Editor's Plate: The USA Could Use a Woman's Touch

Feb. 6, 2014
Whether or not it’s the work of Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s generosity shows a heart and soul we all should emulate.

What our cover hints at and our cover story explores are the roles seven strong women play in shaping the food and beverage industry. And, where we could get at the subject, the uniquely feminine contributions they make to their companies and the industry.

We don’t mean to overemphasize that last point. None of them is hosting a bake sale to pump up corporate profits or tidying up the board room after a meeting. But there are a couple of examples of these executive women taking corporate social responsibility a little further than I suspect a male executive would.

For instance, many companies publish corporate social responsibility reports these days and proudly point to pet projects, although rarely any in foreign lands. But PepsiCo’s “Performance With Purpose” philosophical statement, which dates back to 2007, sounds to me like it was written by a woman, if not by Indra Nooyi herself. While it promises to deliver financial performance first – but only briefly – the philosophy says PepsiCo will succeed by “providing a wide range of foods and beverages, from treats to healthy eats; finding innovative ways to minimize our impact on the environment and lower our costs through energy and water conservation, as well as reduced use of packaging material; providing a safe and inclusive workplace for our employees globally; and respecting, supporting and investing in the local communities in which we operate.”

The statement is a lovely and sensible and shows that even a $65 billion behemoth can have a heart and a soul. PepsiCo unquestionably has enjoyed success, as many food and beverage companies have, but PepsiCo wants to share the wealth with the whole world.

It also says Performance with Purpose is built on three pillars:

  • Human Sustainability
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Talent Sustainability

And how are Ms. Nooyi and her company rewarded for their efforts? Last year, she had to fend off the public call for the split of the company by investor Nelson Peltz, whose investment firm Trian Fund Management owns 12 million shares of PepsiCo. Apparently PepsiCo’s $65 billion in sales and $6 billion in profit weren’t good enough to make Peltz an even wealthier man. He called PepsiCo’s namesake beverage business a dog.

I’m not aware of any corporate responsibility report from Trian Fund. Perhaps Peltz was after the $600 million PepsiCo and its foundation has wasted since 2005 in donations to nonprofit agencies working to improve environmental, educational, civic, arts and health & human services projects.

Which brings me to the current schism in our society.

Now that we’ve climbed out of the recession, a lot of people  seem to be reflecting on how fairly the wealth is being spread. National healthcare remains the new law of the land, computer glitches and all, but many stubbornly oppose it. Even in recovery, too many people remain unemployed. And for those that have the lowest-paying jobs, there are calls for raising the minimum wage. (In addition to the added spending power of these $10-an-hour employees, they may be able to give up their second and third part-time jobs, making room for the unemployment and taking people off the welfare rolls.)

The U.S. undeniably is a success, too, and needs to share its abundant wealth – certainly with its own people and even with the less fortunate of the world.

A nod to ADM

Back in November on this page I railed about Archer Daniels Midland and every other company looking for government handouts to merely stay put, to not move some jobs or operations to another state, rather than create them. Two positive things happened since then.

ADM is moving its corporate headquarters out of homey but isolated Decatur, Ill., to suburban Chicago – a logical move that keeps ADM in the state of Illinois. And ADM is doing it without the $30 million in incentives or tax breaks it was looking for. The Illinois Senate crafted some kind of incentive package, but it stalled in the House of Representatives late last year. Regardless, ADM said it remains committed to Illinois … just not to the three-hour drive from O’Hare Airport to Decatur. So kudos to ADM for doing the right thing for the right reasons.

In an even bigger Christmas miracle, the Illinois legislators, under threat of having paychecks withhheld by the governor, passed pension reform that, if it holds up, means our state is not $100 billion in debt and the worst in the country. I used that debt as one more reason not to give a handout to ADM and other companies.

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