Smithey shares lessons in leadership at Mizzou Engineering

February 24, 2022

Sheri Smithey speaks to a class.

Sheri Smithey talks to students in Engineering Leadership and Strategic Communication, a new course being offered this semester.

Be the leader other people want to follow. Have a vision while being approachable. And remember that leadership and management aren’t always the same things. Those were some key take-aways Sheri Smithey, PhD, AgE ’93, shared with Mizzou Engineers earlier this week.

Smithey is VP, Global Head of R&D Network at Nestle Purina and recipient of Mizzou Engineering’s 2020 Missouri Honor Award. On Feb. 22, she shared advice and leadership lessons during ENGINR 2001: Engineering Leadership and Strategic Communication on Tuesday. This is the first semester for the course, which is designed to teach engineering students fundamentals of leadership and features guest visits from Mizzou Engineering alumni who are leaders in the engineering industry.

Smithey said she hoped students in the class gained an appreciation of the different types of leaders, including those who lead projects and strategic initiatives rather than managing others.

“Leadership is different than management, and I think that sometimes gets confusing for people,” she said. “You can be a leader in an organization and not necessarily a people leader. But they require a lot of the same skills.”

Smithey credits Mizzou Engineering for equipping her with leadership skills. In graduate school, she honed her decision-making, communication and problem-solving skills by working alongside other students, lab technicians, faculty and collaborators to deliver results.

“At Mizzou Engineering, I started to learn about proactive cooperation,” she said. “I started to practice those skills without realizing it, then wanted to keep it up.”

Smithey has been able to apply those lessons in a variety of roles. She was an assistant professor at Kansas State University before being recruited for a position at the Nestle Research and Development Center in St. Joseph, Missouri. She has since served in a number of leadership roles, including managerial positions for Nestle Purina PetCare Europe in the UK. She’s been VP, Global Head of R&D for about two years.

Smithey says she stays motivated by the mission of her company, which aims to improve the health and lives of pets, as well as the people she works with. She also makes it a point to stay-in-the-know by reading a variety of materials, from the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair to peer-reviewed journal articles and research and development reports.

“Always be learning,” she advised.

The best advice she ever received? To have courage.

“It’s easy to hold back,” she said. “Early on, I was told to have courage and do hard things.”