Born and educated in Holland, Eugene Willemsen has lived in seven different countries during his career, and visited over 70 others. He has also now clocked up 27 years with PepsiCo in a variety of roles and still loves his job as much as ever.
“This may sound a bit cheesy, but for me, this really is like a dream come true,” Eugene, CEO of PepsiCo Africa, Middle East and South Asia (AMESA), shares. “AMESA is a fantastic geography with a lot of potential and it is a great team to work with. I really enjoy what I’m doing every single day.”
This is partly due to PepsiCo’s latest evolution, Eugene says.
“We want to be the leading food and beverage company in the markets where we operate by what we call ‘Winning with Purpose’,” he says.
“Recently we refined that down to ‘Winning with PepsiCo Positive’ or ‘Pep+’. Our mantra is to make our company ‘Faster, Stronger, Better’ through our strategic framework, underpinned by what we call the PepsiCo Way Behaviours.”
Those behaviours encompass putting customers first in everything they do, creating a culture where people really act and feel empowered to act as owners, raising the bar on talent, and diversity and integrity, which is key for Eugene.
“For me, integrity is the behaviour that ultimately underpins all the other ones,” he explains. “It’s really important that each of us, every single day, acts with integrity, so that we can all look at ourselves in the mirror once we’ve made decisions.”
It’s really important that each of us, every single day, acts with integrity, so that we can all look at ourselves in the mirror once we’ve made decisions.
Time for pep+
While the PepsiCo Way Behaviours aim to change the culture, Pep+ looks to change everything else the company touches.
“Pep+ for us is a strategy to completely transform the food system from the way that we grow the crops that we source, to how we produce and make those products, to ultimately how we sell them and how consumers can consume them and dispose of whatever is left, in terms of packaging material,” he says.
“It’s more than just a sustainability strategy. For us, it’s about transforming the food system end-to-end.”
That strategy involves working with more than 250,000 people in the agriculture supply chain, on about 25 different crops, from potatoes to sugar. PepsiCo has committed to scale regenerative agricultural practices across seven million acres, equivalent to its entire agricultural footprint – a massive undertaking it is set to deliver by 2030.
I’m now responsible for a team of 26,000 people across 74 markets that are very committed every single day to delivering to the best of their ability, but also to win in the marketplace.
Pep+ also involves becoming a net zero company by 2040, and water net positive by 2030, as well as minimising the amount of packaging used and maximising recycling practices – with some alternative business models that don’t use any single-use packaging at all.
The company also wants to guide consumers towards healthier choices, with a concerted effort to reduce added sugar, saturated fat and sodium, and increase the use of fruit, nuts and chickpeas.
On a day-to-day basis it’s a huge job for the company, and for Eugene personally.
“I’m now responsible for a team of 26,000 people across 74 markets that are very committed every single day to delivering to the best of their ability, but also to win in the marketplace.”
Faster, stronger, better
And so far in the AMESA region, it is winning.
“We serve 3.5 billion consumers and gained share in most of the markets and most of the categories in which we compete,” Eugene says proudly. “We’re also making very solid progress in making the company stronger in terms of the capabilities that we have, with a very specific focus on commercial capabilities.
“Precision selling, enabled by digital technologies, allows us to ensure that, wherever the consumer is looking for our products, we have the right range, displayed in the right format, in the right channels.”
Eugene’s team is also making progress in the areas of consumer-centricity, quality of marketing and reduction of water usage in territories such as Egypt, South Africa and Pakistan.
With this, the PepsiCo Foundation is doing some innovative charitable work with the program She Feeds the World, which is helping empower female farmers. There is also a development fund in South Africa helping to build agricultural and entrepreneurial skills in underprivileged areas.
I think the strategic framework is clear that we’re going to continue to focus on accelerating our growth, but also on building stronger capabilities within our organisation.
A golden opportunity
The upcoming months are particularly exciting for AMESA, with the COP27 being held in Egypt. Climate change impacts and its increasing vulnerability on food systems is felt even more so on the African continent.
“I believe that the ‘Africa COP’ presents a golden opportunity for us as a region to champion the climate change agenda by sharing best practices and driving concrete action that extends beyond the COP,” Eugene says. “I am proud of our marquee regenerative agriculture initiatives as well as food and water security programs in Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa that are transforming lives, making them stronger, better, healthier and empowered.
“With our plans to mobilise sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship, we believe that COP27 will serve as a key moment to lift up the region’s profile as a global leader in sustainability and green economic transformation.”
Over the next three-to-five years, Eugene expects the company to become “even faster, even stronger and even better”.
“I think the strategic framework is clear that we’re going to continue to focus on accelerating our growth, but also on building stronger capabilities within our organisation,” he says.
Not surprisingly, engagement scores are high and Eugene is proud of the culture at PepsiCo, along with the relationships that it fosters externally.
“I really think we have a great culture as a company. And as for our bottling partners, some of these relationships have lasted 70 years and in most cases, between 30-to-50 years.”
It feels like PepsiCo is a brand that has been with us forever, and Eugene doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.