Cindy Kent of Blaine credits her parents’ guidance for her success.
As the vice president and general manager of the Gastro/Urology Therapies business for the Neuromodulation Division of Medtronic, Inc. she has profit and loss responsibility for the half-billion global franchise including developing the global strategic plan, the annual operating plan and setting investment priorities.
Kent in April was named one of eight 2013 Women of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. More than 700 people attended the luncheon to honor these powerful leaders.
Kent was moved and surprised when she heard the news. She was on the Girl Scouts committee that chose the first honorees in 2009. While she thought she eventually had a chance of earning this distinction, she never thought it would come so quickly.
“To be considered in the same vein as women I have so much regard and respect for touched me deeply,” she said.
Some past honorees Kent mentioned include Yvonne Cheung Ho, president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, and Kim Nelson, senior vice president of General Mills and president of the Snacks Unlimited Division.
Kent’s parents Jessie and Larry had her when they were in high school. She was the first generation of her family to go to college although her mother eventually got a degree in accounting. Her father was a rail car inspector for the CSX railroad company. Her mother died 10 years ago.
Although having a child in high school can be very challenging for parents, Kent said they did a fantastic job raising her and giving her a voice.
When she was five years old, they started having a family forum night where they could air grievances. At that age, Kent pushed for different meals or a later bedtime, but she had to make compelling points. She once negotiated a later bedtime, but woke up tired the next day and thus learned a lesson.
When other kids were reading Dr. Seuss, she read books by Marcus Garvey, who was a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and orator who was a proponent of the black nationalism and the Pan-Africanism movements.
Career days at Kent’s middle school got her interested in math and science. She received her bachelor’s of science degree in industrial engineering and management sciences from Northwestern University.
After she got out of college, Kent began visiting local Girl Scout troops in Lafayette, Ind., to give the next generation of leaders confidence in themselves and encourage them to consider careers in math and science even though these fields have typically been male-dominated.
Her number one message to these girls was to raise their hand if they know the answer to a question or want to be selected for an opportunity.
Kent eventually earned her master’s of business administration (MBA) in marketing and a master of divinity in pastoral care and leadership, both from Vanderbilt University. She is an ordained minister and is married and has two step-children.
Kent in 1992 took a job with Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, which is now the 10th largest pharmaceutical company in the world. For 15 years, she had various roles including manufacturing, human resources, sales and marketing.
The year 2007 was a very good one for Kent. She took a job with Medtronic and was one of 50 leaders selected for the German Marshall Fellowship, which took them on a four-week tour in Germany, Turkey, Slovokia and Belgium to represent the United States.
Kent is the first African American woman to run a profit and loss commercial operation for Medtronic.
The Twin Cities Business Journal in 2008 recognized her as a “Top 40 under Forty,” and she was one of 10 executives honored with the “Diversity in Business” award from that publication in 2011. Kent has also been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, Savoy Magazine, and Exame Magazine, which is Brazil’s premier business publication.
On the wall in Kent’s office in Medtronic is a list of guiding principals such as integrity above all else, go beyond the job description, welcome challenges and risks and make an idea better through collaboration.
“If there is a dream to be had or a goal to be obtained, you can make it happen,” Kent said. “Find the resources that you need, but never give up.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org