*At the time of this interview, Andrew was the CFO of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand
You started your career at J.P. Morgan in Investment Banking. Did you know going into business school that you wanted to shift into consulting? How would you compare the two environments?
When I went to business school, I was really thinking that private equity was where I wanted to go. I figured it would leverage my corporate finance background but get me “into the game” of investing in companies and managing companies operationally. But when I was exposed to consulting, I realized it was the perfect place to get a breadth of strategic and operational casework that would prepare me for the future, whether that future involved private equity, corporate, or something entrepreneurial. I didn’t have a grand plan, but when I was in business school I felt that consulting was the best development experience. And one which would subsequently expand my future options set.
Banking and consulting are similar in that both involve collaboration with the highest levels of leadership to address and solve big challenges, and both are quite fast-paced. But they are quite different in terms of the learning experience and the culture. Banking allowed me to develop a very deep and narrow focus in corporate finance and M&A transactions, and it helped build important functional skills in valuation, modeling, and managing transactions. Consulting kind of flipped that on its axis. It was a much broader experience, with a periodic spike down into different areas. It offered exposure to different industries as well as different kinds of strategic, organizational, and operational business challenges and opportunities.
As far as culture, the banking experience required a seven-days-a-week mindset where you really had to pay your dues. In consulting, there was an acknowledgment that you were going to travel and work very hard during the week, but you were going to do your best to protect those weekends. I found that consulting had a better work-life balance and a greater focus on development.
Talk to us about the Sustainability Initiative – a multi-year research collaboration you led with MIT during your time as a Principal at BCG. What was involved, and did the experience provide any upside in terms of differentiation from your class (either in consulting or in interviews)?
The Sustainability Initiative was a unique opportunity to work with world-class organizations on an immensely important topic. It is now a foundational partnership between BCG and MIT, and the objective was to establish an online knowledge hub that would showcase research and create a conversation around the intersection of business and sustainability. We worked to answer the question “What is sustainability?” primarily in terms of its implications for management. That was exciting. And certainly, sustainability is on the C-suite agenda at most large companies.
It was largely a fully-dedicated project. I had the good fortune of getting some interesting strategy work in renewable energy, so I had worked with our Energy & Environment practice area leaders, as well as our Global Strategy Institute leader. As a result, I was fully dedicated to the project for a period. It was great to partner with a world-class university like MIT and in this case the Sloan Management Review, and to do a project that had a broader management and social impact scope to it.
It was a particularly great chance to connect with thought leaders and think through the tough challenges of how you balance the short-term and the long-term. And I think it did differentiate my consulting experience and provided a very compelling critical experience to talk about in my interview process.
After 5 years at BCG, you left the firm after one year at the Principal level to join PepsiCo as Senior Director of M&A for their Frito-Lay business. When we called to recruit you, did you know you wanted to leave consulting (were you on transition)? What made you choose that particular role?
Yes, I had already made a conscious choice to leave consulting. I was a Principal in the firm, and while I had enjoyed incredible experiences and development, I didn’t want to be a long-term consultant. I really wanted to get into a managerial role. Raines International actually contacted me on the back end of my transition horizon, which was good timing.
I chose that particular opportunity not because of the specific role, but because of the career trajectory that was being positioned for me. It was really about the theme of mobility: global mobility, long-term upward mobility, and functional mobility – the chance to work across the finance function in a range of strategic and operational roles. I felt that PepsiCo really offered a compelling differentiated opportunity on the mobility front. And I looked inside the company and found that there were a lot of folks that had backgrounds similar to mine, and I could see myself succeeding in that environment.
When considering external opportunities (and having watched many colleagues move into different roles), some consultants get caught up on the cosmetics of a role rather than the substance (i.e. “I will only look at SVP roles” or “I have to have a team of 5+ people”). Having had a fantastic trajectory at PepsiCo, what do you think are the right questions consultants should ask when weighing their first post-consulting opportunity?
