First Jobs’ of 14 Most Influential People in Food

The vast majority of inspiring and successful people in the Food & Beverage industry had other aspirations when they first started out in their careers.

After speaking with grads and experienced professionals in Canada and the US, its very clear that its a bit of a trend, a career in food was never part of the long term plan, they sort of “fell into it” or the “career found them”.

It’s been a blast learning and sharing the stories of those we know personally–and we certainly plan to continue to do that–however, we thought it would be fun to explore the beginnings of 14 people we think are most influential in Food & Beverage today.

14 Food & Beverage Influencers

  1. Vani Hari – Vani is know to us as ‘The Food Babe’.  She started her blog in 2011 and by 2014 had over 54 million views.  Her reputation as a determined health food warrior has given her strength in numbers and she has over 97 Million Twitter followers as well as over a million likes on Facebook.  She has influenced some of the biggest food corporations in the world to change things like ingredients and labelling.  Like her or not, she is a major player in the food industry.  But was that always her plan?  No, it would seem not as Vani started her career as a Management Consultant for Accenture, after graduating from the University of Georgia in 2001 with a degree in Computer Science.    It was a series of personal medical issues that led her to focus on healthy eating and nutrition.

    Indra Nooyi

    Indra Nooyi

  2. Indra Nooyi – Indra is the CEO of Pepsico.  In 1994 Indra joined the second largest food company in the world and was named president and CFO in 2001, after a succession of success she was named the companies 44th CEO.  Consistently recognised as one of the most influential people in the world and most powerful women.  Indra hails from India attending school there. Her bachelors degree was in Physics,Chemistry and Mathematics.  Her post grad was in management, she was admitted to the Yale school of Management in 1978 where she earned a Masters degree in Public and Private Management. Indra started her career as a Product Manager for Johnson and Johnson.
  3. Jamie Oliver – everyone knows this chap!  If you are scratching your head, let me refresh your memory!  Jamie is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and activist for changing the way kids eat at school.  The Food Revolution is a global movement that focuses on healthy eating and food education.  It would seem that cooking was always Jamie’s career path.  He left school at 16 with two GCSE’s and then went on to technical college earning a NVQ in home economics from Westminster Kingsway College.  Jamie’s first job was as a Pastry Chef in an Italian Restaurant.

    Jamie Oliver

    Jamie Oliver

  4. Paul Polman – CEO of Unilever.  Paul is a Dutch businessman who was CFO in 2006 with another food giant Nestle, before coming CEO at Unliever in 2009.  Paul was born and raised in the Netherlands.  The food industry was not his passion but rather to become a doctor, he went on to earn a BBA/BA, then a MA in Economics from the University of Cincinnati.  To cap it off he obtained his MBA in Finance and International Marketing.  Paul’s first job was a Cost Analyst with Proctor and Gamble.
  5. Anthony Bourdain – a celebrity chef, author and TV personality.  Similarly to Mr Oliver, Anthony always knew what he wanted and went to school to become a chef.  Born and raised in New York, Anthony attended the Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1978.  He started working in restaurants while he was still a school which only reinforced his love for cooking. Soon he began running the kitchens of New York restaurants such as the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue and Sullivan’s. Its safe to say, he always knew food was his passion and still is.
  6. Susan Ungaro – President of the James Beard Foundation.  TBF is a non profit foundation based in New York, named after the ‘Dean of American Cookery’ the foundation claims national status and under Susan’s leadership has seen its members increase due to the culinary scholarship program and prestigious annual awards gala–better known as ‘The Oscars of the Food Industry’.  Susan has a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Communications from William Paterson University of New Jersey.  She started her career with Family Circle Magazine, again another example of a major food force who never started out with a desire to work in the industry.

