Out of the Box: Nina Leigh Krueger
“I needed to ignite the creativity of the team and challenge them to be more ambitious.”
Cat litter isn’t sexy, but it can earn you some scratch—especially when you think out of the … um … box. Nestlé Purina PetCare CEO Nina Leigh Krueger tells the go/no-go story of a kitty innovation.
For most of her career with Nestlé Purina PetCare, Nina Leigh Krueger had worked on the pet nutrition side of the business. When the WashU Olin alumna joined the company’s cat litter group to lead its marketing, she found she was a fish out of water—and facing a challenge with a high sales goal in a stagnating business. Leadership, questioning whether or not to exit the business, challenged her to make or break the line.
Our story sets the stage for that pivotal moment and goes on to share the work she did in building and creating a team dynamic that was creative in its thinking. Then, once Krueger understood how the team worked, how could she blow that up and identify paths to pursue in the business—renovate an existing product or find something totally new to build from the ground up. Then she did something marketers rarely do and offered up her marketing budget to R&D to help spur growth through product development. And she gave the scientists a seat at the table to listen to consumers.
The kernel of the idea for lightweight litter came from one of those scientists. They began to toy with potential solutions. A prototype was created using corn husks. A year later, Krueger was promoted to president of the litter business, and it was time to accelerate the work toward lightweight litter.
The end of the story? Success and a challenge from Krueger to make the company’s litter division—near extinction a couple of years earlier—into a billion-dollar business. That milestone came when the brand reached $1 billion in sales in 2020.
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This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:
- Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick and Judy Milanovits, creative assistance
- Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
- Hayden Molinarolo, original music, sound design and editing
- Nate Sprehe, creative direction, production and editing
- Angie Winschel, production assistance and project management
- Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
- Mark P. Taylor, strategic support
- Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support
Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.
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Download the podcast transcript (PDF)