There’s no perfect recipe for rising up the CPG leadership ladder, but what ingredients have been most important for those who are currently leaders within their food and beverage companies? Lisa Walsh, vice president of PepsiCo Customer Management, has been with PepsiCo since 1999 working on things like trade engagement strategy, strategic partnerships with customers and e-commerce sales strategies, and certainly qualifies as a leader in CPG. She also represents the company within the Food Marketing Institute, Network of Executive Women and National Grocers Association.
SmartBrief talked with her about how she got to where she is, what lessons she learned along the way and advice she would offer to those hoping to follow in her footsteps.
Can you talk a little bit about your path to leadership at PepsiCo?
Early in my career I focused on learning the fundamentals of the industry. It started with gaining a solid understanding of data and analytics that drive the business as well as the mechanics of how product moves from “seed to shelf.” Knowing my business cold gave me credibility and visibility to move ahead.
I quickly discovered that learning is an ongoing process, especially as the consumer, shopper and retailer evolve which require new skills and capabilities to be developed. Today I’m helping drive our e-commerce strategy at PepsiCo, an area that wasn’t on my radar screen even five years ago but I was open to something different and was willing to take a risk. Getting out of my comfort zone provided me with a new opportunity to create value for the company, no matter how scary it seemed jumping in.
And finally, I wouldn’t have gotten myself to where I am today if I didn’t make a commitment to building relationships. Networking, collaborating and investing the time in getting to know people as individuals has enabled me to earn trust, forge authentic relationships and drive consensus when needed. It also makes for a great culture where everyone feels supported and can work toward a common goal.
What do you look for in potential leaders at PepsiCo?
I look for people who are passionate about our business, drive for results and are willing to learn. They also need to be great communicators — in a digital age where e-mail tends to dominate, what you write and how you write it is critically important. Verbal skills also matter when communicating with customers, team members, management and peers. I also look for people who can collaborate well in a global, multi-divisional company like PepsiCo where a matrix structure is common. Effectively working with others across different functions, divisions and countries is an important skill that often separates emerging leaders from just good managers.
What do you think are the most important leadership qualities for the food and beverage industry?
First and foremost is acting with integrity and inspiring trust in others. It’s not just what you do but it’s how you do it that matters. At a time when growth in our industry is limited and challenged by new business models, the best leaders never lose sight of the big picture and can make the tough decisions that balance the need for short-term gains with long-term, sustainable growth.
What is the most important lesson you learned during your career that you can pass on to those hoping to become leaders in the industry?
Be confident in who you are and your abilities. Don’t try to be something you’re not — you’ll never be authentic to others and you’ll be disappointed in yourself. There were many times in my career when I’ve questioned my capabilities and rather than “lean in,” I held back. I reflect on those times as learning moments and I’ve realized how important it is to be heard — being right or wrong is not as relevant as having a point of view.
What are three pieces of advice you have for emerging leaders in the food and beverage industry?
First, stay ahead of the latest trends and incorporate them into how to make a bigger impact in your role. Everything starts and ends with the consumer so knowing how they feel, act and think is essential.
Second, be willing to take calculated risks in your career. When you venture out of your comfort zone is when you tend to learn the most, interact with new people and discover abilities you never knew you had.
Third and most importantly, never forget this is a people business. Relationships matter and are often the greatest sense of joy on the career journey. Connections outside of work are even more precious, so never have regrets for not giving enough of yourself to those who love and support you. I’m at my best at work when I feel complete at home.
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