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Leadership Series: A Discussion with Mrs. Ümran Beba Of PepsiCo

Vol 2: Issue 3

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The Boyden Leadership Series is an ongoing publication that focuses on topical issues regarding leadership, and presents discussions with well-known business, political, and cultural leaders.

This latest issue presents a discussion that Boyden recently had with Mrs. Ümran Beba, Regional President for Asia/Pacific of PepsiCo based in Hong Kong. Mrs. Beba discusses the talent challenge in Asia, the difference in managing emerging markets, how global brands compete with upstart locals, and why great leaders are great listeners.

Prior to joining the Asia/Pacific PepsiCo team, Mrs. Beba was President of the South East Europe Region of PepsiCo, encompassing Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the Balkans, which includes the major markets of Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia.

Previously, Mrs. Beba was the Business Unit General Manager for the East Mediterranean Business Unit, covering Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. She joined PepsiCo after a successful marketing career at Colgate-Palmolive.

Mrs. Beba has also been a leader in developing female executive talent in Turkey and the South Asia, Middle East, and Africa region. During her stewardship, the female executive ratio rose to 46%. She served as a co-leader of the “Women in Business” platform in Turkey, along with PricewaterhouseCooper’s President. She holds an MBA and a Bachelor’s Degree in industrial engineering from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul.

Discussion with Ümran Beba

Boyden: What are the new challenges of running a global operation today compared to five years ago?

Beba: Global operations are moving to the East, mainly Asia and India, in terms of growth potential. There are also markets with opportunity in Latin America and Europe, but Asia is really becoming the center for growth, which implies the war for talent also is active here. A cultural understanding of Asia and of Eastern values is a key for success in this region. For instance, earlier this week I attended a lunch program and everybody was talking about how to attract the best talent and find the right focus in the Asian economy.

Also, connections around the world move much faster now compared to five years ago. Therefore, what you do in one place should be in correlation with the other. Consistency of action is always very important but in today’s times, anything inconsistent will be visible to a greater extent. We have to be local, but globally connected and harmonized.

Consumers are looking for value everywhere after all the economic hits they’ve faced...therefore we have to offer new solutions to them. Also, affordability has become key in every country but more so in developing countries.

Boyden: Has social media affected your business in that consumers in Hong Kong can connect and share ideas even more rapidly with consumers in the Middle East, Europe, and the US?

Beba: Absolutely. This kind of connectedness has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, social media requires you to closely manage your guiding principles all along your global campaign of communication. On the other hand, it’s powerful in that you can reach nearly every audience in different countries in a more efficient way.

Boyden: What are the difficulties in managing in an emerging market versus a more mature market?

Beba: Consumer needs, expectations and economic facts are different for emerging markets versus more mature markets. These markets also have varying consumption per caps (per capita), and of course regulations are different.

In an emerging market, there’s a lot of room for growth but it can be tough to attract and retain the best talent. In a developing market growth can be limited, so you have to differentiate and innovate fast. However, the speed at which emerging markets are catching up with trends is faster now. Also, emerging markets do not have to go through the same steps of growth as developed markets, so they are able to skip some steps and adapt a few others. Emerging markets need executives with a lots of experience in dealing with uncertainty and unexpected news. In Turkey, for example, over the last 15 years, I had to deal with inflation and serious devaluations — this made me very experienced in dealing with my “P and L,” cash, and investments.

Boyden: In emerging markets there’s competition with a lot of micro brands. What is your approach?

Beba: The success of a local brand comes with the understanding of the consumers inside those markets. You must be close to the local communities and add a local touch to your product, in addition to your high standards of quality. Great brands are great communicators and it’s a very good mix if you can combine that with a local touch.

Boyden: What is most important for big global brands that compete against strong local market companies?

Beba: This is a good question. There are many local brands getting space in the market. They know how to address local need, they are often affordable and accessible, and they can be owned easily with local pride.

