior to coming to Chick-fil-A, Libby served as the Chief Human Resources Officer for BlueLinx Corporation, a national lumber distribution company, where she helped lead a merger that doubled the company’s revenue and size.

Libby spent the bulk of her career working for The Coca-Cola Company. In her 18+ years at Coca-Cola she served in a variety leadership role within HR and Coke Foundation including leading Organization Effectiveness, HR Business Partner, Group Director Community Affairs, Global Talent Development and ultimately as SVP of Human Resources for Coke’s North America.  

Libby holds a BA from Duke University, an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin and a JD from Emory University.

WFF Senior Leadership

Therese Gearhart
WFF CEO
President & CEO

Therese Gearhart

WFF CEO
President & CEO

Therese Gearhart

A senior executive with extensive international operations and consumer marketing expertise, Therese Gearhart brings decades of leadership in the Food Industry to her role as President & CEO of WFF. She launched her early career in foodservice and hospitality and advanced to senior leadership with a record of unlocking business performance as an inclusive and authentic leader.

As a 20-year veteran of The Coca-Cola Company, Therese led multi-billion-dollar P&Ls in Latin America and Southern Africa and spent six years working within the North America Foodservice business. She has inspired operational and organizational change across borders and cultures, consistently creating value and driving growth in challenging environments.

Throughout her career, Therese has been a strong role model and staunch advocate for women’s advancement and the role of gender equity in driving business performance. She co-chaired and was a member of Coca-Cola’s Global Women’s Leadership Council advising The Company Executive Committee on strategies to accelerate the advancement of women in leadership. She has been a long-time member of WFF and previously served on the Board of Directors.

She has also served on the boards of affiliated Coca-Cola companies and influential industry groups and is a sought-after speaker on business strategy, inclusion and female entrepreneurship.

A fearless and optimistic leader, Therese has a reputation for creating effective teams and inclusive cultures by gaining trust and collaboration with key stakeholders. She has a passion for mentoring women leaders and embraces the opportunity to advance gender diversity and equality across the Food Industry through WFF and its Partner companies.

As President & CEO, Therese sees WFF as a daily source of inspiration, connection and learning that supports women’s holistic development and helps Partner companies create sustainable traction around gender equity with unique insights, proven solutions and shared knowledge.

Therese embodies WFF’s passion for advancing women and leads the organization into an exciting chapter of growth and increased impact. 

Krista Gibson
Chief Marketing Officer

Krista Gibson

Chief Marketing Officer

Krista Gibson is a Marketing & Strategy C-level Executive with over 25-years of experience in the hospitality industry.

 

Krista is the former CMO for Chili’s Grill & Bar, a global company with +1600 locations in 31 countries where she led all aspects of brand building, innovation and sales growth strategies. She reported to the CEO and was a member of Brinker International’s (EAT) senior leadership team charged with delivering EPS growth for a $3.25B Fortune 750 portfolio company (Chili’s Bar & Grill and Maggiano’s Little Italy). She collaborated with C-suite peers on all business challenges and actively engaged with the Board of Directors on brand strategy.

Krista has extensive experience leveraging macro-trends and consumer insights to develop a customer-centric brand purpose, strategic plans and operating plans leading to market share growth. She led Chili’s transformative, best-in-class digital customer experience fueling the loyalty program, providing actionable insights with Big Data, simplifying operations, and growing the top & bottom line.

 

Her experiences span all market conditions and brand lifecycles: from emerging concepts to aggressively growing brands to leading globally recognized brands. Krista currently serves on the Board of Directors for MHI Restaurant Group LLC, an emerging fast-casual pizza concept.

 

Krista has both a Bachelor of Science and MBA from the University of Florida. She has also served as a Board Member for SMU’s Digital Accelerator Program & SMU Cox School of Business Associate Board Member. She has completed the Governance Fellowship Program with the National Association for Corporate Directors (NACD) and the completed the Director Development Program at Kellogg.

Dana Minton
Vice President, Partner Engagement & Business Development

Dana Minton

Vice President, Partner Engagement & Business Development

Glen Katlein
CFO Consultant

Glen Katlein

CFO Consultant

Alana Robinson
CIO Consultant

Alana Robinson

CIO Consultant

WFF Staff

Jumoke Adenekan
Executive Assistant to the President/CEO

Jumoke Adenekan

Executive Assistant to the President/CEO

Corina Balsells
Director, Events

Corina Balsells

Director, Events

Omemma Gillani
Director Insights & Strategic Projects

Omemma Gillani

Director Insights & Strategic Projects

Erin Hall
Director, Partner & Member Engagement

Erin Hall

Director, Partner & Member Engagement

Laura Helms
Marketing Director

Laura Helms

Marketing Director

Susan Jank
Senior Accounting Specialist

Susan Jank

Senior Accounting Specialist

Kendra Wilson
Marketing Manager, Member Relations & Events

Kendra Wilson

Marketing Manager, Member Relations & Events