Turning Customer Focus Into Success

“Every morning you’ve got to wake up with a healthy fear that the world is changing, and a conviction that, to win, you have to change faster and be more agile than anyone else.”

I worked at PepsiCo in the early ’80s, and have always considered that experience the foundation of my career. I was a developer there at a time of amazing transformation at the company, moving from IBM mainframe to decentralized UNIX computers. It was impressive at that time, and seems like ancient history now!

Working at a Fortune 50 company, I learned many valuable lessons that I have built upon and utilize in my own business today – technical, supply chain, customer focus, vision and leadership. In this Harvard Business Review article, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi shares great insights into how and why Design Thinking has been implemented and the benefits that have been achieved.

“The rule used to be that you’d reinvent yourself once every seven to 10 years. Now it’s every two to three years. There’s constant reinvention: how you do business, how you deal with the customer?”

No surprise, the primary reason PepsiCo has achieved the financial success they have is because of their deep understanding and focus on their consumers. “I don’t know if consumers know what they want. But we can learn from them. We don’t sell products based on the manufacturing we have, but on how our target consumers can fall in love with them.”

To PepsiCo, it meant paying much greater attention to the entire user experience, visual, tactile, taste and more, requiring the company to rethink and redesign shape, packaging, form, and function. To give you better perspective as to what this means, think of their latest vending machines.

“We basically have a gigantic iPad on a futuristic machine that talks to you and invites you to interact with it. It tracks what you buy so that in the future, when you swipe your ID, it reminds you of the flavor combinations you tried last time and suggests new ones. It displays beautiful shots of the product, so when you add lime or cranberry, it actually shows those flavors being added—you experience the infusion of the flavor, as opposed to merely hitting a button and out comes the finished product.”

I have great admiration and respect for Indra Nooyi, for all of her professional achievements – and especially for her leadership. It certainly wasn’t easy but she had a clear vision and strategy, which I resonate strongly with and continues to execute it with great success.

“I had a choice. I could have gone pedal to the metal, stripped out costs, delivered strong profit for a few years, and then said adios. But that wouldn’t have yielded long-term success. So I articulated a strategy to the board focusing on the portfolio we needed to build, the muscles we needed to strengthen, the capabilities to develop. The board said, ‘We know there will be hiccups along the way, but you have our support, so go make it happen.’ We started to implement that strategy, and we’ve delivered great shareholder value while strengthening the company for the long term.”