ST. LOUIS — Managing manufacturing is no walk in the park, particularly for one of the largest pet food companies in the United States, and especially when paired with the full-time job of motherhood. As vice president of manufacturing for Nestlé Purina PetCare, Amy Kerr has not only proven her dedication to her fellow team members and the company as a whole, but has also shown strong support for other women leaders in the industry.

“It pushes me out of my comfort zone and keeps me on my toes, but I love that my work is challenging while also extremely fulfilling,” she said.

In the following Q&A, Kerr shares how she has balanced motherhood with a demanding job in manufacturing and imparts her personal advice for other aspiring industry leaders.


PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?

Kerr: When I was a junior in college, I took a semester off to join the military. I first spoke to a career fair in Chicago after basic training and AIT. I was really excited about the opportunity because my grandfather had been a distributor for Purina, and I had always grown up with Purina in our house. After an interview, I realized very quickly that I had a passion for manufacturing and greatly admired what Purina stood for.

I began my career at Purina as an accounting trainee at our Davenport factory, which was a management development program. While in that program, I found that I had a desire to go into production and operations. When I transitioned to our Oklahoma City factory, I switched over to the production side of the business. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to transfer with work to several of our facilities including Davenport, Iowa; Oklahoma City; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Clinton, Iowa.


PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?

Kerr: Manufacturing roles are really rewarding, but they can also be very taxing, especially as a mom. In one instance, there was a month when I had to spend a lot of extra time at a factory to help with some ongoing issues. My son asked me why I cared so much about the associates since I was sacrificing time with my family. I shared with him that as a factory manager I’m not only worried about the 350 employees at my factory, but I’m also worried about their families too. Over the years, my kids have had a lot of opportunities to come to the factories, and they really enjoy it. There are times when we will host associate celebrations, and we will cook for the associates on all three shifts. My kids love coming to help at these events, and it really gives them an opportunity to understand the meaning and purpose behind what I do. My kids have really grown up at Purina and have close-knit relationships with Purina associates at all locations that I have worked at.

On a personal level, my career path has led me to move to several factories across the country. I have also had the opportunity to be part of various projects as well as advance into new roles/parts of the organization. I love that because it pushes me to always try new things and to always be learning. Right now, I’m learning about our wet food production, which is a new product format for me. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and keeps me on my toes, but I love that my work is challenging while also extremely fulfilling.


PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.

Kerr: I currently serve as the vice president of operations engagement for our Women Leaders Forum and am a co-sponsor for our Women in Engineering and Manufacturing. I love to see the action that has been put in place to help the development of female associates throughout the organization to include our factories. This has included better lactation rooms, policies for support, and opportunities for connection points to help bring groups together for greater support. It has been rewarding to help build connections and a supportive community for females in factories and in technical fields. We see a growth in the number of females in our factories advance, as well as women advancing into higher levels of leadership. These groups help support and encourage.


PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?

Kerr: Safety is always top of mind for me. One of the biggest challenges right now is an influx of new associates in our factories. To keep up with the growth of our business, we have opened new factories and needed to modify work schedules at our existing factories. This means that our work environments are different than they were five or 10 years ago. As a result, we are consistently adapting to ensure safety remains the focus through strong onboarding and training programs. We want to ensure we continue to be the best in class at making the best products in the market, protecting our associates, and protecting the quality of our products.


PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?

Kerr: First, we know that there are consumers that love finding new and unique items for their pets — this really pushes our innovation teams to keep up and find new ways to delight our pets.

A second trend would be sustainability. Our teams are consistently focused on being the best stewards we can be for the environment. This has led to some great innovations, including our strong recycled packaging program and a build-out of energy/gas/water conservation programs.  

A third area of focus for us would be our community partnerships. In every market where we operate, we strive to ensure we add value back to the communities. We partner with schools to help promote the importance of STEM. We’re able to show how STEM connects to careers and that manufacturing is pretty darn cool. We also do a lot of work with local pet shelters and, of course, support programs such as the Purple Leash Project.


PFP: What is something about the pet industry that people outside of the industry may not realize?

Kerr: It would probably surprise people how much work we put into protecting pets. We know that we are the sole source of nutrition for our pets, and we want to make sure that each bag or can has all the nutrition our pets need.


PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?

Kerr: My advice would be to explore what you want to do and have a plan for how you are going to achieve your goals. Also, be open to different types of projects and challenges. When you work on different projects and even with different teams, your knowledge and network both grow. These are great opportunities to learn more about the organization and expand your knowledge and skillset.


PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them. 

Kerr: I am a dog person. I have four fur babies at home — two miniature schnauzers, Vader and Potter, one mini Bernedoodle, Lily, and one mini Aussiedoodle, Luna. We also have one bearded dragon named Russ. I would have more pets, but my family has shut me off from adding to our family.

Amy Kerr’s canine companions Vader, Potter, Lily and Luna.

Amy Kerr’s canine companions Vader, Potter, Lily and Luna.

| Source: Amy Kerr


PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?

Kerr: I would say to find your tribe. Find the people in your industry that will help support you and help you grow. Good people invest in others and ensure you have the opportunities that you need. It’s also important that you can find people around you to be your truth tellers. You want people that will not only cheer for you when you do a great job, but also find ways to help you improve and grow.

Amy Kerr served four years as a telecommunications specialist with the Army National Guard while finishing college and working at Nestlé Purina PetCare in 2013. She has since held several plant management roles in Arizona, Oklahoma and Iowa. Kerr is currently based in St. Louis, where she serves as vice president of manufacturing for Golden Products at Purina. She also plays key roles in gender equity programs supported and sponsored by Purina. Kerr earned her bachelor’s in business with a major in accounting from Western Illinois University.

Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.