PepsiCo taps company veteran as CEO for North American foods
- Steven Williams, senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Frito-Lay's U.S. operations, will serve as the new CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America, the company announced in a release. The role includes oversight of both Frito-Lay North America and Quaker Foods North America.
- Williams will replace Vivek Sankaran, who is leaving PepsiCo on April 12, to join Albertsons as president and CEO. Sankaran had been CEO of North American foods since December. Before that, he was Frito-Lay North America's president and COO, and CCO for PepsiCo.
- Pepsi Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said in a release that Williams' appointment is a testament to the company's "strong bench of talent." "He has deep knowledge of the industry and our business, and we will greatly benefit from his inspirational leadership, broad customer knowledge, intimacy with consumer trends, and experience developing talent as we build on our already strong foundation," he said.
This is a relatively new position for the company since PepsiCo just recently split its North American leadership between food and beverage. But Williams' experience with the company could help shape the position. He joined PepsiCo in 2001 after the company bought Quaker Oats, where he had worked since 1997. With the larger company, he led Frito-Lay's consumer, field and food service sales teams, overseeing more than 29,000 employees, the company said.
Williams also brings business and sales experience as vice president for the Eastern Division of Frito-Lay, as global senior vice president of PepsiCo's Walmart business, and head of sales for a number of PepsiCo's largest food and beverage brands.
With that combination of practical experience with both Quaker and Frito-Lay, Williams would seem to be a solid choice for the leadership role. As consumers lean toward more snacking, the company's Frito-Lay division has racked up sales and pushed into new areas through acquisitions and more innovative products.
Williams' background working with PepsiCo customers and staff could come in handy as the company positions itself for additional growth and attempts to gain market share from its competitors. He may also be called upon to oversee bigger changes should PepsiCo decide to spin off its Quaker brand.
Williams was in a leadership role during some of Frito-Lay's recent innovations, including its popular 2017 Cheetos pop-up restaurant promotion serving menu items containing the snack. He has been senior vice president of sales for Tropicana, Quaker, Gatorade and Naked Emerging Brands. Williams also has established relationships with Walmart, the world's largest retailer. All of this experience is likely to be an asset going forward for PepsiCo's snacks business.
Under relatively new CEO Laguarta, Pepsi has been shifting its executive positions — largely preferring company veterans. Last month, he created a chief commercial officer position and tapped Laxman Narasimhan, who's been with the company since 2012. According to Fortune, Narasimhan has been leading the company’s operations in Latin America, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. He will oversee marketing, research and development, strategy and e-commerce "at a time when the company grapples with changing tastes and economic uncertainty that have created challenges for consumer companies."
Like other legacy CPG companies, PepsiCo is undergoing shifts in direction and strategy as consumers increasingly demand healthier foods, innovative snacks and transparent labels. Among other moves, it has responded by acquiring better-for-you brands, launching an accelerator program for startups, and introducing "snackbots" to automate delivery its products on college campuses. If Williams can help the brand adjust and shift to the future of snacking, then this promotion could be lucrative.