Forte Connect
Women of Leadership Profiles

Courtney Hendrickson Drives Sustainable Growth Through Innovation at Ocean Spray

Courtney Hendrickson didn’t have a clear path after graduating from Colby College with a Sociology degree, but she now knows getting an MBA was 100% the right call. It led her to Ocean Spray Cranberries, where she has worked for 14 years – first in sales and marketing roles and now as a leader with the Innovation team. It’s a company she loves for its commitment to health and wellness, a perfect fit for a Peloton enthusiast.

Current role: Embrace failure as part of innovation

Tell me about Ocean Spray Cranberries.

Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative, owned by more than 700 farmer-owners across North America and Chile who are stakeholders in our business – similar to shareholders in a public company. It’s a diverse group – farms range in size; farmers are different genders and ethnicities; and in some cases, cranberry farming has been passed down through generations. Ocean Spray is celebrating its 90th year, and we employ 2,000 globally with headquarters in Massachusetts and manufacturing locations all over the country. The business team is responsible for selling and marketing the fruit in different forms and products, and all the proceeds go back to the farmers.

Describe your role as Director of Innovation at Ocean Spray.

In my role as director of innovation, I lead a team that is responsible for developing new areas of growth within the business-to-business channel (B2B). To enable sustainable growth over the next 90 years, Ocean Spray will be diversifying our portfolio and leveraging new channels. Our ingredient business has a critical role in that future growth, with a global reach to 70+ countries and a successful current business model.

 

Ocean Spray is a purpose-driven company – the fruits of our labor go back to the farmers – and that keeps me pushing and growing.

 

What is your favorite part of your job? 

Working closely with our customers to build success together that is mutually beneficial. Building those relationships, as well as my team, is energizing and has been critical to developing who I am. 

What characteristics does someone need to be successful in a role like yours?

Tenacity, scrappiness, resourcefulness, agility. Being able to think differently and move quickly to keep up with consumers and the market, and a desire to keep pushing is critical in any innovation role. You have to be okay with hearing “no” and tell the story behind your idea and what it can bring to the business. 

How do you handle challenges or disappointments?

There’s a quote that I love by the late, great Steve Jobs – “The journey is the reward.” I go back to this quote at least weekly because so often we think ahead to our destination or the final goal and blow past the path that brings us there. Don’t be discouraged if people don’t love your idea out of the gate, but don’t fall in love so much that you can’t step away if it’s not the right opportunity for the company. Not everything will be a win – failure is part of any successful journey, so own it!

Career path: Focusing on health and wellness

What was your very first job (not after college, but first ever)?

Growing up in Albany, New York, I worked at a family-owned amusement park called Hoffman’s Playland during high school summers. They started you off running the easy rides then moved you up to more complex ones and then finally, the air-conditioned ticket office. They did not even use a cash register – transactions were counted by hand.

 

There is so much change that can be brought about through the food and beverage industry, and that is exciting.

 

You have been at Ocean Spray for 14 years and you have changed roles several times. Do you have any tips for remaining engaged and successful at the same company over a long period of time?

Over 14 years, I have been able to progress in roles and responsibilities, and I have gotten cross-functional experience by going from sales to marketing to innovation. I am grateful I had sales and marketing experiences because they gave me a customer lens to apply to innovation. Ocean Spray is a purpose-driven company – the fruits of our labor go back to the farmers – and that keeps me pushing and growing. They have also been very supportive of my personal life, especially when my son was ill. 

What is it about the food/agricultural industry that you find interesting/exciting?

There are a lot of ingredients that we compete with – powders and flavors that are not natural. Working in the food industry with products that have a good health and heritage story is relevant and dynamic, with health and wellness being front and center during the global pandemic. Working in this industry is also a big opportunity to contribute to sustainability via our foods systems and networks – reducing food waste and getting food to people who need nourishment. There is so much change that can be brought about through the food and beverage industry, and that is exciting. 

Educational choices: Marrying liberal arts and business

What inspired you to pursue an MBA at Northeastern?

I got an undergraduate degree in Sociology. Going into the working world, I did not have business fundamentals. In order broaden my skillsets, I had to pivot. It was 100% the right call.

What did it mean for your career in the immediate and long-term?

It gave me the fundamental building blocks I needed. I never regretted the time and money to do it and would not be where I am without it. Never underestimate the power of having strong business acumen and analytical skills. It will always set you apart, especially in a creative and/or R&D role.

 

Liberal arts gives you the critical skills you need for whatever you choose to do.

 

How did it complement your undergraduate degree in Sociology? Has a liberal arts education been useful to your business career?

At age 18 I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I hear younger people now, I am impressed that they have a direction. Liberal arts gives you the critical skills you need for whatever you choose to do. 

Final thoughts: The power of strong women and staying strong

Is there someone from your upbringing who influenced you? 

My mom was my biggest career influencer. My parents divorced, and my mom worked as a nurse. She ingrained in my sister and me an appreciation for hard work. My current influence is my husband – he is a retired Navy officer who supports me in everything, and he is my trusted advisor. 

What is about Forté’s mission that makes you want to support our efforts?

Forté’s mission to support women’s career growth resonated with us at Ocean Spray, as an organization that was, in part, founded by a woman. She was a visionary who saw the possibilities of what this cooperative could be and, in the 90 years since, we have had incredible women join our organization and push for its growth and success. We recognize the tremendous value that women bring to the workplace and any chance to support that is a no brainer for us.  

 

Never underestimate the power of having strong business acumen and analytical skills.

 

Is Ocean Spray involved in any diversity & inclusion activities?

Ocean Spray’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Advancement strategy strives to increase representation of diverse team members through its partnership with great organizations like Forté. Our employee resource groups, like the Women’s Coalition and PRIDE ERG, bring team members together in celebrating our differences, discussing challenges, removing barriers, and educating everyone on what it means to be an ally and heighten our overall cultural awareness. We’re also active in the community, supporting LGBTQ+ organizations and those servicing underrepresented populations. 

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I am obsessed with my Peloton bike and the app – I’ve been an avid user for three years now and have proudly recruited many colleagues and friends into the Pelo world!

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