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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
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Food Safety Leadership: Career Insights, Work-Life Balance, and Personal Growth at Yum! Brands


In the HowIGotHere series, you’ll discover the career journeys of some of the distinguished leaders at Yum! Brands. This edition features Mary Gertz, the Chief Food Safety & Quality Assurance Officer at Yum! Brands.
EDUCATION - Somerset Senior High School
  Somerset, Wisconsin, USA (1990–1994)
University of Wisconsin – River Falls
  River Falls, Wisconsin, USA
  Bachelor of Science, Food Science & Microbiology
If we were to interview your teachers, what would they say about you?
Mary was very determined and hard-working but talked a little too much!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I dreamed of becoming a lawyer and pictured myself as a star on Law & Order, making compelling arguments in the courtroom. I wanted to solve problems and win at the same time.
First Job I got my first job at a Mexican restaurant thanks to my cousin, working there for seven years through high school and college. I started as a hostess, walking too fast and losing customers on the way to their tables. Later, I worked as a waitress and eventually earned the role of bartender on half-price margarita night, earning the nickname "Margarita Mary!" Although I don't drink, I can still make a great margarita.
3M Microbiology Products, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
  1998–1999: Lab Technician
  • NSF International, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
  1999–2002: Technical Manager, Food Safety Lab, FreshCheck
  • NSF International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  2006–2008: Technical Manager, Retail Food Safety Programs
  • Target Corporation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  2008–2009: Program Lead, Food Safety & Quality Assurance
  2009–2010: Manager, Retail Food Safety & Quality Assurance Standards
  2010–2014: Senior Group Manager, Food Operations
  • KFC U.S., Louisville, Kentucky, USA
  2014–2018: Director, Food Safety & Quality Assurance
  • Yum! Brands, Plano, Texas, USA
  2018–2020: Senior Director, Food Safety & Quality Assurance
  2020–present: Chief Food Safety & Quality Assurance Officer
Do you believe in work/life balance?
I see work/life balance as a sliding scale throughout one's career. There were periods when my career demands overshadowed everything else, particularly when balancing career and family simultaneously. As a single mom for a decade, finding balance was tough. However, it has been important for my daughters to witness the effort needed to build a career while supporting a family. As I progressed in my career,

I became more disciplined in allocating time for myself and my family. Early on, I set non-negotiables and stuck to them. For instance, I never miss a birthday, anniversary, or first day of school. I schedule these events a year in advance to ensure I'm present. Personal fitness is also essential for my balance, and I make time for workouts even when traveling. Exercise helps me feel stronger, clear-minded, and positive, often providing the breakthrough needed for challenging issues. As a leader, it is vital to set an example that promotes balance and overall well-being.
What moments, or who, in your life influenced the way you work?
  • My Father: He was fearless in taking risks and betting on himself, his abilities, and his work ethic. With six children, he quit his job and started his own business, which has been running for over 45 years and six more children later. He was an excellent communicator who valued relationships and integrity in both personal and business matters. A lifelong learner, he constantly read, studied, and mastered new skills.
  • Learning from Failures: With 12 children, my parents allowed us to learn from small failures. When I made mistakes, like getting my first speeding ticket, my dad would say, "I bet you won’t do that again." From a young age, I was given autonomy in tasks like cooking. My first attempt at baking chocolate chip cookies wasn’t perfect, but my mom helped me understand what went wrong and how to improve. This approach taught me to embrace failure as a key part of growth, building confidence through learning from mistakes.

What Do People Think You Do Versus What You Actually Do?
When my daughters were young and I traveled frequently, people assumed I was a flight attendant because they often heard, "My mom is away working on an airplane." As teenagers, they imagined I spent my days taste-testing food and enjoying all the "good stuff."
In reality, my career has always centered on food safety. This involves collaborating with top brands to create and implement strategies for the safe handling, preparation, and storage of food to prevent foodborne illnesses. Many people are unfamiliar with food science and rarely consider the processes behind the development, manufacturing, and safety of their food. There is tremendous potential to promote food science as an amazing field that offers excellent career opportunities. People will always need food, and ensuring that food is safe will always be essential.
What Is the Best Piece of Advice You've Been Given?
Make a decision and then commit to making it work. Don’t look back; you’re not headed that way.
What Makes You Happy?
I used to find happiness in solving problems or achieving personal goals. Now, it’s about witnessing others achieve their breakthroughs, whether it's my daughters or my team at work.
Recently, my heart overflowed seeing my oldest daughter's personal growth during her semester abroad. I love that she has broadened her perspective of the world, gaining confidence, empathy, and excellent problem-solving skills while being 5,000 miles away from home.
How Do You Do It?
To find happiness or success at any career stage, you need both passion for your work and a genuine belief in its importance. Working hard for something you believe enhances people's lives makes sacrifices easier to bear for you and your family. There’s no room for mediocrity in work that impacts people’s well-being.