Global brands offer quality consistency and marketing know-how. The bigger brands, however, should understand the local consumer needs and address those areas rather than always focusing on global issues. This is true for innovation and as well as for brand communication. Most successful initiatives are based on real consumer insights. New technologies and quality improvements are also critical for global brands, not only to address the affordability criteria but also create a difference versus other brands in the market. For global brands, R & D becomes a very important differentiator in terms of seeing future trends.

Boyden: Are there changes in management approach in markets most affected by the financial crisis, such as Greece and Spain?

Beba: Prior to arriving in Hong Kong, I was in charge of South East Europe, and Greece was part of my region. One of our prime areas of focus was innovation and distribution; going forward I am sure these will stay very important. But, another important dimension in this equation is affordability and consumer value, and those definitions are always changing. Focus on cost, harmonization, leveraging assets, and getting synergies in one’s system are becoming more and more crucial in order to be able to transfer savings to consumer value. People also need and seek more fun in tough times, which is offered by our categories...we’re seeing more customers staying at home and spending time with family and friends. When unemployment starting increasing, consumer trends started to change, including where people shopped, spent time, and ate. We can easily be part of this equation if we can hit the right consumer value and “fun” element.

Boyden: Is Turkey’s economic success attributed to its near-equal blend of Western and Eastern approach?

Beba: Turkey has a great location, as it combines both the East and West. It is emerging but also developed in some sense, with two different worlds joining in the Balkans and the Middle East. Turkey offers a large and vibrant young population. There’s a good talent base and resources in terms of agriculture and tourism. It also has new reforms in place to get ready for EU membership, which will help the country increase its standards and strategic relations with many countries in the region.

Boyden: Asia/Pacific is considered the 21st century “golden market” in most industries. How do you view this opportunity?

Beba: Although I am new to Asia, I see it and I feel it every day. There are many opportunities in vibrant markets with young populations such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, and Pakistan, although we’re still bringing in high tech and innovation trends derived in developed markets. From my initial experience, Korea and Japan are very interesting markets to observe because they may not be growing as fast and are an ageing population, but they each offer lessons to be learned in speed in innovation and how goods are consumed in a short period. You must master the distribution system or you don’t survive in those markets. It’s a different balance but it’s interesting to see this dynamic.

Boyden: For the Asia talent challenge, what are the key areas for Asia, and China in particular, that companies such as PepsiCo look for and are harder to find?

Beba: Everyone is looking for local talent. Of course, multinationals bring a lot of international people, expatriates and people who have the know-how of the company and experience in other markets. But, that’s not what you want in the future...a lot of non-local talent in your business. So, because of the history and the system, in some of these markets it could take time to find the right talent. For the moment, we attract not only local talent, but also find those local individuals who are abroad. Many native Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indians living abroad understand the vibrancy of today’s economy in these markets. And they will come back for the right opportunity.

Boyden: How should global consumer companies plan for geopolitical risks?

Beba: It is in the portfolio approach and keeping balance. Also, it’s important to have strong, local partners who know the markets and understand the risks and challenges of investing in it, to help guide the way.

For example, when I was handling Iraq, in order to survive in such a market under very difficult conditions for many years, you need local partners who understand the market. Your partners must be willing to co-invest and to operate in that environment because it’s their country.

Boyden: In countries where government action can trump contract law, how can a multinational secure its big investments?

Beba: You have to tell your story well...why you are investing in that market and what big opportunities are being offered to the community.

Boyden: So, it still comes down to people and relationships?

Beba: Yes, you have to build the right relationships. We as global companies have a lot of our own regulations and our own principles, so we must take those principles and act within those values in new markets. However, you still have to have the right people and build the right relationships so people there can understand what you are adding to their society and to their economy. At the end of the day, everybody is going there to sell and make a profit. But what you bring to those markets is a lot of employment, not only in your businesses but also from top down, including raw materials and top services. It’s not always easy.

Boyden: How do companies trade off longterm corporate health against short-term pressures from stockholder activists and other speculators?

Beba: When our CEO Indra Nooyi came into her role, she developed PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose vision which means delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet. We bring that purpose to every aspect of our business. Performance with Purpose has three pillars: Human Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, and Talent Sustainability. We act with these principles and guide our associates with this approach.

Boyden: What has been most important in your personal career success? And what has been the greatest career challenge you have overcome?

Beba: Moving from marketing to human resources after 10 years was a great step for me to understand the dynamics of an organization as well as its different functions. I was able to listen to employees and at the same time, stay at an equal distance from all while caring for the company and its principles and fairness (laughs). I should also add that 16 years ago it was Boyden’s Turkish office that attracted me to the PepsiCo opportunity.

Overall, my greatest career challenge is to balance work and personal life, especially when you are in charge of many markets and need to travel.

Boyden: How would you describe your leadership style?

Beba: My leadership style is based on listening, respect, trust, and collaboration. I have to hear my team before setting a vision and key strategies. I care a lot about respect and trust, and I expect the same. Results will come with vision, focus, collaboration, and team participation.

If you grow up in the organization and become the leader of leaders, of course, you spend most of your time with people and help develop them. So the “people” management part moves from ten percent in the early stages of your career to maybe seventy per cent. You must reserve enough time for people...to lead them and then include them and work with them on decisions. In terms of strategy, this approach is very important because then people really feel like they are truly included and are adding value. In your career, of course there’s money, but you also want to be cared for and respected.

Boyden: Labor experts, including many men, say women’s natural skills give them an overall edge in leadership. What advantages do you seeing women bringing?

Beba: We have natural differences and that is great. Our differences are driven by biology, brain functionality, and socialization patterns, which makes it more colorful. Women like to gather a lot of information and they’re hard-wired for empathy. We’re also terrific multi-taskers and we are open to collaboration and sharing success. In general, women need to improve on networking, getting a mentor, being assertive, and taking credit for success.

Boyden: What is most effective in attracting the best management talent?

Beba: The best recruiting tool is showing care for talent and showing a company’s cherishing side and career vision. People want to be cared for and know where they are going. It’s a positive start if they can feel and see this approach in their interviews. Of course we cannot ignore basic factors such as compensation and benefits as well.

We should also better understand the needs of different generations in the workforce. If Generation Y needs more flexibility and balance we should present it to them. At earlier ages we should give them international exposure and crossfunctional experience. You need to offer opportunities that are exciting for people, such as a younger generation exchange program. If you send an employee from say Greece to Thailand and vice versa for six or eight months, that would give them a lot of interesting perspective and they would be willing to stay longer.

Boyden: Is PepsiCo’s approach to talent management different in the US and Europe versus Asia/Pacific?

Beba: We have the same talent sustainability approach and the same policies around the world but there are some differences in local regulations, culture, and employee needs, so our global guidelines come with local flexibility. For instance, if you acquire a company and there’s a two-year integration plan, right away you have to bring in the values, basic compensation structures, and evaluation platforms into the picture. However, there may be certain actions you may need to take to improve and merge the cultures; those changes may come more gradually over the first two years.

Boyden: What advice would you offer if you had to give one recommendation to a manager rising in the ranks?

Beba: You must know what you want and understand your capabilities and strengths so that you can leverage them in your career journey. Respect and trust are important as a base for building relationships and one also needs to be patient.

In a new environment, the right attitude is critical. It doesn’t matter which level you are at...you can be a CEO but you still have to have the attitude of “I’m here to learn and then add value” rather than just focusing on adding value and ignoring the other connecting factors. In particular, for senior executives, you may feel the need to change some things but in the beginning you can’t come in and start shifting everything without hearing why and how they did it.

We would like to thank Özlem Ergün, of Boyden Turkey for making this edition of Boyden’s Leadership Series possible.

The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Boyden: only those of Mrs. Ümran Beba.