PepsiCo’s Derek Lewis: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
8 min readDec 29, 2022

--

It’s the thing that can make or break an organization. It is absolutely paramount to success. You have to build consensus, through collaboration. You have to make it about the team, and make sure the team’s success, chemistry, and the collaboration is there. I think you have to make sure your culture is strong and healthy each and every single day.

As part of our series about ‘Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Lewis of PepsiCo at the 2022 Black Entrepreneurs Day curated by Daymond John in New York City, New York.

Derek Lewis is President, South Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America (PBNA). In this role since February 2019, he is responsible for leading market-specific sales and commercial planning for all division retail and foodservice customers while providing centralized oversight of business-critical franchise relationships. He also oversees brand-building and enterprise strategy, using regional economies and end-to-end management, enabling PBNA to make, move and sell products on a local level.

Thank you so much for doing this with us, Derek! Can you tell us a little bit about your backstory?

I’m a 35 year veteran of PepsiCo. I started out as a campus hire from Hampton University. I started out in sales and just progressively worked my way through various selling roles, operating roles, headquarter roles, and then two larger operating roles. And then, at the beginning of this year, stepped into this new multicultural, business and equity development role.

Okay, great. What life lesson has enabled you to be where you are today?

I was able to dream big. I went to Hampton University back in the late ’80s, and graduated in 1988. The foundation of my life was really set there. I spent a lot of time going back to campus and I always reflect and draw upon the experiences I had on campus. I built a foundation of my life so I was really able to dream big and set some really ambitious goals for myself. I was able to be a continuous learner and learned how to execute with excellence.

We were taught to do things flawlessly, and I carried that mantra forward into my professional life. Networks build strong networks. Those networks will be there for you day in and day out to help you through your journey, not only through the professional side, but also the personal side. Build your brand. You know your brand, right? As each day goes on, you have an opportunity to shape that brand into something special, something that you want it to be. Don’t let circumstances control that. I try to pass it on to younger students today who are in school, who are going to eventually reach that point of graduating and going into the workforce, in a professional life. And I want them to make sure they can also benefit from some of those behaviors.

What were some stumbling blocks along the way that have shaped your character?

I think there’s just a lot of lessons learned. I am typically somebody that moves pretty fast. I grew up in a pretty challenging situation back in Washington, D.C. and from a personal standpoint, I was always put in positions where I had to make quick decisions. Sometimes your life may have depended on your safety, and so I’ve always gotten this mode of processing things quickly.

Throughout my life I’ve learned how to slow down, learned how to take more information in, and process it appropriately. Being much more of a collaborator, making sure you get the input of others. That this journey is not just your journey, it’s the journey of your team. It’s the journey of the organization. It’s about the culture, it’s about others. I think it’s evolved over time. Even in today’s world, sometimes you tend to want to move fast and you have to slow down and make sure you’re bringing others along. And by doing so, they’ll create the best possible outcomes, no doubt.

What would you say to a struggling BIPOC entrepreneur who has failed one too many times before?

I think you got to keep going. You can’t give up. There’s things that I have failed at over and over again in terms of trying things as a leader. I won’t stop trying. You have to recognize everything’s not going to happen for everybody in the first instance. Some hit a home run out of the park. It’s very few that are able to do that. And I think what’s most important is the lessons that you learn with those failures. We sometimes look to blame other circumstances or make it about something else when really it could have been about what we did or what we didn’t do. Being less the victim of your circumstances and still having that conviction of what you really believe in.

Don’t ever lose the tenacity. Don’t lose that energy on things that are really important to you. So I’d say maintain that energy. Learn tough lessons and build on those, capitalize on those to make improvements as you go forward.

Keep your confidence. Stay confident in what you believe in and keep the hustle going because eventually your break is going to come. You just have to be ready for it when it does.

Okay, great. Can you share two reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

First thing I always say is diversity is the one thing we actually all have in common. Once we recognize that, I think it creates unparalleled levels of teamwork and unity, recognition that we all bring something unique to the table. It just creates real powerful moments. From a team perspective, I think it’s the first thing.

