Engaging PepsiCo's Top Leadership and a "New Deal" on Lifelong Learning

PepsiCo is a multi-billion dollar leader in consumer packaged goods sales, in part, due to its history of investing in employee and leadership development. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, was kind enough to write the foreword to my book, Learning to Succeed: Rethinking Corporate Education in a World of Unrelenting Change. Nooyi writes, "At PepsiCo, we have established a comprehensive learning organization that values and prioritizes professional development for every employee throughout the company... our learning initiatives link directly to our company's strategic goals." This strategic approach is what I recommend, supported by frameworks and successful case studies, throughout Learning to Succeed.

Nooyi affirms that the concrete recommendations in Learning to Succeed are as applicable for a large-scale conglomerate like PepsiCo as for a small business seeking to stay competitive while in growth mode. "The book astutely maps...elements, such as C-suite sponsorship, structural innovation, and a cultural aptitude for change, while also pinpointing the roadblocks that organizations will need to overcome to become fully functioning learning organizations..." - Indra Nooyi, Foreword, Learning to Succeed.

Last semester, I taught an intensive course at Columbia on Organizational Strategy and Learning which reviewed and analyzed many of these same topics. The graduate students in my course are earning master's degrees in fields ranging from Enterprise Risk Management to Actuarial Science to Nonprofit Management to Strategic Communication. As part of these programs, they are learning market-driven functional skills and management best practices. In my course, in particular, we explored the competitive advantages companies can create by building strong talent development programs and aligning with strategic and operational priorities. To tie this to the "real world," I invited guest speakers in prominent positions at companies including BlackRock, McKinsey, JP Morgan, United Nations, and AIG, to engage with my students. These guests discussed issues in strategy, leadership, and talent development and facilitated dynamic exchanges with my students, who offered input from readings, case studies, and their own career experiences.

As the final guest lecturer of the course, Umran Beba, Chief Human Resources Officer at PepsiCo, joined us to discuss her career path and ascension to the C-Suite. She started at the company in her home country of Turkey, in the marketing department. "While I enjoyed the thrill of launching original campaigns, I decided to open up opportunity for myself by moving across departments," she said. She is now based out of PepsiCo's headquarters in Purchase, NY, and oversees human capital management and operations. She shared her experiences in such intimidating circumstances as attending leadership retreats as the only female in attendance--and how she used those trials as an advantage to develop her voice, her core values, and what she prioritizes as a leader.

As a reflective and productive scholar/practitioner, Beba codified and translated her experiences and recently contributed to publish a white paper for the World Economic Forum: "Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work." In it, the authors propose "a new deal on lifelong learning," urging the public and private sectors to adopt new models that support learning throughout career spans.

Columbia's School of Professional Studies is rooted in this new deal on lifelong learning as we continue to develop quality, practicum-based educational programming for all ages. We believe, as Beba and the leadership at PepsiCo have repeatedly communicated, that organizations like ours must continue to work together to enable ongoing learning and retooling at all stages of workers' careers.