Big Interview

Dannii Portsmouth,

CHRO, PepsiCo Europe

A new role in a long-established brand gives Dannii Portsmouth new challenges – she shares her HR story as well as the theory behind the concept of ‘bleeding blue’ – PepsiCo brand loyalty

Interview by Jenny Holliday

Pepsi has just celebrated 125 years – and is a worldwide brand with a huge workforce, many of whom are customer-facing. Juggling the different cultures and people as well as looking to the future is the challenge for the new CHRO PepsiCo Europe, Dannii Portsmouth.

Tell us about your role at PepsiCo?

It's honestly my privilege to be in this role! The role itself is taking care of the people agenda across our European geographies. We have more than 40,000 associates in Europe across more than fifty countries, and fifty percent of those are associates in frontline roles, so it's really a fantastic tapestry of different cultures, different people and different needs that we're trying to bring together under one employee experience.

One part of my role is leading the HR function for Europe, which of course is dispersed across that geography; and it’s also being a senior leader, supporting our CEO and his direct reports on the culture and tone we want to set as leaders. We are always looking to make sure our leadership shadow is right. I also work on the people agenda and what we want it to be for PepsiCo.

While we know we’re a big organisation, we were tiny when we started, and we’re still pushing and challenging

What can you share about working for such an established brand?

We just celebrated 125 years of the Pepsi brand and it started with one guy and a recipe, so while we know we’re a big organisation, we were tiny when we started, and we’re still pushing and challenging. We have that entrepreneurial mindset across the organisation. What’s great for me about PepsiCo is working with individuals for the greater good, always trying to get the balance right between allowing a lot of freedom within a framework and doing the right thing for the enterprise. It’s a balance but that’s what makes it very exciting and empowering. With PepsiCo there’s a huge international element, and you find out that what works in the US might not necessarily work in Kuala Lumpur, or in India, so you need to be really thoughtful about consistency but also allowing some freedom.

What’s your journey to working in HR?

I started from an educational background in business and finance, and with a business degree had some insight into what HR is. I had the benefit of joining a modern apprenticeship and had the ability to try different functions and my first seat was in HR. People really fascinate me, why they do the things they do, and how you can truly help them thrive by focusing on their unique talents.  So, I knew then that HR was the career for me.

Do you find yourself being brand loyal?

My son actually says, ‘we don’t drink that brand!’ if someone brings a non-Pepsi brand to the house. For me, this is about when you create an environment that allows people to be who they are and allows them to thrive, what you create is unsurpassed. So actually, I think you find you'd be hard pushed to find somebody who works for PepsiCo eating or drinking a different brand. It’s been called ‘bleeding blue’ – opting out rather than having another brand than Pepsi. It’s not ‘loyalty’ to Pepsi, it’s a real belief in what we're creating and that's supported by the PepsiCo Positive agenda which is about our end-to-end business transformation. It means we truly have people and planet at the heart of what we’re doing and that starts with our employees. You see that passion shining from their eyes, and it’s really wonderful because people feel part of what we’re trying to create.

When you can touch and feel the product and you can talk with pride and with passion about what you’re trying to do for the people on the planet as well as with the product itself. I believe that we proved that through COVID – our employee engagement went up. People remember how you made them feel and I think we did a tremendous job of taking care of our people.

The challenge is how to continue enabling our employees to have skills that enable them to be fit for the future. Also, how do we really enable social mobility?

What are the challenges for you, working in HR at PepsiCo?

What we're always challenging ourselves on is ‘how do you do things that really impact the individual at the end of the line?’. We know we are very committed to doing the right thing by our farmers, our customers and by our consumers, but it's got to start at ‘home’.

The challenge is how to continue enabling our employees to have skills that enable them to be fit for the future. Also, how do we really enable social mobility – with fifty percent of our workforce in Europe working in frontline roles, how do we help those associates to meet their aspirations?

I talked earlier about belonging, and how are we truly creating that because it's easy to say but it's difficult to do. We need to ask, ‘how are we focusing on the right role modelling behaviour from our leaders?’ and adding the right frameworks to get our workforce from across the geographies that we serve.

That’s what we're in the business of doing and we’ve got tremendous results in terms of people coming to PepsiCo and staying. Our challenge is how do we really make sure we’re feeding our talent pipeline early from the broadest communities across gender, ethnic diversity and also backgrounds. Then it’s about seeing how we can create an environment where you've got people that think differently, where they can say that they think differently, and you know you’ve got the right level of tension in the system.


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