A Successful Balancing Act

Colleen Soukup '82, '91 M.B.A. finds fulfillment in a rich and varied life.

Colleen Soukup would never complain of boredom. A mother of four children ranging in age from 8 to 18, she has held 10 jobs over 22 years at General Mills, where she is currently director, worldwide sourcing. Her business expertise has enabled her to reach a level where she oversees a team responsible for buying approximately $2 billion of materials for General Mills products, from ingredients to packaging.

But for Soukup, life is about more than her day-to-day responsibilities. Socrates’ statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” resonates deeply with her. Soukup’s life contains much to examine.

Soukup’s family owned a business, where she worked while she was growing up. By the time she was a junior in high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a business major in college. But she also knew that she wanted more than a business education – it was important that her college experience include active participation in athletics, too.

Soukup visited the College of St. Catherine, where she discovered that most of her classes would be at St. Thomas. She decided that going to a school where women’s sports teams were new (St. Thomas became coeducational her senior year in high school) might give her more opportunities to participate in athletics. This was enough to convince her to enroll as one of the first women at St. Thomas.

Her experience at St. Thomas wasn’t all about business and sports. Soukup has a great appreciation for the liberal arts background she developed while in college. “The liberal arts was a little richer for me than just a single focus on business. It made me well rounded. The rigor around thinking differently and trying to be open-minded was good.”

Given her appreciation for bringing a broad outlook to life, it is no surprise that Soukup believes her liberal arts background makes life more rewarding and fulfilling. “It’s not all numbers; it’s people and values. I have recruited at a lot of different schools, and I think St. Thomas has a wider array of intellectual challenges when you take in some of the ethics and the critical thinking. I have found it to be helpful in my career and as a person.”

Similarly, she appreciates both the business problems she wrestled with as she pursued her M.B.A. and the deeper questions that were raised in class. “The two things I got out of the program were a really broad perspective from my counterparts about how they handle things and, from the professors, rich content and topical subjects about which they were pushing us to think more broadly and globally. My favorite course was the ethics course with Dr. Ken Goodpaster. He never settled for an easy discussion.”

Soukup also values the different perspectives she has gained on the job. Her area works with more than 75 different industries. Soukup reports that working with many different companies has “given me insight into different industries both big and small, to see how they attack their problems, their realities. I can bring that outside view into General Mills and try to use it in our business.”

Soukup’s career path has been impressive. Starting as an ingredient buyer for minor items, she has held several positions at General Mills. Twice, she has returned from maternity leave to a promotion. “I’m living proof that General Mills is a great place for women to work. It’s been a great place to not only be a professional but to be a professional woman and mother.” She enjoys both her career and her family. “The one thing that I’m most personally proud of is that I’ve figured out how to do both, though really, I didn’t figure it out, it just sort of happened. Like most people I’m trying to balance a busy household with all the kids doing their activities, and be successful and committed at work.”

Soukup’s life seems to belie the saying, “You can’t have it all.” Certainly, she has a lot: an impressive career, a large family, a strong business background and a deep appreciation for a thoughtful approach to life. She has examined and embraced her life, and found it well worth living.

General Mills is a worldwide marketer of consumer foods with $11.5 billion in net sales. It traces its origins to the opening of a flour mill in Minneapolis in 1866. It is the home of such well-recognized brands as Cheerios, Old El Paso, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury. Its products include cereals, meals, baking products, snacks, yogurt and much more. Says Soukup, “We’ve won a lot of awards and recognition for our values and our progressiveness around diversity and women. It’s been a great place for me to grow.”

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