How millennials can spur innovation within legacy companies

Ahead of Innovation Enterprise's Chief Strategy Officer Summit, we spoke with Lucia Ponginebbi, VP, global R&D, snacks platform at PepsiCo


It's safe to say that large incumbents have a hard time staying fresh. Legacy systems, thousands of employees located across the globe, and a large and loyal customer base all mean that agility does not come as easily as it does for their newer, smaller competitors.

One way that many believe you can inject innovation into an organization is by hiring millennials to bring fresh perspective and energy into a business. One of these individuals is Lucia Ponginebbi, VP, global R&D, snacks platform at PepsiCo.

PepsiCo is the second largest food and beverage distributor in the world. It was formed in 1965 with the merger of the Pepsi-Cola Company and Frito-Lay, and today has a brand value of more than $10.5bn, according to Statista.

We spoke with Ponginebbi about how PepsiCo are utilizing a millennial workforce to inspire innovation within its established, global brand.

Innovation Enterprise: What are the pros and cons of hiring millennials?

Lucia Ponginebbi: Millennials, like other new generations, bring enthusiasm and perspectives that are shaped early by changes in culture and disruptive technology. They are dynamic, seek diverse experiences and can revitalize a stale environment. Millennials tend to be ambitious, motivated by principles and social engagement, and are attracted by companies that are cultural matches.

There are no cons in hiring millennials, as far as I am concerned. The perceived "cons" are experienced by companies that fail to effectively integrate multiple generations of workers consistently. Companies need to keep adapting in order to be a target employer, capable of attracting and retaining the best talent regardless of the generation with which they associate.

IE: Do you have any advice on hiring and retaining a millennial workforce?

LP: Retention of millennial and even the younger generations is being viewed differently than previous generations. This new generation of workers view their work as "skills for hire", which are lent to organizations, further developed, and can be expected to be lost to competing opportunities in the market place as they continue to look for new experiences.

What's becoming increasingly important is whether employers provide the right experience at the right time that will attract back those "skills for hire" at some point in the future. Retaining talent for the long term isn't as feasible as it once was; it's now about how might we continue to access them in the future. We need to provide employees with continuing learning, and make sure they are exposed to enriching experiences. Corporate culture is also an important factor, and the need to find a fit and corporate social responsibility definitely seems to be a factor.

PepsiCo, with our "Performance With Purpose" program, is an attractive company for new workforce generations.

IE: How can you maintain good innovation practices in such a well-known, far-reaching legacy company like PepsiCo?

LP: Our innovation practices need to evolve with the times, while retaining the non-negotiable quality standards that make us proud of our products and are expected by consumers. We need to stay in sync with the macro environment, and with changing consumer expectations and needs, and continue to instil a spirit of ownership and accountability at every level of the organization.

IE: What new technology is currently disrupting PespiCo's R&D strategy?

LP: We are already seeing disruption coming from e-commerce, AI, large data sourcing and customization. I expect that this will become more significant in the future and is something the traditional CPGs are getting ready for.

IE: Is there such a thing as being ready for disruption and what can incumbents do to avoid it?

LP: I believe that foresights, as opposed to insights, need to become a more common tool for innovation and transformation. There are also cultural aspects at play that allow companies to be fast enough and smart enough to learn from and respond to technologies and business models, so that they can disrupt in a sustainable way.

IE: What key insights can we expect from your presentation?

LP: I will describe the journey PepsiCo is embarking on, aiming at transforming the portfolio to be healthier and more sustainable, while still performing strongly in this changing environment.

Lucia Ponginebbi, VP, global R&D, snacks platform at PepsiCo is speaking at Innovation Enterprise's Chief Strategy Officer Summit in New York on December 6–7, 2018. See the full agenda and book your tickets HERE.

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