    Susan Ungaro

    Susan Ungaro

  7. Rosanna Pansino – have you heard of ‘Nerdy Nummies‘ because if you haven’t you can bet your kids have!  Rosanna is a baker, actress, author and best known as a YouTube personality.  Nerdy Nummies has over 7 Million followers and gets over 75 million views a month.  The show offers tutorials on how to make nerdy themed baked goods, she invites special guests to help her cook and has written cook books with the same theme.  Now, it comes as no surprise that Rosanna actually started out with aspirations to become an actress.  Rosanna is a Washington native and attended Pacific Lutheran University.  Upon graduating she moved to LA to start her own production company.
  8. Paul Grimwood – CEO and Chairman Nestle USA since 2012.  Paul is also involved with the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, Grocery Manufacturers Association, where he chairs the subcommittee on sodium, and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, Food and Drink Federation, co-chaired the Agri-Food and Drink Export Forum, and served on the Institute of Grocery Distribution’s Policy Issues Council.  Educated at the University of Huddersfield earning a Bachelors in Business administration, Management and Operations it would seem Paul always had his sights on the food industry.  His first job after graduating was with Mars in Exports, he credits a career in confectionery with growing up next to a Roundtree factory in York.
  9. Gordon Ramsay – whether he’s shouting “that’s stunning” or “get the &%$# out of my kitchen!!”, we all know this celebrity chef, restaurateur and TV personality.   He makes our list because, simply put, when you think ‘chef’ you picture this guy. Despite his passion for cooking did you know he actually wanted to be a football (soccer) player?  Due to a knee injury he had to rethink his career path.  He enrolled at North Oxfordshire Technical College to study hotel management, in his words, his decision to enter catering college was “an accident, a complete accident.” His first job was as a Commis Chef at the Wroxton House Hotel.

    Irene Rosenfeld

    Irene Rosenfeld

  10. Irene Rosenfeld – CEO of Mondelēz International.  Irene was born in New York and has been involved in the food and beverage industry for over 30 years.  Food, however, wasn’t on her mind in the early years, becoming President of the US was!  Irene went to Cornell University where she earned a BA in Psychology, Masters in Business and holds a PhD in Marketing and Statistics.  Her first job was at advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency in New York City.
  11. Dr. Tim Ryan – President of the Culinary Institute of America.  Tim supervised all the college’s degree programs and continuing education. As president since 2001 the college developed major innovations, including the world’s first bachelor’s degrees in culinary arts management and baking & pastry arts management.  Tim grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from the CIA in 1977, continuing on an impressive education path he received MBA degrees from the University of New Haven, earned his doctorate degree in education from The University of Pennsylvania. Dr Ryan has the unique background of being a Certified Master Chef and Culinary Olympic Champion with an Ivy League doctoral degree…..now that’s a goal!  And yes, food was always his passion.  At 13 he was washing dishes in a restaurant and by the time he went to high school he knew he wanted to become a chef.
  12. Susan Neely – is the President and CEO of the American Beverage Association.  ABA is the leading policy and pubic education association representing all the major (non-alcoholic) brands of an industry worth over $112 Billion.  Susan has quite the resume, born in Iowa I think its safe to say a career in the beverage industry was not ‘top of mind’.  This University of Iowa graduate spent the first part of her career serving as a senior adviser to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and a couple of members of Congress. In fact, her first job was Press Secretary, Campaign Manager.
  13. John Mackey – CEO, Whole Foods.  John is considered one of the most influential and key players in the organic food movement, also a strong supporter of free market economics.  It would seem that John was destined to become a founder of the most successful chain of ‘organic’ grocery stores.  John studied philosophy and religion but had a bit of a generalist approach to education, he dropped out of college after meeting his girlfriend (1 of 4 co-founders of Wholefoods) Renee while living in a vegetarian housing co-op.  Need we say more…

    Josh Tetrick

  14. Josh Tetrick – Founder & CEO, Hampton Creek.  Josh is a social entrepreneur, speaker, and writer and he made our list for a few awesome reasons.  One being he is the co-founder of a hugely successful–innovative plant based food technology organisation–a ‘technology pioneer’.  Another is that students and recent grads focusing on careers in the industry are inspired and motivated by Josh.  Josh received a BA in Africana Studies from Cornell University and a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.  Josh’s first job was with the Liberian government to work on the reform of Liberia’s investment laws for its president, we’re guessing ‘food’ was far from his mind, unless he was eating it!

Why is it most people in the food & beverage industry never intended to work there?

Whats the missing ingredient that attracts young people to careers in food?  Do you think we are seeing a shift in this mindset?