How prepared is PepsiCo for an Economic Slowdown

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Pavitra Singh, Chief Human Resources Officer, PepsiCo India

Exclusive Conversation with Pavitra Singh, Chief Human Resources Officer, PepsiCo India

Pavitra Singh currently heads HR for PepsiCo India. With 18+ years of work experience leading large teams across geographies, she has held leadership positions across a variety of roles. From Center of excellence roles like Talent Management, L&D, Culture, D&I, Talent Acquisition to operating HR Business partnering roles. 

Prior to joining PepsiCo, she has worked with American Express and Fair Isaac. She has been recognized in the Women Ahead list of 2016 as one of Corporate India’s fastest rising women leaders. Pavitra is an explorer at heart. She loves travelling the world and experiencing different cultures. A Gen Z mom, she loves spending time with her daughter and learning from her new-age tools.

Q- You have been working with PepsiCo for a long time. How has the journey been so far? 

I have worked with PepsiCo for 14 years. I have enjoyed the journey because of the varied roles and learnings that PepsiCo gave me. Differentiated experiences from culture-building to leadership development to a regional and global center of excellence roles have really shaped me.  PepsiCo also gave me a sabbatical when I needed to take care of my daughter and that only made my resolve stronger to do my best for the company. I have met amazing colleagues on the way, who have today becomelifelong friends.

Q- Like a few other industries, food & beverage industry also has come into the trap of economic slowdown, how do you see its impact on PepsiCo?

The whole world and a lot of countries and industries are seeing a slowdown. I define slowdown as economic activity at a slower pace than before. I have seen slowdowns as an outsider in the company watching management teams grapple with it.

“I have realised that in tough times, leaders buckle down on doing the basics, being careful with costs, innovating and communicating regularly to employees. The last bit is important because employees imagine the worst in a slowdown.”

While India is going through its own cyclical growth phase the long-term growth story of India remains very strong. The PepsiCo ecosystem is committed and on track to invest USD 2.1 billion in India by 2022.

Q- What is your preparation for the slowdown challenges and massive job casualties?

We have done a lot of work in the area of crisis over the last few years. I believe PepsiCo India is a lean outfit now. We are investing in our brands, in our products, and in our people.

We are investing in current brownfield food plants in Kolkata and Pune and setting up one of the largest greenfield projects in Uttar Pradesh. The state-of-the-art foods plant coming up in UP is being set up at a cost of over USD 70 million. All these investments being made would naturally create thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

In addition, these investments would also enhance the Company’s connect with Indian farmers. The current size and scale of the PepsiCo ecosystem in the country already provides direct and indirect employment to over 160,000 and has 24000 farmers as part of its collaborative farming model

Internally we have stepped up our development activities to ensure that we add value to people and more importantly to ensure that we have our team in the right frame of mind as we take on market challenges.

Q- Gig workers are set to rise in the future, what are your Talent strategies for 2020 and the near future?

I think Gig workers will add a lot of value to every company and industry as work is getting more and more modular and specialized. At one level we have the chance to tap into their talent wherever they are, on another level they give us an opportunity to ask what core jobs should be done by employees and what can be done by gig employees; what jobs require expertise and specialized skills. It also teaches us to collaborate by recognizing that all talent will not reside only in our office in the traditional way.

Q- How do you attract and retain a diverse and engaged workforce?

Employees come to work for the purpose of a company, they come to work if they have good colleagues and they come to work because they see the progress of their ideas. So, every leadership team must ensure that they create the right environment where ideas flourish and not hierarchy. This means actively listening to employees and taking regular feedback on how we can do better. I do many open on one meetings and group meetings to gauge the pulse of the organization. Things change quickly in today’s world and every HR manager must have a mechanism to get what I term EF – emotional feedback.

Q- How do you ensure diversity in the workplace, and what is your D&I policy for LGBT and differently-abled persons?

We embarked on a journey to improve diversity. Over the last few years, we have really focused on making sure we have the right policies that are inclusive for both men and women – e.g sabbatical, paternity policy for 3 months; on-site child care support, etc. We have tried to make traditional male-dominated functions attractive to women like sales and manufacturing.

I can proudly say that PepsiCoIndia is an equal paymaster, men and women at every level earn the same salaries. Similarly, for ratings and promotions – they are at par or better. This is a seismic shift for us which helps us attract people to come and work for us. Having said that, we cannot rest on our laurels, we need to constantly sharpen our value proposition to be better at D and I. Getting diversity ratio is easier for a company as compared to building true inclusion.

Q- What is the best piece of advice that you got that has guided your own work & career?

For me, the best piece of advice has been from my role models and mentors and I sum it up as ABC

  • Always believe in yourself
  • Be a company person – do what’s right for the company
  • Constantly learn, unlearn, learn

Thank you, Pavitra!

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