Number two is diversity. Diverse teams bring out the best in innovation and new thinking. Because you’re coming from different places, experiences and backgrounds, you’re going to really shoot high at what you think about from a creative standpoint. I think that just brings a whole lot of new opportunities to the table. Diverse teams historically outperform non-diverse teams, and I think that’s been tracked for many years. Diverse teams actually drive better results. I think also from a visibility standpoint, it sets the tone for the whole organization. How can you expect things to happen throughout the organization if the leadership team is not setting that example? There’s this thing about walking the talk and leading by example, and I think that’s very important.

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

It’s the thing that can make or break an organization. It is absolutely paramount to success. You have to build consensus, through collaboration. You have to make it about the team, and make sure the team’s success, chemistry, and the collaboration is there. I think you have to make sure your culture is strong and healthy each and every single day.

I think you got to think about people, you got to think about developing people and helping people advance their careers or just be much better at what they do day in and day out. I think you have set high expectations. I think you certainly want to be a leader that thinks about being a pace setter, not a follower.

I think leaders have to celebrate success. When you get a win, you have to make sure everybody’s feeling good about those wins to keep that energy very positive. I probably wouldn’t have added this years ago, but I think leaders now have to lead with purpose. I think being a go-getter, but also a go-giver. You have to benefit others at the things that you try to do. I also think you’ve got to leave a legacy, and support others.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

I think the first thing is to be committed to the change. And when I say that, I mean make sure you think about it as being a movement, not being a moment. Too many people I think have reacted and then six months later there’s no talk of it again and the activities passed on. Next thing I would say is to make sure you’re leaning in with your associates. Your associates can help you. People that work for you can really add a lot of value by helping the community solve the problem. They can build some new skills and can get some new tools in their toolkit.

I think it’s also important that we don’t work in silos on this. I think we have to work jointly on this effort. And so I’m talking about communities. I’m talking about customers, business organizations, companies, and professional organizations working together to really maximize the impact of change that’s needed in our country. I think that’s going to bring out the best possible catalyst for change when all those things are being considered.

What piece of advice would you give a budding Black entrepreneur?

I would say stay true to your values. Again, don’t give up. Don’t give up your dream. Don’t pivot away from what you believe in and use that conviction to help create opportunities for others.

Don’t just focus on yourself. Focus on what others can do to be successful in your space as well, and bring along a team. And I think the last thing is make sure you always give back to your community. Don’t forget the community. The community is always going to be there for you in tough times and in good times. But make sure you’re there for that community 365 days a year. And I say if you do those things, your break is going to come. Just be prepared for when that break comes.

What are your hopes and visions for the future growth of your business?

I have high expectations of growth for our business. I think we’re on a tremendous trajectory when you think about our total business performance. And we still have a lot of work to do, but I’m happy about the foundation we’ve set. The acceleration of progress that we’ve seen in the last two and a half years. I think most importantly now is the engagement and the energy about the future.

We have a plethora of outstanding brands across our portfolios, and we wanna make sure we’re bringing those experiences with purpose. We want to continuously make sure we are looking like the market. So our recruitment efforts have really stepped up and our ability to retain associates also has been very strong. I think from a business standpoint, it is also driving economic impact supporting minority owned businesses. Again, we have a lot of pledges for our commitment to the racial equality journey. It is about being very intentional about economic impact and helping smaller businesses thrive. Not only going from just surviving, but to thriving and injecting resources into those entrepreneurs and those spaces to help them continuously grow and scale.

We want to put more smiles on faces out there. We want to bring about an effort we’re all together, we’re all in this journey together, and this notion of togetherness. We’ve created platforms like Pepsi Stronger Together to do that, to help bring that along in a very powerful way.

How can our readers find out more about PepsiCo?

You can follow us on any social media @pepsico and you can also visit our website www.pepsico.com

This was very inspiring, Derek. Thank you so much for joining us!

--

--

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor