PepsiCo Foodservice CMO Scott Finlow: “Never be comfortable; I almost never feel fully prepared for a new role or project because there is so much to learn”

Yitzi Weiner
May 14, 2019 · 7 min read

Never be comfortable: There’s never been a more exciting and challenging time to be working (or alive, for that matter) and the pace of change is daunting. I almost never feel fully prepared for a new role or project because there is so much to learn. In my current role, I need to build my skills in data & analytics, emerging media, technology and so much more. I know the moment I get comfortable in a role, I need to start identifying new areas to develop and grow.

As a part of my series about “Social Impact Heroes”, I had the pleasure to interview Scott Finlow. Scott is the CMO at PepsiCo Foodservice.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been interested and connected to food and the environment. Growing up, my family lived on a small farm and organically grew as much of our food as we could. My mom cooked three meals a day from scratch for the family and I spent my summers going out before a meal to literally pick dinner. We raised animals and I was involved in that too (sometimes maybe too involved!). We also tried to use reusable packaging and washed all our tinfoil and plastic bags for re-use. My friends definitely thought we were a little strange, but it turns out we may have been ahead of our time. At University, I became more interested in the choices that people make as it relates to their food and beverages and storytelling in general. So, in many ways it makes sense that I’ve arrived at this role.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As I moved into this role, we gathered the full marketing team together to connect and align on our priorities, but also to connect as people sharing a common purpose and experience together. I shared some of my personal story, as well as my hopes and concerns for the team. What was most interesting was the response from others on the team to also share their personal stories and authentic selves. The result was a powerful and personal experience together, which I believe will make us a more effective team in the future — through the good and the bad. It was a reminder that being genuine and honest as leaders — including being vulnerable — can help create a culture that’s both more productive and more fun.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Earlier in my career, I overslept for a flight on the company plane in the US. A dozen senior executives had to wait for me. 3 months later I was working in our Asia Pacific business. It turned out to be the best experience of my career and life, but it’s possible that I was given the role as a form of temporary exile…

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Absolutely. Our impact on the communities we serve and work is incredibly important to how we’re approaching our business today. PepsiCo is committed to building a world where plastics never become waste. Our sustainable plastics vision is rooted in three pillars: Reducing the amount of plastics we use; Recycling and Reusing the plastics we buy (circular economy); and Reinventing our plastic packaging. Recently we launched “Beyond the Bottle” which encompasses PepsiCo’s commitment to offering consumers a range of great-tasting beverages while making our packaging more sustainable and fueling our future growth. The goal of the new hydration platform is to deliver beverages to consumers without single-use plastic bottles. Additionally, PepsiCo has committed to a goal of making 100% of its packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes there are and we actually been using these three steps in our Beyond the Bottle efforts and we want to work with our communities, partners and law makers to get us closer to a completely circular economy. Reducing how society makes, uses, and disposes of plastics is a major priority for not just PepsiCo but our society as a whole. Reducing the amount of non-recyclable plastics we use; recycling and reusing the plastics we produce; and for all companies to reinvent and limit plastic packaging. As a community we can all pledge to use more recyclable materials in packaging. Two years ago, PepsiCo doubled down on this commitment by announcing that we would strive to make 100% of our packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025. As a community we can encourage the education of others about sustainability by providing resources to help teachers educate their students about recycling.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think it’s important for a leader to set and align on a clear and compelling vision and priorities that inspires and focuses a team, then build the right culture to make sure the team is equipped and motivated to achieve it. Achieving that vision means being focused on hiring and coaching the right talent and helping remove barriers along the way. As an example, as we embark on our Beyond the Bottle efforts, we’re staying focused on a mission to change how consumers drink water and building a purposeful brand and ecosystem to help people achieve their hydration goals. We’re bringing on new talent and partners to accelerate our progress toward those goals and making sure we’ve got the right resources and investment to succeed. I’m focused on bringing energy and focus to these priorities.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Always start with the consumer: Whether a new role, a new market, or a new category, identifying an unmet consumer need should always be the anchor of any brand plan or innovation. When I worked in Asia Pac, we launched a soy milk in Vietnam that leveraged every advantage PepsiCo had, but failed because it didn’t effectively solve a true consumer problem. There are always forces to pull businesses away from the consumer, but it’s the marketer’s role to center the organization.

Be a founder: Many of my most rewarding roles at PepsiCo have involved building ground-up teams, cultures and products. Being a founder means embracing the unknown and requires a high tolerance for ambiguity. It’s a chance to ask “how might we” and create ground-up solutions. It’s a tremendous learning experience that I’d encourage everyone to seek out.

Never be comfortable: There’s never been a more exciting and challenging time to be working (or alive, for that matter) and the pace of change is daunting. I almost never feel fully prepared for a new role or project because there is so much to learn. In my current role, I need to build my skills in data & analytics, emerging media, technology and so much more. I know the moment I get comfortable in a role, I need to start identifying new areas to develop and grow.

Manage your energy: I’m at my best when I can bring energy and focus to my top strategic priorities, and I’m borderline useless to my team when I’m exhausted or unfocused. Sleep and exercise are both really important to me. Most of my worst days and work were the result of being short on sleep.

Seek out great people: On so many levels, this is important. When we have talented, energized, diverse people working together in a highly collaborative way — and having fun together, I honestly believe there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. The work on our Beyond the Bottle project is amazing and ground-breaking and that’s a reflection of the people on the team.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’m convinced that borderless empathy and curiosity could help each of us understand one another in more human terms — as people with varying histories, cultural norms and stories. Beyond the richness of discovery and growth, this would help us frame up approaches and narratives to help address some of the world’s most intractable challenges and conflicts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was a teenager, my Dad said to me “it’s your choice — make one”. At the time he was referring to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. In that moment, he conferred responsibility and the importance of thoughtful decision making on me at an early age. This advice helped give me the confidence to make some of the bolder decisions in my work and life. As a leader and a father, I bring that same perspective and try to empower people around me with values-based decision making rights.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

There are so many, but one that comes to mind is Michael Pollan. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” helped shape my view of the world and I’d love to sit down with him and talk about food. Ideally we would have hunted / foraged / fished for our meal and prepared it together first.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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