Women Mean Business: ‘Every girl has potential’

Jamie Hult, Staff writer
Dakota Horizons CEO Marla Meyer. Submitted photos

Dakota Horizons CEO Marla Meyer and her 9-year-old twins, Max and Madi, enjoy all kinds of adventures together.

Meyer’s passion to lead puts in her Dakota Horizons CEO chair

Wherever Marla Meyer goes, she’s looking for a new challenge. 
The CEO of Dakota Horizons relocated 14 times in 22 years before returning home in 2015 to lead the regional Girl Scouts council in Sioux Falls.
But now she’s here to stay.
Growing up on a farm in nearby Beaver Creek, Minn., Meyer developed a strong work ethic and willingness to contribute.
“I had a ‘to do’ list since I was probably about 8,” she said with a laugh.
Meyer worked her way through Minnesota State University at Mankato, graduating with a degree in business administration, marketing and management. 
She would go on to a two-decades-plus career that would take her all over the United States and Canada.
Meyer wasn’t in the military, either; she was in the soft drink industry.
She started resetting shelves for Coke out of college and worked up her way up to executive roles, residing in Minnesota, Tennessee and Virginia and working for regional bottlers.
Then she went to PepsiCo for 14 years.
“I was looking for increased challenges, bigger levels of responsibility, trying to build my experience,” Meyer said.
PepsiCo felt big; they had the bottler and the brand company. 
She worked as a vice president running four locations in California. She then moved to Canada, where she was vice president of sales support, handling costs and services for all of Canada. 
When Meyer returned to the U.S., she settled in Denver and took on the role of vice president of marketing for the western U.S.
“I decided I had great experience and I wanted to try something different,” she said.
So she moved to Chicago to work for Sears briefly. 
“And then when I was there, I decided I wanted to move my family all the way back home,” she said.
Meyer has 9-year-old twins, Max and Madi, and Meyer’s parents lived in Brandon.
“I was looking for an opportunity that really matched my values and where I could contribute to the leadership of the organization,” she said. “Then this came along.”
This” is her chief executive officer role with Dakota Horizons, the regional Girl Scouts council.
Dakota Horizons serves Girl Scouts throughout South Dakota, North Dakota, and parts of Minnesota and Iowa – a total of 164,000 square miles, plus six service centers and 10 camp properties. Sioux Falls is the council headquarters, and there are another five service centers throughout the region.
While in California, Meyer completed her master’s degree at California State University at Fresno. 
When she returned to this region in 2015, it was her 14th relocation in 22 years.
“So I moved all over the place, and I picked here to come, and we’re here to stay,” she said. “We enjoy it here, we’re surrounded by friends and family, in a very progressive community and region.” 
In her last couple of executive roles with PepsiCo, Meyer created women’s leadership programs “to give women experiences so they were more confident getting into general management,” she explained.
“So when the Girl Scout experience came up, I realized there were some parallels to what I really liked doing,” she said. “So I was thrilled to be a part of the best leadership program that there is for girls.”
The Girl Scout population is ever growing. Dakota Horizons serves approximately 9,000 girls and 4,000 adult volunteers. About one-quarter of those 9,000 girls are non-traditional Girl Scouts who serve in alternate settings, such as after-school programs.
“It’s essentially outreach,” Meyer explained. “We go to them. We go on the reservations. They aren’t in a situation where they can be in a traditional troop.” 
Meyer not only leads the regional council, but she also serves as vice chair on the national steering committee for the Girl Scout USA Cookie Program.
“I do some strategy work around that,” she said. “We work on making that program the best entrepreneurial experience it can be for girls. It’s the world’s largest girl-led business.”
Girl Scouts has been around since 1912 serving girls in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We’re an all-girl, girl-led organization,” Meyer noted. “We are, I would say, the preeminent leadership development organization for girls.”
Girl Scouts participate in a variety of projects and activities to earn badges – everything from the great outdoors and life skills to entrepreneurship and STEM.
“We’re sort of a hands-on, minds-on opportunity for girls to explore their interests and build their skill sets,” Meyer said. “So we truly are filling the workforce pipeline.”
Meyer’s done her research, too. Many girls opt out of taking a STEM career path by third grade, she said. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math). 
“So what we do is give them experiences that keep them interested enough to keep their options open in the area of STEM,” Meyer explained. “And it’s moving really at the speed of girls and at the speed of technology.”
In the area of STEM, Girl Scouts can earn badges in niches like cyber-security and coding. 
“Whatever a girl’s interest is, there’s an experience for her here,” Meyer said.
She truly loves her job, in part because the organization she serves feels like a such good fit.
“The mission matches my values,” she said.
A lot of organizations offer skills programs, she said. 
But what makes Girl Scouts unique is the leadership experience.
“Whatever they are doing – earning badges, traveling, exploring science or the outdoors – they’re learning by doing,” Meyer explained. “Girls choose what they want to participate in.”
The bonus, she said, is that girls are experiencing Girl Scouts with caring troop leaders, volunteers and mentors. 
“While activities are led by girls themselves, we have amazing volunteers who deliver the experience to the girls,” she said. “By doing this they inspire the girls while instilling skills, and as they age through the program, Girl Scouts even mentor younger Scouts as an opportunity to flex their leadership potential.”
Since Meyer took the helm nearly four years ago, Dakota Horizons has completely transformed its business model to focus on member support.
And while there is not a typical work day for Meyer, no matter what she and her staff are working on, it all traces back to one singular mission.
“I tell our team this, ‘Whatever we are doing, if you can’t understand how that’s connected back to supporting girls, then we should probably talk about why we’re doing it,’” she said. “It’s always been a passion of mine to develop potential leaders. Every girl has potential.”


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