Why PepsiCo CEO wants bosses to "leave loudly"

Pepsi bottles are on display at a supermarket in Haverhill, Mass. PepsiCo reports financial results Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016.
Pepsi bottles are on display at a supermarket in Haverhill, Mass. PepsiCo reports financial results Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. AP Photo - Elise Amendola

EVERY day, Robbert Rietbroek asks his executive team to "leave loudly".

For the chief executive of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand, who joined the world's second-largest food company in 2015 from FMCG giant Kimberly-Clark, it's about sending a message to the entire company.

"'Leaders Leaving Loudly' is something we created to ensure that when team leaders leave, they feel comfortable doing so but also to declare it to the broader team," Mr Rietbroek said.

"So for instance, if I occasionally go at 4pm to pick up my daughters, I will make sure I tell the people around me, 'I'm going to pick up my children.' Because if it's okay for the boss, then it's okay for middle management and new hires."

Mr Rietbroek said the goal is to reduce "presenteeism", because if you are "younger or more junior, you need to be able to see your leaders go home, to be comfortable to leave". After-hours work emails are discouraged, although not banned. "We encourage our leaders to minimise emails after working hours and on weekend to absolutely necessary ones," he said.

Since joining PepsiCo, the father of two has been championing family-friendly, flexible work policies, as well as attempting to boost the number of women in senior management roles - currently at about 40 per cent. But he wants to challenge the perception that flexible working arrangements are "off limits" for men.

Mr Rietbroek said flexibility was very often "wrapped up in a stigma that it's about women". "We obviously started on the flexibility journey focused on our female employees, but as we were introducing the policies, our men were just as excited about them as our female leaders," he said.

"What I've learned over 16 years as a father of two children is that it's very difficult to balance work and family commitments. We're supportive of fathers who want to participate more fully in family life. I say to my team, 'I'd like you to be a hero at work, but I want you to be a hero at home. If you're only a hero at work, you're only doing half the job.'"

PepsiCo has introduced an 18-week parental leave policy, flexible start and finish times, early Friday afternoon finishes during summer, and an initiative dubbed "One Simple Thing", which means "you can choose one thing that's really important to you and build your work life around that".

"For our chief financial officer, it means every Friday morning he drops his daughter off at school and comes in a little later, say 10am," Mr Rietbroek said. "That is a very important thing to him - his daughter knows every Friday she can go to school with daddy. We respect that."

One manager in PepsiCo's procurement team does all the morning school drop-offs, so starts and finishes later, while an IT manager chooses to start earlier and finish earlier to help his wife with their newborn.

PepsiCo worldwide chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.
PepsiCo worldwide chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi. News Limited

The 'One Simple Thing' policy also extends to non-parents. PepsiCo's head of procurement for Australia and New Zealand is an avid surfer, and is given flexibility to take time off when the surf conditions are good.

"We allow him to catch the amazing waves," Mr Rietbroek said. "His entire team knows when he's not in the office he's catching waves, and he'll make it up on other days. He always meets his numbers. It's about trust - you've got to trust your team to do the right thing."

Mr Rietbroek added that he makes a point during conversations with staff to ask how he can help them in their personal lives. "First I ask about their business objectives, then personal," he said.

"I say, 'Is there anything I can help you with?' It might be [an older] parent needs support, or a child has swimming class on Thursday afternoon."

The PepsiCo CEO stresses that flexible working arrangements and business success go hand-in-hand. "Our group of companies [PepsiCo Beverages, The Smith's Snackfood Company and The Quaker Oats Company] is the number one contributor to grocery retail sales in Australia, the number one driver of growth for our retail partners," he said.

In the past two years, through flexible working and other policies, the company has managed to reduce its annual staff turnover from 12 per cent - the average for the FMCG industry - to 7 per cent. "It allows us to keep our talented men and women in the company, allows us to drive retention," he said.

"We are a very successful company and we also know flexibility works."

Topics:  editors picks pepsi pepsico

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