Leading With a Cool Head and a Warm Heart

Umran Beba of PepsiCo discusses a mindset for changing times


Umran Beba

In 2006, PepsiCo selected Indra K. Nooyi as the first female CEO in its half-century history. Today, she is in good company with Umran Beba, Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer in Asia, Middle East and Africa. A native of Turkey with 25 years of experience working in consumer goods, Ms. Beba shared her views with IESE alumni in Barcelona. She discussed the challenges ahead, not just for multinationals like PepsiCo, but for leaders who need to step up to the plate in demanding times.

While the World Economic Forum in Davos, which Beba attended, highlighted many daunting challenges – scarcity of key resources, global volatility, Eurozone youth unemployment, declining trust in governments, corporations and the financial sector, and an increasing hyperconnectivity – a silver lining emerges: "It is not all gloom and doom," she said with palpable optimism, "these challenges require leaders to identify and capture new opportunities."

The Impact of a Food and Beverage Giant

The food and beverage industry in particular has many concerns that will play out over the next several decades. "Food security is a very real problem and the future of agriculture is critical. Advanced planning will be key," she explained. In addition, food safety is a concern in some regions, and for PepsiCo in particular, their business challenge is how to continue to develop convenient and nutritious foods to match fast-paced lifestyles.

As the world changes and presents new demands, so does the way large multinational corporations engage with their environment. "Positive societal impact, going beyond quarterly profits is critical," Ms. Beba told the audience. "Now we need to focus on managing multi-stakeholder relations and creating high impact solutions."

PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose philosophy strives to guide the considerable impact this food and beverage giant leaves in the societies and regions where it operates. Whether crisis readiness such as helping Japan with $1.5 million from the PepsiCo Foundation or developing tailor made solutions such as onsite childcare in Pakistan to help include women in the workforce, Ms. Beba explained how the company is addressing the broader issues that affect its stakeholders.

Emerging markets in particular, are placing large multinationals in unprecedented positions. While PepsiCo clearly focuses on the importance of offering global brands with a local touch, "local companies, or ‘emerging multinationals’ are becoming a force to be reckoned with," she stated, "and we need to be ready for them."

Finding your own leadership values "

In our highly complex environment, leaders need to be ready for crisis and related fast-action planning. But with close to 300,000 employees watching, you particularly need to be cool-headed and warm-hearted," said Beba. Doing so doesn’t always come naturally, but, said Beba, it is attainable with some practice and working on leadership skills. "I agree with author Bill George; it’s about every leader finding their true north and discovering their own authentic leadership."

Among other leadership values, she underscored how it is important to "know how and when to ask for help, no matter your station or rank."

A Mindset to Crack the Glass Ceiling

While leaders who focus on developing the right values for these changing times will have a much better chance of navigating today’s complexity, Ms. Beba recognized that stepping up is an ongoing process. For women, especially mothers, "five factors need to come together before you can claim victory: your ‘first’ family, or having supportive parents who raised you with a the mindset to strive for ambitious goals; your ‘second’ family, i.e., a supportive partner and extended family; always believing in yourself; working for the right company with the right culture, or changing the company culture; and the domestic support to run a home."

Beba and IESE Professor Nuria Chinchilla who moderated the session are both Advisory Council Members for the Switzerland-based Women International Network. They concluded the session sharing their thoughts about frameworks that will help women like Beba continue to make cracks in the glass ceiling. "Co-responsibility, commitment and complementarity are what we need from family and colleagues," offered Prof. Chinchilla. "It is also about competence, courage and care," added Beba. Pursuing a demanding career around the globe with husband and kids "is not easy, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of continuous dialogue."