Flipping the Fair
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Flipping the Fair

Gimme the spiel with Laura Maxwell

For senior vice president of Supply Chain Laura Maxwell, finding purpose in her role means caring for people, the planet and the product.

Over the course of Laura Maxwell’s 17 years career at PepsiCo, she has worked with a plethora of PepsiCo brands—Doritos, Cheetos, Bare natural fruit snacks, Mountain Dew, Aquafina and bubly, just to name a few. But it’s not just the products that make her so happy to stay, but the people she collaborates with on a daily basis.

When people consider PepsiCo, I want them to know they can be themselves at work.

Laura Maxwell

senior vice president of Supply Chain

Hear about PepsiCo’s culture, initiatives and opportunities from the seasoned PepsiCo vet on this episode of “Flipping the Fair: The Career Fair, Reinvented.”

John Palumbo (host): Hey, everyone, welcome to PepsiCo’s Flipping the Fair: The Career Fair, Reinvented podcast. I’m your host, John Palumbo. So, as you know, we decided it was time to reinvent or flip our traditional career fair table and turn it into this podcast because podcasts are just so much more convenient for you. I mean, you can listen to this whenever you want, wherever you want. It also takes the pressure off of you. I mean, you can listen to our story at your pace and decide if you like what you hear instead of almost like half-listen like you might do it a traditional career fair because you might be more preoccupied with what you’re going to say than really taking it all in.

It also gives you the opportunity to hear from some of the most passionate, experienced PepsiCo executives who might not be able to make it to your campus for the career fair, which is actually a perfect segue into this episode because today I’m lucky enough to be here with Senior Vice President of Supply Chain for PepsiCo Foods North America, Laura Maxwell, and she’s going to give you some invaluable insight into the PepsiCo story and culture. Hi, Laura. Thanks for being here.

Laura Maxwell (senior vice president of Supply Chain for PepsiCo Foods North America): Hello. It’s great to be here.

John Palumbo: Now, we’re kind of on the hot seat here, Laura, because we need to make sure that this conversation is way more informative and interesting than a typical career fair experience, which means I need to ask the right questions and you need to provide some information that the listeners would really never get otherwise, basically the good stuff, if you know what I mean.

Laura Maxwell: Okay. The pressure is on but I will do my best.

John Palumbo: All right. I’m going to come right at you with a tough one. So, let’s say I’m a college student and I’m going to be graduating soon and starting to look for a job. Now, the truth is, there are some sexy companies out there and ones that I hear about all the time. Now, I’m not going to name names since I don’t want to turn this into a promotion for other companies. Right? But let’s just say some of them make the phone and maybe the laptop that I use, others created the social platforms that I use, and then there’s PepsiCo. And, yeah, I know some PepsiCo products. I know a lot of the drinks and things like that, but maybe not much else. So, what are some of the interesting, appealing, maybe even surprising things that you could tell me about PepsiCo that I might not know about until I attend a career fair and they might make me think, “That’s pretty interesting. I might have to toss them on my list of companies to consider”?

Laura Maxwell: Listen, I know that at any given time, there are companies and brands that stand out and that people talk about. Listen, there’s a lot of reasons I’ve stayed with PepsiCo for all these years, and the brands are a big part of the reason. We have these amazing, fun, iconic brands, Doritos, Cheetos, Lays, Sun Chips. We even have Bare natural fruit snacks, and now we have PopCorners. And you mentioned the beverage brands, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, Gatorade. We have bubly.

Laura Maxwell: So, these are brands that people talk about. They’re brands that people tweet about but they’re also brands that you bring into your home. And I will tell you, there is nothing more fun than having a big party for the Super Bowl and watching the halftime show, and knowing that your company sponsored it. We’ve done things like we’ve asked America to help design their favorite flavor of chip. So, and I would tell you that when you work for the company, the culture matches all that is fun and wonderful about the brands. I mean, we celebrate the brands, we talk about them and there’s so much pride when you know that you’re making something that people have in their homes.

John Palumbo: Yeah. That’s a great point. Can you talk a bit about the importance of… Let’s talk about your campus program and why do you see so much value in bringing recent college graduates into the organization? Maybe you can talk a bit about how the campus program at PepsiCo differs from the experience at maybe other companies.

Laura Maxwell: Sure, happy to. So, if I look at both internships, as well as just first-time roles for college grads, our goal is to give people work that is value-added. I will tell you, I can personally name several things that we leverage in the company today that started with an intern project or, honestly, it started with someone joining the company, seeing things differently than the rest of us, and offering a new solution. Who do we like to join the company and who tends to like working for the company? We look for people that are self-starters, that work autonomously. But, on the other hand, we also provide peer coaching and engagement opportunities. I always say, I want people to feel like they can work on their own with us, but I don’t want them ever feeling alone.

