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A Global Vision: Leading PepsiCo’s Learning Evolution

Leslie Teichgraeber has a knack for filling in the gaps. It helps that she knows exactly where to find them.

For the past 30 years, Teichgraeber worked her way through various positions within the human resources department at PepsiCo Inc., spending time everywhere from talent acquisition to organizational development.

The self-described nonlinear learner thrived in this ever undulating environment. It didn’t matter whether she was assisting in a startup venture or acting as a human resources generalist within the international division of PepsiCo’s New York headquarters. She viewed each new position as an opportunity to learn and support others, which is just what PepsiCo wanted.

“PepsiCo tries to build people’s careers through a critical experience,” Teichgraeber said. “They want their employees to learn the different businesses in the PepsiCo portfolio. I’ve worked through a variety of operating groups. I’d say I’m a pretty good poster child for the concept.”

Her varied résumé helped her gain a unique understanding of not only the company’s business practices but also its needs. This knowledge made her aninvaluable resource when PepsiCo made the decision to rebrand itself and aggressively pursue a “better for you” healthy platform in 2009.

To achieve that goal, the company launchedPepsiCo University to help drive global brand collaboration. Given her extensive company knowledge, Teichgraeber was asked to help develop a global learning and development strategy to facilitate rebranding efforts.

As the PepsiCo University vice president, she is responsible for educating a workforce of about 250,000 employees across more than 200 countries and 22 brands.

Teichgraeber and her team spent the past five years developing and implementing global leadership programs to help top employees develop a global mindset and embrace the innovation needed to move PepsiCo forward. 

Teichgraeber didn’t approach her new position with the intention of completely overhauling PepsiCo’s previous learning and development strategy. Instead, she continued to do what she’s always done: support the talent around her — this time on a global scale.

Opening Their Eyes
Teichgraeber said a career in human resources was appealing because it afforded her the opportunity to be strategic and creative on a daily basis. Launching programs under a global corporate university gave her plenty of opportunities to exercise both skillsets.

Strategy was the first hurdle to overcome. There is no manual on how to create a corporate university — there shouldn’t be, said Mark Allen, a professor in the organizational theory and management department at Pepperdine University and author of “The Next Generation of Corporate Universities.”

“The one thing I’ve learned from 20 years of studying corporate universities is there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Allen said. “Every organization is unique, and every organization’s development needs are unique.”

Benchmarking against another company, even one of a similar size and market, is pointless because the companies aren’t drivingtoward the exact same goals, Allen said. Any programs Teichgraeber launched had to be organic and rooted in PepsiCo’s specific needs. 

Firsthand experience taught Teichgraeber that PepsiCo had plenty of talented individuals succeeding in different performance areas across the globe. It made sense to find a way to pool that talent to solve PepsiCo’s problems on a global scale.

The first step was to gain their trust. “We didn’t necessarily go in with the idea of making changes,”Teichgraeber said. “When you try to do things across an enterprise and there are already existing learning assets in the lines of business, you have to first earn some credibility.”

Teichgraeber started in the “white spaces,” working to eliminate redundancies in each region’s learningpractices. From there, with a clean slate, it was time to bring global leaderstogether.

“The leaders needed more global exposure,” said Tim Minges, senior vice president of business transformation at PepsiCo North America and Teichgraeber’s colleague for the past 14 years. “Way too many of them were stuck in their own country. Whether it be Russia or Mexico or North America, they never looked outside of it. The higher they rose they needed more of an enterprise perspective. Her push was to make everything international.” 

One major problem: Many of these global leaders had never met. Teichgraeber said this disconnect was the first thing that needed to change. “When you’re making that change from an individual contributor to a global leader, you have to first have the awareness that we are a global company,” she said. “We have global portfolios and different product portfolios that differ from country to country.”

The only way to build this awareness was to getglobal leaders in the same room and talking, and the Accelerated Learning Program for Vice Presidents was born. Launched in 2010, the program sought to pool the highest potential executive employees from around the world and team them up to solve PepsiCo’s actual problems.

The nine-month program takes 25 to 30 vice presidents into one of PepsiCo’s markets. Per Teichgraeber’s hands-on technique, they spend the first week immersed in the market, learning about the local businesses, shopping with consumers, visiting distribution centers and eating in their locally based colleagues’ homes. “Our learners share approaches and learn from each other, but I encourage delivering learning that meets the needs of the stakeholders and learners that varies by function market maturity and capability target,” she said.

