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PepsiCo’s Carey Ignites The Front Line To Drive Results

PepsiCo's Al Carey at WAFC

Though he’s trained in micromanagement, Al Carey, CEO of PepsiCo, says that isn’t how he gets great results from employees. He shared his philosophy with the attendees of the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) 92nd Annual Convention, held last month in Palm Desert, Calif.

“I believe the most important person in the entire organization is the one that is closest to the customer—not the CEO of the organization,” Carey said.

The function of the CEO or senior management is to create an environment in which frontline employees can be successful. He admitted that typically the CEO makes a living telling people what to do, but Carey told listeners that the CEO should “get the heck out of the way and let them do their jobs.”

But that doesn’t mean to sit idly by while others do all the work.

As cashiers, route drivers and salespeople do their jobs, they sometimes encounter obstacles—an old, outdated cash register, for example—that make their jobs difficult. According to Carey, CEOs should make it their mission to “knock obstacles out of the way so that (they) can make as many of these people as successful as possible.”

He believes frontline employees have a better perspective on everyday business since they are “closer to the action.”

“I can knock obstacles out of the way—capital, spending, marketing, new products—but I really can’t tell you what price to put on your products in Los Angeles or in Phoenix. I think the people on the ground are much better equipped to do that, so my job is to come out and make sure I’m knocking the obstacles out of the way so they can be successful,” he said.

Carey cautioned that management does need to know when to intervene, such as when a team isn’t getting good results. But the key to getting good results is to recognize the value of frontline employees and create a culture of enthusiasm and confidence.

“You don’t realize as a key leader of the organization what a big deal that is to somebody. Now at one point not too long ago, I was at a fairly high level in the organization when the boss wrote me a handwritten note about something I did, thanked me for my leadership. Short five sentences.

“I stuck it up on my wall,” he said.

He hand-writes two notes every day to employees to let them know how vital and appreciated their work is. He got the idea from Craig Weatherup, who used to run PepsiCo. He sometimes sees a note he’s written tacked to a cubicle wall. Making sure employees feel valued is a “very small thing to do to make a big difference,” according to Carey.

Carey celebrates frontline employees

Another of Carey’s mentors, David Novak, chairman of Yum! Brands, takes empowerment to another level. In addition to listening to the complaints of managers and moving to improve operations during his work with the company’s KFC subsidiary, Novak rolled out the red carpet for frontline employees—literally.

“I went to a conference (Novak) had with the store managers, and he brought every store manager in from around the country, brought them all to Louisville. When they came into corporate headquarters, he had a red carpet laid out for them. He had a band that came in…playing music and celebrating them,” Carey recalled.

Carey devised his own recognition program while with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division. The “Ring of Honor” includes 200 workers nominated by company presidents around the world. They are brought to New York City—PepsiCo is based in Purchase, N.Y.—and enjoy a top-notch dinner, a tour, business sessions and finally an awards ceremony in which they are presented with the Ring of Honor.

“These people are so excited about what they’ve accomplished,” said Carey, adding that when on market tours an honoree will sometimes flash a ring with pride.

“This is a big deal for them,” he explained. “You cannot believe the way they think differently about themselves when they leave there and they go back home and they perform at an even higher level—and then they inspire everyone around them.”

Encouraging confidence in the frontline employees can invite them to do great things. Carey told a story about Richard Montanez, a frontline worker in the Rancho Cucamonga plant in 1993. Montanez, who worked in sanitation, approached Carey during a plant tour with some products he thought would sell with the Latino population.

“Long story short,” Carey said, “Richard is the one that invented the Cheetos Flamin’ Hot product.”

Now, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos have $450 million in sales annually, according to Carey.

When frontline employees are encouraged, their confidence rises, which is true for “young people especially,” Carey said. Confidence transforms employees into inspirations to their peers who create a positive, productive environment, he said.

“The No. 1 most important thing to do is inspire greatness in others. It is the single most important thing that will drive results in your organization and recognition is a big part of that.”

In the featured photo at top: Al Carey, CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages, spoke on “Igniting the Front Line.” PepsiCo has acknowledged its best people for the past 14 years, awarding 200 team members across the globe with “The Ring of Honor” each year.


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