I think the best thing to do is to get testimonials from senior executives in terms of their own careers. And those will differ. Certainly, within PepsiCo, there is no one set pathway. For consultants and bankers who are accustomed to very timeline-oriented, milestone-driven and structured trajectories, it may be difficult to let go of that when you go into large, global organizations. But you can get insight into how the senior executives have spent their time and the critical experiences gained.
When you look across PepsiCo, you find that no one size fits all. Some CFOs will have followed a very functional path, going through maybe commercial finance and operating finance, and perhaps working in strategy and M&A. Others might have actually done some cross-functional roles, or led big global transformation projects, or had a GM role. I think it’s important to meet with a lot of senior executives when you’re looking at joining a firm so that you can understand the culture and the career opportunities. Get a sense of how they got to where they are, and glean insights into what that might imply for your own career development and career management.
After joining PepsiCo as Senior Director of M&A, you then moved to Switzerland to serve as Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development for PepsiCo Europe. You had studied abroad in Switzerland – had it been part of your plan to return at some point, or at least to take on an international role? How did you get that particular opportunity?
The opportunity broadly to join PepsiCo was presented to me as a Global Finance CFO career path. When I learned about the role, I had a job offer in Australia and was a finalist for another role in the UK, so I made it quite clear that international experience was a top priority. The specific role at PepsiCo happened to be in Dallas where I was located and happened to be in an area of strategy and M&A, which matched my background. And it was imminent in the sense that the person I backfilled was moving on. So they asked that I stay in that role for two years before starting my international career journey and that pretty much worked out according to plan. We then moved the family to Geneva.
Once you got to Switzerland, was there any guarantee of what your next move would be? How have you proactively managed your career? How do you stay on the radar and ensure progression?
There was no well-defined plan, just a general intent to get me into an operating CFO role. To proactively manage your career in a large organization, you have to create both the push and pull. The “push” means developing mentors and sponsors at the senior executive level who will actively champion your career to others so that you have advocates in the room when the annual people planning meetings take place. And you do that by developing relationships and by doing great work with senior leaders, not just your own manager but others.
You then have to create the “pull,” which means that as opportunities start to present themselves, you need to spend time with those folks and go through the courtship process. For example, the opportunity to move to Australia was unexpected. I was fortunate to have created the push conditions, and the next element was to create the pull conditions through a series of meetings in New York and video conferences in Sydney. I got to know the senior leadership of PepsiCo Australia & New Zealand, as well as some of the regional leadership in our Asia Pacific office in Hong Kong. There isn’t always a well-defined path in a large corporation. You really have to proactively manage it.
Having advised many large corporations as clients, some consultants are very wary of the big companies due to their pace, the layers leading up to the CEO, etc. What advantages do you think there are to starting your post consulting career at a larger corporation?
The great thing about working in a large company is the opportunity to work on both local and global projects, which gives you exposure to a diverse set of experiences and senior leaders. Most consultants who come into a company like PepsiCo do so either at the corporate level or at the strategy level within a business unit. There will be linkages between the corporate level and the other layers of the organization. The way to get into those linkages is by working on large global projects or having an opportunity to raise the visibility of projects that you’re working on with audiences at headquarters – whether that’s New York headquarters or international headquarters like in Geneva or Dubai. Throughout that process, you build relationships and hopefully position yourself favorably in the eyes of senior leaders. There are also global training programs that can help provide visibility. You do have to actively seek that out to a degree, but I think at big companies there is ample opportunity for that.
What is your ideal career path from this point forward?
For me, mobility has been the most important theme. I think you have to look at your career as a series of differentiated critical experiences. When you get to each next step, particularly in a company like PepsiCo, a flexible mindset will expand your opportunity set. The key questions when the opportunity arises are “Is this experience going to stretch and develop my skills?” and “Is this going to be rewarding in terms of the elements that are important to me as an individual?” I would say that generally I am on a global finance path, and would expect to continue to do CFO roles, but there is not really an ideal or fixed path.