John Palumbo: Oh, that’s great.

Laura Maxwell: We look for ways that people feel like they’re part of something bigger and that no matter what the level, no matter what the tenure, their contribution matters.

John Palumbo: Yeah. That’s great. I want to talk about a big theme and this is purpose. Now, you notice, right, you can’t pick up an article or any kind of research about college students that doesn’t get into the fact that they want to work for a purpose-driven company. So companies end up… They basically make purpose a priority. Now, if I’m a college student who really wants to work at a company that’s purpose-driven, it can be tough to identify the ones that really walk the walk, and aren’t just talking the talk. In other words, they’re not just saying what I want to hear because they read this research and it told them that I want to work at a purpose-driven company. So, that being said, if I’m a college student and I’m looking for a company that is all about purpose, that is purpose-driven, a genuine one, what would you tell me about PepsiCo?

Laura Maxwell: I really do think that purpose is important and it’s something that all of us value. The difference, to be very honest with you, is you’re right, people coming into the company today, they know about purpose-driven companies, where for me, I learned about a purpose-driven company by working for one.

John Palumbo: Oh, good point, yeah.

Laura Maxwell: I really didn’t know what that meant when I joined. Now, for us in PepsiCo, we use this language that we call the PepsiCo way and all of our associates know it. It’s about purpose. We talk about doing things faster, stronger, better, but I would tell you at our core we’re a very big company that we make food products. So, number one, the safety of our own associates is super important. And, secondly, the quality of the foods and beverages that we sell, those two things we give the highest consideration when it comes to purpose.

Laura Maxwell: Purpose isn’t just about the people in the company. It’s about consumers. I mean, I think that purpose is also about knowing who your consumers are and even things like understanding what they desire in flavors. So, for us, we’re a big flavor company. We know people love hot and spicy. We’ve launched Doritos Flamin’ Hot Limon this year in response to consumers. Consumers have told us, “Hey, we love Cheetos and we love popcorn,” so we launched Cheetos Popcorn this year. Those are the things that I think when it comes to being purpose-driven, it’s about the associates of your company, what you’re delivering to the consumer, and really meeting their needs.

John Palumbo: Yeah, I don’t think a lot of people think of it that way so that’s a great way to look at it. So, let’s talk about the environment, right, specifically sustainability. Now, just like purpose, right, this is a hot button among the younger generation, especially college students. Everybody knows companies need to make a profit, but they also know that companies definitely aren’t doing all they can to protect the environment or the planet. They might create ads or they might here and there or talk about how they change some packaging or what have you. But the truth is a lot of that sometimes just comes off like they have to do it. The company has to do it, and they went out and just did something, but they don’t truly believe in it. So, I’m going to give you your chance here, right, to address this topic head-on and tell college students, and anyone listening really, for that matter, who are interested in working at a company that cares about the planet, about PepsiCo’s position on sustainability, as well as any initiatives that you’re doing.

Laura Maxwell: I truly believe this is an area where we do differentiate ourselves. If someone is looking at a company that cares about the planet and shows it sort of in real ways, I’ll tell you, I’m so proud of our work here. It is so sincere in its efforts. In fact, I think our bigger issue is that we don’t talk enough about it.

John Palumbo: Oh, that’s interesting.

Laura Maxwell: There are things that you would expect. Right? Waste reduction, we have big operating units and we have a lot of recycling efforts. You should expect that from a company like us. But in addition, I would tell you, we are extremely focused on water conservation, on using renewable energy, and on running a cleaner, fuel-efficient fleet. Our products travel all across the United States to get to their destination, all across the world. So, I’ll give you an example. In Frito-Lay, 45% of our tractors runs on compressed natural gas, and we don’t just stop there. We’re working with manufacturers that are leading edge in this area. We’ve purchased a hundred electric power over-the-road vehicles from Tesla.

John Palumbo: Wow. That’s great. See, no one knows that. Right? No one knows that that’s going on. You guys do need to talk about it more.

Laura Maxwell: We do.

John Palumbo: Yeah. All right. One more topic that I want to address and that’s diversity. Now, just like purpose and sustainability, if you look at the research, it shows it’s a hot button for a lot of people looking for a company to work at, including college students. So, can you discuss PepsiCo’s position when it comes to diversity, and maybe what makes your initiatives different, even more inclusive than other companies?

