Kathy Kuzava is the first to admit that, when she began her career with the Georgia Food Industry Association (GFIA) more than two decades ago at just 27 years old, she was “very naive…with no political experience.”
“I was totally over my head”…but “so excited,” she recalls.
“The group of retailers who hired me took a huge risk, and I will be forever grateful to them,” she says.
Despite her inexperience on the legislative and lobbying front, Kuzava had passion and grocery experience.
She started in the grocery business in 1978 as a junior in high school, working for Food Giant as a cashier. She continued with Food Giant as a student at Georgia State University, working in the back office and backing up the store manager. When Food Giant went out of business, Kuzava went to work for Supervalu, where she stayed for three years before the opportunity with the GFIA came her way.
While Kuzava says she had to prove herself, both to the board that hired her and to herself, she quickly learned the ropes, recognizing first that the association was in bad financial shape and that some drastic measures were needed for it to survive. Additionally, and as importantly, there were many legislative and regulatory issues that the group needed to address that had not been handled in the past.
She got to work and, with help from her board, members and team, turned the association around. Today, the GFIA is among the preeminent food associations in the U.S. As its president, Kuzava is one of the most respected leaders in the industry.
“I work with an unbelievable GFIA team that provides a fantastic convention and industry events for the members to come together,” Kuzava says.
“I certainly could not have imagined being here 26 years, but this is truly the perfect job for me,” she adds. “I am passionate about protecting our members through a strong association. I get to represent a wonderful industry at the Capitol and work with a terrific board and great members. I tell legislators that they will never see me lobbying for anyone else. When I am talking about an issue, I want them to see the face of our members.”
Go here to view our six-page tribute to Kuzava as she is recognized as The Shelby Report of the Southeast’s 2015 Woman Executive of the Year. The special also appears in the May 2015 print edition of The Shelby Report of the Southeast.