Christian Alaimo is the Assistant Marketing Manager for Gatorade at PepsiCo Canada. He graduated from The Queen’s School of Business in 2015.
“Routine is the enemy of time”
This quote used to scare the living daylights out of me as a student. I remember looking forward to the corporate world with a strong sense of uncertainty and intimidation. In full honesty, I was terrified of the “real world”. I never wanted to be the person who woke up every day to the same alarm, ate the same thing for breakfast, and pulled into the same parking lot for the ‘daily grind’. I’ve now been in the “real world” for 15 months as an Assistant Marketing Manager for PepsiCo and here’s the reality check: The “Real World” is an AMAZING place and “the best years of your life” are undoubtedly ahead of you. Of course, university memories are irreplaceable but trust me when I say: The next chapter is filled with incredible experiences.
When I was planning my career path I came up with 3 criteria that were important to me:
- Learning as much as I possibly can
- Having an opportunity to make a legitimate impact early in my career
- Being surrounded by smart, motivated people who I genuinely want to spend time with every day.
Of course, other factors come into play but these 3 elements were leaps and bounds ahead of everything else. Given that you’re reading this article, at this point, you’re probably wondering what I actually do on a daily basis and why my personal selection criteria are important to this article. The reality is that no day for me is the same. There is no consistent routine and there is no fixed structure. Instead of explaining a hypothetical day, let me walk you through a summary of what I’ve done during my 15 months at PepsiCo and how this experience has stacked up against my criteria.
LEARNING & CRITICAL EXPERIENCES:
One of the main reasons why I was attracted to PepsiCo in the first place was because it’s a global leader and has some of the biggest brands in the world. As a 22 year-old new grad I had the opportunity to work as one of 4 members on the Canadian marketing team for Gatorade, a Global billion dollar iconic brand. For context, our entire brand marketing team consists of a Director, Marketing Manager, Associate Marketing Manager, and an Assistant Marketing Manager (me). This means that 4 people cover the entire scope of all of Gatorade’s brand marketing in Canada. One of the best parts about working in marketing at PepsiCo is that we get the best of both worlds – the ability to own the Canadian brand strategy and execution and draw on Global resources to strengthen and amplify those plans, while always keeping the Canadian consumer at the core of everything we do. PepsiCo treats Canada as a unique market that is differentiated from the US and other Global markets. This means that as Canadian brand owners, we have ownership of the Canadian marketing strategy, innovation, and communications.
As a new grad, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to learn and develop. Within 6 months of graduating, I was leading Gatorade’s Protein & E-Commerce platforms, consumer analytics, managing the brand A&M budget, and managing the Foodservice channel while continuing support across several other projects. Needless to say, PepsiCo has put me in a position to learn at a rapid pace with robust and challenging projects . The range in projects is the reason why each day is different. Some days will be spent in meetings, discussing strategic plans with cross-functional partners in finance, sales strategy, or supply chain. Other days will be spend analyzing complex data in AC Nielsen, digging for insights to help guide decision-making or explain market trends.
When I was in second year I had a chance to speak to a senior leader at a global CPG and he told me: “to be a successful marketer you need to master 2 skills above all else: Cross-Functional Leadership and Consumer Analytics”. When I first started at PepsiCo I had next to no experience with either. In my first 6 months I was given opportunities to dive into these areas and build these skillsets with the support and coaching of my manager and team. In the months that have since followed I’ve been put in increasingly challenging situations and have been empowered to lead decision-making and grow as a cross-functional leader and analytical thinker. Of course, I have a long way to go before being an “expert” in any of these fields, but as I look back on where I was when I first started, it’s absolutely shocking how much I’ve learned in a short period of time and how much trust the organization has put in me as a new grad to learn through experience and in many cases, learn through failure…something many companies are resistant to.
