Purpose and Pepsico, A Personal Postscript

Early in 1986, with business school graduation a few months away, I was offered a marketing job with Frito Lay (division of Pepsico) at their headquarters in Dallas.  Pepsico was known for a particularly aggressive culture back then, but I don’t remember carrying other pre-conceptions as I flew down for a recruiting visit.

I don’t recall much about my day in the office, either. Pretty standard stuff. What I do remember is that the two Frito Lay fast trackers who took me out that night arrived at my hotel in a top down convertible clutching “roadies.” Strike one. The whole drinking and driving thing…

Then they took me to a nightclub that featured scantily-clad women dancing in cages above the crowd. Strike two. The whole women in cages thing…

The entire evening they spoke to me as if it were a given that I would be attracted to this kind of scene. Strike three. The whole “you have no idea who I am or what matters to me—and no interest in finding out” thing…

Not that it was a great loss to Frito Lay or Pepsico, but I chose to work elsewhere.

Today, of course, if I were a soon-to-be business school graduate with an offer from Pepsico, I would check out their web-site before my recruiting visit. I would see their emphasis on “Performance and Purpose” and examples throughout the pages.  And I would see their CEO, Indra Nooyi, speaking with great dignity, eloquence, and passion regarding Pepsico’s work in the world.

Who knows, maybe during my visit I would still be “treated” to a women-in-cages night out… I don’t think so. With double digit percentages of graduates from some Ivy League schools now applying to work for Teach for America, I think Pepsico knows that, today, organizational purpose works better than roadies, convertibles, and cages.

So, what if your company doesn’t know what Pepsico knows…?  Or hasn’t thought much about it? And what if a competitor in your industry gets the concept—or already has it? Are you more or less likely to attract the best talent? Build a great culture?

Just how do you plan to win in the years ahead? By outmaneuvering the competition? Or by inspiring high levels of commitment, creativity, and performance from talented people?

Which game do you want to be playing in the future?  What about now?