Laura Maxwell: I would tell you, this is a topic that is so near and dear to me, and it’s one of the key reasons I think that I’m proud and I’ve stayed for all the time that I have with the company. First of all, we have employee resource groups, which a lot of companies do, but they’ve been around for a long time. They’re very mature in terms of their value they bring to the organization. I’ve been a long-time member. I’m now an executive sponsor of our 11 employee resource groups. They are incredible and they bring such value to the business. And I would tell you that when people come into the company, we talk to them about joining and becoming engaged which just helps you feel more included. And we encourage people, connect with one that means something to you, that you have a personal connection with.

As an example, I’ve been a long time member of the Women’s Inclusion Network, but we also encourage people to come in and build bridges of understanding by becoming a part of something that maybe you’re not as familiar with, or you don’t have personal ties to. Like my personal example, I’ve become very active with Valor, which is our ERG that supports active military veterans and their families. Now, it isn’t just joining. We have efforts where we encourage people to come in. Every year, we have hundreds of new members to the ERGs. Many of those are the people that are joining the company. And we don’t just do things alone. As a Pepsi, Quaker, Tropicana, Frito-Lay organization, we do things together. We have done giant events together for celebrating Hispanic heritage month. Every year, we do a big celebration out of Plano that’s all PepsiCo associates are welcome.

It’s our annual Martin Luther King Jr. event. And I would tell you, this year, as an example, we celebrated with a special guest, Common, and Common is an Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Grammy-winning actor and activist, and yes, I’m totally name-dropping. I’m not going to deny that.

John Palumbo: I was going to say.

Laura Maxwell: So, I know. I am, but here’s what I’d say. So, ERGs, it’s a big part of what we do, but I also think you have to sort of see it in action. And in leadership, we are committed that all levels, we have clear goals and that there’s diversity inclusion that exists in leadership. I think I’m a good example of that. You do not find many female leaders of supply chain in any industry, much less CPG, and that’s the role that I play.

John Palumbo: Great point.

Laura Maxwell: And, again, one of the reasons that I’ve stayed with the company.

John Palumbo: Yeah. That’s a great point. All right. So, listen, we covered a lot of ground here. I mean, you lived up to your end of the bargain. You gave us some insightful and you gave us some candid responses. Honestly, Laura, I could ask you a million more questions about things that matter to college students who are looking for a place to kind of jumpstart their career. I mean, we could be talking about learning and development, which we kind of touched on, but work-life balance, anything like that. But I want to give you the opportunity to address anything that maybe I overlooked that you feel is important for college students to know about PepsiCo.

Laura Maxwell: Sure. There’s one thing, and maybe it sounds simple, but I also just want to add that when people consider PepsiCo, I want them to know that I want them to be able to be themselves at work, when they come to work. There’s a strong culture here rooted in core values. But one of them that we always talk about is we want people to express opinions fearlessly, and we believe that good ideas come from everywhere, every level. And we do work hard. There’s no question about that. But, number one, I want people to feel like when they’re at work, they can be themselves. And, number two, I want them to know that I care about the fact that they have interests outside of work. I want people to have hobbies, other things they do. I’ll use myself as an example, I’m a female leader in supply chain, 30 years in, proud mom of two daughters, I work out every day. It’s important that people believe we care about the full person, not just the one coming through the doors of PepsiCo every day.

John Palumbo: Right, and I love that too when you talk about hobbies as well. A lot of times, people when they bring their hobbies and having those extra interests, those outside interests, that’s where a lot of interesting solutions come from in a lot of cases, right? People have those interests and they say, “Oh, wait, I do this and we can apply it here.” You would never expect it, but it actually comes from those places.

Laura Maxwell: I can promise you that some of the things that I learned in the gym from the discipline there came into a problem-solving session in the workplace. There’s no question.

John Palumbo: Great point, yeah. Well, Laura, thank you so much for all the time and information. This was fantastic.

Laura Maxwell: Well, thank you for asking such great questions. And I’d also, if I can, just like to thank all the students for listening. I sincerely hope that you will consider PepsiCo, and it’s a great company, and even after 30 years, I’m ready for many more of them.

John Palumbo: Yeah, that’s great. So, there you have it, a great conversation with Laura Maxwell who gave you some background about PepsiCo that honestly you would never in a million years have gotten that at a traditional career fair. And if you like what you heard, click on the link in the episode description and learn more about our internships or full-time opportunities. Thanks so much for listening and be sure to tune into our next episode because it’s going to be a great one. We’re actually going to speak to a couple of recent college grads who are now working at PepsiCo. We’re going to speak to them about everything from what the transition was like from college to the workforce, to what it’s really like working at PepsiCo.

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