MAKING AN IMPACT
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re an ambitious individual which means you don’t want to spend the first few years out of school “paying your dues” before you get to make an impact. Personally, the biggest motivators for me are 1) tangible progress (learning as mentioned above) and 2) Delivering impact & results. As mentioned above, as a student I was afraid of this concept of “paying my dues” and simply waiting several years before I was senior enough that the company trusted me to make an impact. Thankfully, PepsiCo couldn’t be further on the other side of the spectrum. I am consistently shocked with the empowerment that PepsiCo’s senior leaders provide to junior employees. Myself and my marketing peers all operate in small teams working on big brands. As a result, we are constantly trusted with decision-making power. From developing the strategy behind entirely new products and platforms to analyzing trends and building strategic implications, the level of ownership and responsibility given to myself and my peers is empowering. A good example of this happened this past month. A few weeks ago, our team was in the process of building our plans for 2017. As a result of unforeseen circumstances, two members of our team had booked vacation on the week leading up to and the week of the presentation of our plans. Instead of postponing the presentation so that our entire team could work on and present the plans, I was given the opportunity to work directly with my Director and present critical elements of our 2017 plans to the PepsiCo Beverages President and the Senior Leadership Team. Following the presentation, my Director sat me down in her office and offered me an opportunity to present our 2017 plans the following week to our entire sales team – a group of over 200 sales leaders from across the country flying in for a 3-day conference. Candidly, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that I was being given a chance to present on such an enormous stage so early in my career. I mean, let’s face it, it takes an enormous amount of trust from the organization to let a 23 year-old, with barely one year of experience, present in front of the sales leaders of the company and the Senior Leadership Team. Time and time again, PepsiCo continues to place trust in the junior members of the organization and needless to say, this trust results in incredible experiences and accelerated development.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART – THE PEOPLE
The truth about joining the professional workforce is that you spend a significant amount of time in the office. The people you work with quite literally see you more than almost anyone else in your life. It goes without saying that your coworkers and company culture are some of the most critical drivers of your overall happiness, yet alone your job satisfaction. I could talk for a long time about the values of PepsiCo and how great it is to work for an organization that truly focuses on the impact it has on the global economy but I think the most important thing to talk about is the amazing people I have a chance to work with. People at PepsiCo work hard, the entire company is swimming with ambitious individuals driven to make an impact on the company and on the world we live in. But what sets PepsiCo apart is HOW our people achieve their goals. There are two expressions I hear frequently around the office “doing things the right way” and “taking others with you”. These phrases may sound like corporate jargon to you, but they are truly embodied by everyone I work with. Results are important, but how you get the results is equally as important. PepsiCo has a culture of mentorship, coaching and support. The people I work with genuinely go above and beyond to support one another. As someone who grew up playing competitive team sports, I can honestly say that working at PepsiCo is the closest resemblance to a sports team I’ve experienced since my playing days. Everyone looks out for each other and is driving toward a common goal. Everyone takes their work seriously but not themselves too seriously. Birthdays mean desk pranks, marquee events mean office competitions, and hard work is always rewarded with proper celebration. The people I work with are incredible and although I learn a ridiculous amount from my project list and my experiences, I learn far more from the people I am surrounded by each and every day.
Now, I’d love to tell you that I’m the outlier; That I’ve experienced amazing things and learned at an accelerated rate just because I’m on an awesome brand like Gatorade… but that isn’t the case. My fellow recent grads in the department have each had amazing opportunities to work on mega-brands like Pepsi and Tropicana or emerging brands like Pure Leaf & Naked that are evolving and driving developing categories. Each PepsiCo new grad will tell you the same thing: it’s amazing how empowered we are to drive real impact on our businesses.
THE WRAP UP
When I reflect on my first 15 months at PepsiCo, it’s nothing like I was told the “real world” would be. Sure, some days are more stressful than others but I’m never looking down at my watch counting down the hours. Challenges occur frequently, but also lead to proud accomplishments and personal growth. My colleagues aren’t just co-workers, they’re friends I hang out with inside and outside of the office.
When I look back at University, my fondest memories can be grouped into two categories: personal achievements and great times with my pals. In full honesty, my memories at PepsiCo aren’t much different. In my first 15 months here I’ve been put in a position to learn so much and experience proud accomplishments. I’ve met incredible people and shared amazing moments.
My one piece of advice is to identify what is important to you. Spend time understanding what makes you tick and find a company that fits that criteria. Most importantly, talk to the people who work there and be authentic. Find a company with people you want to be around and learn from – a company with values that align with yours. The people who complain about the “daily grind” are those who have followed a certain career path for the wrong reasons. Be true to yourself, identify what is important to you, and understand that companies are defined by their people.
Each and every day I get to come to work to make an impact on an iconic brand. I get to share my opinions, design strategies, and learn from some of the most talented people in the industry. My daily focus is on developing as a professional and as a person while enjoying the journey at hand and appreciating an opportunity to work with amazing people.
Routine certainly is the enemy of time, but good people, purposeful work, and constant progress will always trump the “daily grind.”