From Fortune 50 to Girl Scouts-Dakota Horizons, this CEO now prepares young leaders

Feb. 19, 2018

By Brenda Wade Schmidt, for SiouxFalls.Business.

Marla Meyer and her daughter joined Girls Scouts in the same week.

Meyer became CEO with Girls Scouts-Dakota Horizons in October 2015, and her daughter, Madeline, started as a Daisy Scout.

For Meyer, it meant coming home to the region where she grew up. She brought Fortune 50 experience with her — primarily as a soft drink executive — to lead the Sioux-Falls based nonprofit organization that includes South Dakota and North Dakota, some counties in Minnesota and one in Iowa. Yet she enjoys seeing Girls Scouts from the ground level, too. Her daughter, now 8 and a Brownie Scout, enlists her mother to provide transportation, pull the cookie wagon and keep the money safe during sales, which kicked off earlier this month and continue through March 12.

“Maddy is a go-getter,” Meyer said. “She likes to experience many things. This is probably less of an activity and more of a foundational leadership thing for her.”

That’s a fit with Meyer’s work and the Girl Scout experience. Cookie sales are simply one important activity. Leadership is premier.

“Our brand essence is go-getters, innovators, risk-takers and leaders,” she said. “They’re really more focused on the experiences where they’re discovering things.”

Soft drink career

Meyer, 47, started her career with Coca-Cola Enterprises in Mankato, Minn., in 1992, and worked for Coke in Nashville as the marketing manager for Tennessee and as the area sales manager. She later was general manager in Martinsville, Va., before switching soft drink companies and going to work for PepsiCo in Visalia, Calif., in 1998.

Her 14-year career with Pepsi took her from California to New York, back to California, to Canada as vice president of sales support and finally to Colorado, where she was vice president of marketing for the west.

“I enjoy big brands,” she said. “I got opportunities at a very early stage of my career to lead businesses.”

After leaving the soft drink industry, she also worked for Sears Holdings Corp. in Illinois as vice president of national sales and customer experience in home appliances and electronics.

Meyer said she didn’t specifically pick jobs but worked to expand her business knowledge with various positions. She likes to focus on projects and results, and won’t compromise on integrity, she said.

“I was very fortunate to fall into a highly competitive industry because I am competitive. I like to win but not at any costs,” she said. Through her work, she said she has learned how important integrity is. If an organization’s values don’t align with hers, it’s OK, but it won’t be a job she’ll do.

Local leader

Having Meyer in a role as CEO of a nonprofit benefits Sioux Falls, said Laurie Knutson, CEO and president of EmBe.

“I love her work experience,” Knutson said. “She brought such a vast knowledge to our community. Of course, she’s just a delightful person on top of that.”

Knutson got to know Meyer when she was networking to try to find a position back close to home. Meyer said she spent time having coffee with at least a hundred people to get to know leaders in the community before finding her current position.

Knutson said Meyer is one of the first people she calls if she is facing a challenge within her own nonprofit.

“A lot of our nonprofits are run by women. It is a great network of women to get together,” Knutson said. “She is a person that has high character and high values. I think that makes a leader a really good leader when you know who you are.”

While at the Girl Scouts, Meyer has seen an increase in girls participating in the local council, which now serves 9,000 youths with the help of 4,000 volunteers. In addition to strategic planning, she has focused on transforming the business model and adopting new technology, business processes and operational structure.

“I am energized about the future of this organization,” she said.

The organization had been through a lot of changes when Meyer came on board. She has spent some of her time laying out a foundation and looking at better ways to serve its membership.

“The first year, we sort of stabilized. Then, we began to transform,” she said. “Last year, we transformed the entire business model.”

Dan LaRock, principal and shareholder at SilverStone Group, has known Meyer for years, and he works professionally with her through his company as the benefits and risk management provider for the local Girl Scouts council. Her experience at some of the highest levels in some of the largest companies combined with her genuine love of people make her a gem in the local community, he said.

“She has held positions that necessitate extreme versatility and extreme intelligence, and she has both of those,” he said. She also wants to see people within her organization grow, he said.

“She wants to help put people in positions that allow them to reach their full potential,” he said. “She is a voice of positivity.”

Expanded Girl Scout community

Susan Wefald, Girl Scouts-Dakota Horizons board president from Bismarck, N.D., said the Dakota Horizons council is the second largest geographically in the country. That means Meyer has to be an outstanding communicator in person and in writing, she said. While the board meets quarterly, she and Meyer sometimes talk daily.

Meyer’s leadership qualities, along with enthusiasm, marketing experience and management skills, were just what the organization was looking for. “We were thrilled to have a person with her experience come to council,” Wefald said.

It wasn’t a drawback that Meyer had never been a Girl Scout growing up, Wefald added.

“We are always trying to recruit new people into the Girl Scouts organization. As the board says, girls come first. We wanted a person who agreed with that to lead our organization,” she said. The person needed to buy into the mission. “Marla did, and she has demonstrated that in her work with us.”

While Girl Scouts focuses on leadership, the seasonal cookie sales draw a lot of attention and create a lot of work loading and unloading boxes of cookies, a project in which Meyer pitches in to help.

With her packaging background, she also is vice chairwoman on the national steering committee for the cookie program. It’s the only area where she has to sign an agreement not to divulge trade secrets.

“It’s a huge brand within Girl Scouts,” she said.

“I’m able to use a lot of leadership experience. Call me crazy, but it keeps me energized.”

One thing that isn’t confidential is her favorite cookies: the Samoas, cookies coated in caramel, sprinkled with toasted coconut and striped with dark chocolate. She admits she likes all of the other kinds, too. “There’s not a bad one in my opinion.”

She also likes to inspire sales and last year promised to have lunch with the girl who sold the most boxes of cookies in the council. That meant a trip to remote Williston, N.D., where she not only had lunch with the top seller of more than 3,000 boxes but visited the girl’s classroom, too.

Who knows where this year’s challenge will take Meyer.

“I’ll do it again,” she promises.

Family foundation

Meyer grew up on a farm outside of Hills, Minn., and worked to pay her way at Minnesota State Mankato in part as an assistant on the women’s basketball team, a sport she played in high school. During her career, she earned her MBA in marketing from California State University in Fresno.

Besides CEO, she has the job titles of mom and head of household, raising her twins – her daughter and her son, Maximus — in Brandon in a home that also includes a generational suite so her parents can be close.

“In my life and in my career, I’ve had a lot of great job titles and experiences. I really wanted this job called ‘Mom,’ ” she said. “I’m passionate about my work, but my most important job is mom.”

In addition to her parents, Meyer has family support from siblings, cousins and others, she said.

Moving back to the area was her 13th move in 22 years. She has no plans to add other locations to the list.

“I am here to stay,” she said. This is our home.”

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From Fortune 50 to Girl Scouts-Dakota Horizons, this CEO now prepares young leaders

From major marketing roles at Coke and Pepsi to her current role as CEO of Girl Scouts-Dakota Horizons, Marla Meyer brings national experience to her role leading girls in Sioux Falls.

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