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By Lauren Simpson
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  • Food
  • Applied Economics
When Cornell women’s swimming and diving alumna Meg Miller Ham ’88 began her first job with Hannaford after graduating from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a degree in applied economics, little did she know that she was about to embark on a career in the supermarket industry that would lead her to becoming the President of Food Lion.

What started as a job that Ham envisioned lasting a few years until she figured out what her "real career" would be has transformed into a fulfilling 32-year career. After getting her foot in the door with Hannaford, Ham has worked for the same company (which has seen multiple acquisitions) throughout her tenure.

This is especially uncommon today, when it is typical for people to jump from one job to the next. But in her extensive career with what is today the Ahold Delhaize group, Ham has never settled into one role for very long either.

"I've had multiple careers inside of one company, and I've certainly never been bored," said Ham. "Just when I thought I was getting good at something, I was presented with another opportunity to learn and grow."

As an avid and constant learner, Ham has held perhaps as many roles within the supermarket world as the number of years that she's worked in the industry. In fact, it is Ham's very desire to learn that led her to Hannaford in the first place.

"It was an opportunity to be in a training program where I would learn every job from the ground up, and it was very intriguing to me to understand all of the elements of a business that I would be expected to lead at a certain point," said Ham.

From starting out working retail for Hannaford in Portland, Maine, to transferring to merchandising, Ham was a leader every step of the way in her early career. It didn't take long for others to recognize it, being named the manager of a Hannaford store within three years of working there. While in that role, Ham was asked to serve on a group that, looking back, propelled her to where she is today.

"I was part of a group that was asked to figure out how we could leverage our information as a competitive advantage for us," said Ham.

In other words, Ham, who served as the committee's retail representative, along with four other team members, were tasked with finding a way to establish common metrics among the Hannaford stores to streamline how business was conducted, analyzed, and valued. A lot of what this involved was uncharted territory for the industry, but for her, it was just another opportunity to learn.

"I learned a lot about the whole company and the industry strategically, but also about the details of the organization and IT. At the same time, obviously, I also experienced how to transform an organization," said Ham. "This was a major change inside of how we worked, looked at our business, and evaluated our business, and so I was proud to be a part of that team."

The change that Ham helped institute was so large that when the company needed someone to help extend this change to the merchandising department, Ham was asked to lead the effort. Not surprisingly, she rose to the occasion again, so much so that when Hannaford began to expand south, Ham made the move with the chain to help instill this same culture in the business's new market.

"We were entering five new markets in the southeast, and it was a new part of our organization, something that was exciting, something that was de novo, and quite frankly, very different than what we were used to in the northeast," said Ham. "So I raised my hand and said, 'I'd love to go down and help build something new down there.'"

That's exactly what Ham did. Flash forward to today, and Ham still lives in the south, now serving as the current President of Food Lion. She oversees more than 1,000 grocery stores across 10 states and leads over 77,000 associates. She's truly worked her way up the ladder, instituting positive change one chain, one store, and even one department at a time.

Ham's leadership ability, paired with her inherent will to learn, are two primary factors that have fueled her to where she is today. A four-year letterman and captain of Cornell's swimming and diving team in her senior campaign, Ham had these same traits when she hit the water for the Big Red. She excelled in multiple events, but particularly the 200 butterfly, in which she held the fourth-fastest time in school history upon graduation. Her constant desire to get better while simultaneously bringing the best out of those around her is what makes her such an invaluable team member, both then and today.

"Meg was always a hard-driven, goal-oriented person with a tremendous positive attitude," said Joe Lucia, former women's swimming head coach and who coached Ham during her senior season at Cornell.

"She is a true leader of any team she has been on, and her leadership style and drive is exhibited today in her profession," Lucia said.

Ham continues to be the epitome of a leader today, and similar to her days in the Cornell pool, it's the people around her that inspire her to do so.

"For me, today, still, the people who I work with is what I love most about my job, and I've always had a close connection with people who I swam with," said Ham. "I had lots of other friends, but the time you spend in the water with those folks, you make some pretty strong friends for a lifetime."

From training in a Hannaford store all the way up to the President of Food Lion, Ham has practically done it all within the supermarket industry. Even back to her Cornell swimming and diving days, two things have stayed the same – she's always been a leader and she's always wanted to grow. For Ham, that won't change anytime soon.

"There is always something to learn, and that innate curiosity, that innate desire to learn and be better, I've just always had it," said Ham. "Why does someone swim for 15 years? You just want to get better."

This article originally appeared on CornellBigRed.com.

Header image: Meg Miller Ham '88 graduated with a degree in applied economics and is now the president of Food Lion. Photo courtesy of Food Lion. 

Lauren Simpson is the assistant director of athletic communications at Cornell University Athletics & Physical Education.

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