Minges partnered with Teichgraeber on the project. During his career, he spent 20 years working in PepsiCo’s Asian markets, so when it was decided the program would launch in China, he was selected as the chairman and event host.

As part of the program, the vice presidents split into four project teams. Each was given nine months to work on solutions to specific problems they would recommend to PepsiCo’s executive teams at the program’s end. “The four projects are specific business needs identified by the business units themselves,” Minges said. “We sort out the stickiest issues that we have that we don’t have the right thinking against and we put them into the ALP program.”

This year’s candidates focused on e-commerce in Europe. Three of the four groups delved into technology and digital elements, a particular area of weakness for PepsiCo’s executives. Historically, the teams find a solution and it works. Minges said 9 out of 10 pitches are implemented as part of PepsiCo’s business strategy in the following year.

Locating these topics and driving the vice presidents to fill PepsiCo’s gaps on a global scale is what makes Teichgraeber unique and so valuable to the company. Minges said she stays very connected to the marketplace and the needs. “She watches,” he said. “She’s in a unique seat in management development. She understands the needs of leaders today in a rising global environment. As a result, she can help influence and develop the curriculum.”

Making the Tough Calls
Teichgraeber’s position isn’t limited to watching trends and developing creative programs. Economic realities mean resources are often in short supply, so she is forced to do more with less. This includes weighing local demands against global corporate strategic needs.

For instance, when the Pacific region of PepsiCo came to Teichgraeber requesting funding for a general manager training program, the request was valid. The region was an emerging market, so building a general manager benchmark made good business sense.

But Teichgraeber’s job goes beyond the black and white. Her HR background instilled a strong value for human relationships, and when those relationships aren’t respected, the investment is no longer worth it.

When it came to light that the region was using corporate funding for a different, unapproved project, she chose to dissolve the training program even though it had already progressed to the design stage. “While it was something I felt was important, there are some times when you have to take pause to make sure there is strong local commitment being demonstrated,” she said. 

But Teichgraeber also understands that building relationships is a two-way street. She said she’ll use anyexcuse to go out and interact with global leaders on a face-to-face basis and support their programs. “It’s like anything. You go over there for one thing, but you use your time efficiently in terms of networking and in terms of future year planning. It’s about keeping those connections active and keeping your ear to the ground.”

From Supply to Demand
One of the greatest challenges PepsiCo faces is the changing consumer market. While global leaders will help PepsiCo executives make decisions under a single vision going forward, there is no ignoring consumer input. For the past 20 or 30 years, the beverage category in America has been fairly predictable, Minges said. Now things are shifting, and the company’s portfolio has more of a demand than a supply orientation.

“Historically, the largest profit-drivers for our business have been on the snacks and beverages side of the business,” Teichgraeber said. “We are very proud of that. We also recognize that consumer interests are broadening, and our large concern is healthier products. Like any good consumer company, we need to be out in front of that in the interest of the consumer, and provide them with really healthy and fun snacking opportunities.”

Moving forward, Teichgraeber said she will help to solve that problem via user-generated content that captures and reflects the changing marketplace in real time, recorded by a PepsiCo associate. “It takes the whole concept of collaboration and knowledge-sharing to a whole new level.”

If the approximately 150,000 PepsiCo employees who work on the front lines driving trucks and stocking shelves are able to access real-time reactions to displays and new product rollouts, Teichgraeber said global learning can evolve to meet just-in-time needs. It is that kind of forward-thinking approach that makes her so valuable to PepsiCo.

Sergio Ezama, the senior vice president of global talent management and development at PepsiCo, said he attributes the company’s ability to grow and thrive in a global market, as well as his own development as a leader, to Teichgraeber’s efforts.

“Leslie is one of the most passionate and authentic leaders I’ve come across,” Ezama said. “She stays intimately close with what is going on in the business. At the end of the day, our programs are as good as how relevant they are to helping us achieve our business goals. Leslie does a fantastic job of focusing on strategic capabilities with the greatest impact in the short and the long term. Personally, I will always be very thankful that she pushed me to be a better leader on so many fronts.”