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Latino Trailblazer

Debra Sandler

  • Gender: Female
  • University: Hofstra University
  • University: New York University
  • Undergraduate Degree: International Business
  • Graduate Degree: MBA
  • Country: Venezuela
  • Company: La Grenade Group, LLC
  • Position: President and CEO
  • Company: Mavis Foods, LLC
  • Position: CEO

Debra Sandler has built a career leading big brands in the food industry, by drawing upon her cultural background. Born in Venezuela and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, Debra says her family, which also has Ecuadorean ancestry, deeply values the role that food plays as an expression of their heritage. “We’re an immigrant family. When we get together, food is so important,” Sandler told Hispanic Executive. “That is what is at our core, what we enjoy, and the way we hold onto our roots.”

She pursued her interest in business and love of language by earning a bachelor’s degree in International Trade from Hofstra University, where she was also President of Hofstra’s African-Caribbean Society. She didn’t stop there, however, and completed an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

From the start of her career, she has been able to integrate her experiences and background into her work, first as a Marketing Director for PepsiCo, with a mandate to drive business growth within the Hispanic customer base, and then as PepsiCo’s Marketing Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

After 13 years with PepsiCo, during which time she became a mother, Debra shifted her career focus to health and wellness. For more than a decade, she held executive leadership roles at Johnson & Johnson and launched products such as Splenda and Viactiv. From there, she moved to confectionery giant Mars, where she served as Chief Consumer Officer, President of Chocolate North America, and eventually, Chief Health and Wellbeing Officer.

Today, Debra pursues her personal mission to “make the world a little bit of a better place” by focusing on health, while continuing to tap into her cultural roots. She is President and CEO of La Grenade Group, a marketing consultancy that serves packaged goods companies in the health and wellness industry. She also founded Mavis Foods, packaging and selling Caribbean sauces and marinades made using her family’s recipes.

She sits on three corporate boards: Pharmavite, Gannett, and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company), and is a Trustee of her alma mater, Hofstra University.

Debra recently reflected, in an interview with Hofstra University, on the evolution of her leadership style over the years. She noted that patience has become, for her, an increasingly important component. “I honestly don’t know what I was rushing to—but I was in a big hurry as a younger person. It was very much ‘when’s the next promotion?’” she said. “Early on in your career,” she continued, “it’s more about your contribution, your work, your product. As you evolve, it’s less about you and more about the people around you; more about the people you are able to cultivate and grow.”