Former PepsiCo CEO, and current dean of business at Wake Forest University, Steven Reinemund admits he was in right place at the right time when it comes to career advancement. He joined companies with growth potential, and most importantly, was willing to start at the bottom. As part of the ‘How I Got Here’ series, Bloomberg Businessweek writer Sommer Saadi spoke to Reinemund about his career trajectory and how he went from earning an hourly wage at a fast-food restaurant to leading a Fortune 500 company. What follows is the story of Reinemund’s career progression in his own words.
During the two years of business school, I got a pretty good sense of what I wanted to do. I didn’t choose to follow a “hip pocket” skill. Instead, I took a general management approach and decided I wanted to run businesses.
—United States Marine Corps, captain, 1970-75
—IBM, sales representative, data processing division, 1975
—Marriott, Roy Rogers division, various roles, 1978-84
I entered into the program that Bill Marriott developed. I was in the first class he hired. His goal was to bring in MBA students willing to start at the bottom of line operations and work through every level, so when they reached a leadership position they understood how everything operated.
My first job was as an hourly employee at Roy Rogers. Those two years of frontline experience were some of the most important of my professional career, as important as the MBA itself. Those jobs can be brutal on people’s lives, and if you don’t understand that, it’s difficult to lead that kind of organization.
—PepsiCo, Pizza Hut division, senior vice president of operations, 1984-86
Marriott decided to get out of the restaurant business, so I began looking for other opportunities. In both positions [Roy Rogers and Pizza Hut] I was concerned with improving the frontline experience of the customer. My first challenge [at Pizza Hut] was trying to reduce the turnover of district managers. Putting a plan in place to do that without seeing those people every day was a challenge.
—PepsiCo, Pizza Hut division, president and CEO 1986-91
—PepsiCo, Pizza Hut Worldwide, president and CEO, 1991-92
I didn’t expect to get this position. As is often the case, most of the good and bad things that happen aren’t what you expect. I think my passion to grow the delivery business probably played a role in why that decision was made.
—PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, head of snack division, 1992-96
When I was asked to do this job, I was surprised, because it was a different business than I was used to. This was an opportunity to run a bigger business. In both positions the objective was the same: to grow. At Pizza Hut we transformed the business from just a pizza restaurant to a multidimensional delivery business. At Frito-Lay we also tried to take it to the next level by branching into health and wellness products—Baked Lays, Baked Tostitos, taking fat out of pretzels. It propelled the growth of the company.
—PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, chairman and CEO, 1996-99
—PepsiCo, president and chief operating officer, 1999-2001
—PepsiCo, CEO, 2001-06; Chairman, 2006-07
In previous roles, I was managing a team to execute a particular business objective. As CEO of PepsiCo, I was responsible for all divisions and worked with general managers who then worked with teams instead of running a business myself. This was the biggest transformation for me as a leader, moving from Frito-Lay to the CEO of Pepsi. I was no longer leading an operating team against a growth vision, I was leading general managers and helping them execute and grow their own respective businesses.
My family moved to New York in the second year of my COO job. I had two kids in elementary school. The move didn’t work for the family, so after a few years we moved back to Dallas and I commuted to New York. After doing that for a while, we decided the commute wasn’t working. That’s when I decided to retire.
—Wake Forest University, dean of business, 2008-present
I wanted to give back in the second half of my life. This was a way [I could] help young people figure out how to take their successes and desires and marry them into a meaningful business career.
If you take a job just because you want to use that job to get to the next job, you’re going to be unhappy, and everyone around is going to be unhappy. There are so many factors that determine whether you’ll get the next job, you need to be in a job you enjoy with a company you respect.