Leigh O'Neill

Leigh O'Neill

Professional Formulator, Land O'Lakes
Advisory Board Member and MBA Student, '18

- Leigh O'Neill


Student Bio

As UST sought Advisory Board members earlier this year, one seat was held specially for a current student to provide valuable input to our Risk Leadership Initiative. Meet Leigh O'Neill, Land O' Lakes as we welcome her to the Board!

My story is a little unique as my undergraduate degree was in animal science. When I first came to the University of St. Thomas to pursue my MBA, I was a little nervous thinking that the other students all had business backgrounds. I couldn’t have been more wrong! That is one reason why I love the Opus College of Business. The College is very diverse in accepting students from many different fields of study. This diversity is an asset in the classroom setting and benefits all students’ ongoing leadership. We all think a little differently, bring unique perspectives, and are all welcomed.

Studying at the University of Minnesota to receive my undergraduate degree made sense as I have worked with animals all of my life. I was drawn to this field since I was a little girl, playing “veterinarian” with my stuffed animals instead of playing with other toys. Growing up, we always had dogs and cats in the house. I have always had a passion to care for animals and that shows in my résumé. I have been a dog walker, a doggy daycare manager, a veterinarian assistant and a wildlife rehabilitation intern. However, there was a very pivotal time during my undergraduate where I decided I was not going to pursue a Veterinarian Degree. I chose the path to pursue my Bachelor of Science in Animal Science with an emphasis in Industry, meaning I took general business classes, and graduated in 2011.

Soon after graduation, I accepted a position at Land O’Lakes under the Purina brand as a professional formulator. In simple terms, I create the recipes for animal feed at Purina’s manufacturing plants to produce these products. Land O’Lakes-Purina doesn’t make dog and cat food. That is under the Nestle brand umbrella. Any other animal you can think of; we make feed for. The manufacturing plants I am responsible for on the east coast concentrate heavily on horse feed and dairy feed. The Land O’Lakes- Purina portfolio is very vast and it is very humbling to step back and see all of the types of animal we feed for and care for.

My team at Land O’Lakes is very customer centric. We interact with many different groups within the company, however my number one customers are the manufacturing plants and the nutritionists. As I learned more about Land O’Lakes as a company, I had an itch to grow intellectually and within the organization. My previous boss inspired me to apply to the University of St. Thomas to be a part of their Flex MBA program and the rest is history. I will be graduating from the University of St. Thomas January 2018 pursuing my MBA along with a certificate in Strategic Risk and Responsibility. 

At Land O’Lakes, I work closely with commodity buyers who are constantly watching the Chicago Mercantile Exchange market. One of the biggest risks that Purina experiences is the uncertainty of commodity markets. I saw that the University of St. Thomas offered a Risk Management class. I saw that the University of St. Thomas offered a Risk Management class, therefore I registered for this elective course to help me begin to understand the foundations for Risk Management and how I would apply these concepts to my work at Purina.

Peter Young and Pat Stephen got me hooked on risk from the very first class! Here I was thinking that I was going to learn more about risk within markets. I had no idea how vast risk was within the business world. My favorite quote that Peter would always say is that “you are all a risk manager in your position”. Before I took the Risk Management class, I understood mainly the risk I dealt with were markets, prices and competitors. After taking the class, I knew my role played a pivotal part within risk dealing with the manufacturing plants and so much more.

Since taking Peter’s class, I had a craving to learn more about Risk Management and all of the different entities that fall under its umbrella, including sustainability, compliance, corporate social responsibility, governance and strategy. I registered to join Peter Young as we “go across the pond” to London for a short term study abroad course, Risk Leadership in a Global Context (MGMT 753) during May-term, 2017. I am excited for this journey and ready to learn even more about Risk Leadership. I plan to bring this expanded knowledge back into my position at Purina. 

This was an exciting announcement! When I was taking Peter and Pat’s Risk Management class in Fall 2016, they announced the new Strategic Risk and Responsibility Certificate program. Find Risk Certification info here.

At that juncture in my MBA, I was close to completing all of my elective courses. Therefore, I assumed I wouldn’t have been able to qualify for the Certificate. However, after I decided I was going to London, I realized I only needed two additional courses to complete to qualify for the Strategic Risk Certificate.

The Strategic Risk Certificate is a great way for students to learn four, very important pillars that encompasses Strategic Risk and Responsibility; Risk Management, Compliance, Corporate Social Responsibility(Sustainability), and Professional Effectiveness. Once I finish up my graduate degree, I not only will have my Masters in Business Administration but I will also have a Certificate within Strategic Risk and Responsibility. This will be immensely beneficial in my future career steps. 

I did! It was very unexpected and I am so honored to be a part of such an amazing group of people who work in various risk leadership capabilities. In my roll on the Advisory Board, I will bring the student perspective into the mix. Many on the Board are alumni of St. Thomas, but Peter and Pat really wanted to add an active UST MBA student. For me, this is a great opportunity to, once again, learn more about risk. Additionally, I am able to share my perspective as a student and shape future student’s experiences at the University of St. Thomas.

We had our first “kick-off” meeting in the end of March. Pat Stephen has had a lot of experience working with start-up companies, so that is exactly how she lead this meeting! This definitely wasn’t your typical board meeting. We were brainstorming, talking about our past experiences and then growing the vision of Risk Leadership at the University of St. Thomas. At the end of the meeting, we decided to focus our energy on three important areas moving forward: Awareness, Experience, and Education emphasizing in Risk Leadership. We look to connect with many stakeholder groups including students, working professions who are seeking additional growth and education in the field, leaders and executives, and companies who are seeking risk professions to hire. The Advisory Board is very enthusiastic about this opportunity to help UST shape the Risk Leadership Initiative and share ideas for connecting through new events, social media, professional education and new, innovative ideas to lead in this field. 

We wanted to jump start our strategy and take advantage of the time with students this spring. MBA students currently enrolled in Risk Management courses should look for two opportunities to directly provide their ideas to the Advisory Board during “Student Perspectives” sessions on May 10th and May 11th.  This discussion will take place during facilitated sessions. We will take this valued input into our next Advisory Board “Traction Meeting” in June as we continue building our strategy and planning for the 2017-2018 academic year.  

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