PepsiCo – Speaking the language

Joseph Zakaria of PepsiCo
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For those who have grown up in the Middle East, the increasing number of PepsiCo brands have proven to be sweet companions on the journey from the crib to the cubicle. In the past two decades, many Pepsi products still come out on top as regional consumer favorites. What’s more, the presence of a complete supply chain in the region means that PepsiCo can face the hotly contested market for fast moving consumer goods with a home-team advantage. 

What speaks favorably to the presence of not only the company’s products but of its corporate investment in the United Arab Emirates is that PepsiCo has located the leadership team and administration of its entire Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) Division in the heart of Dubai. 

According to PepsiCo’s 2010 annual report, India, China, and the Middle East all saw strong demand growth for both snacks and beverages marketed by the corporation. The AMEA division is one of the four core business units in the global corporation and is in charge of nearly $6 billion in annual revenues.  

AMEA is the youngest of the four divisions of PepsiCo. But there are indications that it can be a springboard for the corporation’s growth as PepsiCo’s global leadership considers new initiatives to expand its investments and position in the US and many international markets as well as renew parts of its top leadership this year. 

The division head office in Dubai has business reach in four continents and handles markets stretching from New Zealand to Morocco. The division’s head office staff and management participated in both the 2012 and 2011 Trust Index surveys and culture audits by the Great Place to Work Institute (GPTWI) and have scored near the top in both years. On top of this, PepsiCo also was identified and highlighted by GPTWI as one of two companies with exemplary practices in hiring, developing and retaining Emirati talent. 

Dubai’s multicultural identity is mirrored in the PepsiCo workforce, which comprises more than 40 nationalities and a few hundred employees — not an unusual feature of workforces in the UAE, but one which would be much more difficult to achieve in most other places.  

“I think the multinational people that we have operating in this office are a big advantage,” says Joseph Zakaria, vice president of operations at PepsiCo AMEA. 

This diversity jibes well with the nature of a head office, he tells Executive, and also results in a wider range of perspectives during discussions regarding operational issues. “You can see from the ideas that come up how [people from different places] think. For me, this is value-added,” says Zakaria. 

Integration of all this diversity under a single corporate culture is an important task.

The GPTWI Culture Audit of the PepsiCo organization in the UAE points out that newcomers to the team benefit from double mentoring by an assigned “functional on-boarding coach” and by a “culture coach.”     

Besides making the best of multiculturalism in its workforce, attracting local talent is “very important” for the organization and UAE talent has been responsive to competitively paid jobs that awarded them with opportunities to gain experience, Zakaria explains. “I can say that Emiratis whom we have been able to attract [are still with the company]; some of them have eight years with PepsiCo.” 

The company is actively developing its approach to universities in the UAE in order to attract more female and male graduates from the talent base found in the country. And in response to the results from the 2011 GPTWI surveys, the company has stepped up communications as well as employee recognition efforts.  

Other specificities of the culture at PepsiCo include flexibility in time and vacation management, transparency, an entrepreneurial spirit, low social barriers, and a family atmosphere. 

Some of these elements are found internationally in the organization; others were nurtured locally, creating subtle differences in the feeling one gets at PepsiCo in the UAE when compared with offices of the corporation elsewhere, according to Zakaria who quips, “Everybody here speaks the same language, English and PepsiCo.”

Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail