As you head off from this semester to start your summer internship or first full-time job, you may be wondering how you can make a big impact at your company right out of the gate. Courtney Duncan, BHP Class of 2012, and Kent Hoffman, a 2012 University of Michigan grad, work for PepsiCo in Finance and Marketing, respectively. They took the time to share how they were able to bring bold thinking to PepsiCo in their first few years on the job through a unique program called Connect Tank.
What is Connect Tank (CT) and how did it get started?
Courtney: Connect Tank, started in 2014, is PepsiCo’s very own version of Shark Tank! For the past 5+ years, PepsiCo has sent employees down to the SXSW Interactive conference to gather ideas that could be applied to our business. After my second year of attending, I struggled to find a way to get some traction behind the innovative ideas brought back. My committee within our Connect Employee Resource Group (think student orgs for grown-ups) set out to fix that. After a brainstorming session, we came up with Connect Tank—an 8-week development program that allowed teams of employees to vet out a solution to a topic gathered from SXSW culminating in a show during which teams stepped into the tank to pitch their proposed solution to a panel of Sharks (cross-functional Senior Leaders) for funding.
Why were you excited to get involved with Connect Tank?
Kent: CT provided an opportunity to network with and learn from great leaders in every department at PepsiCo. But what most excited me about Connect Tank was that it was led by recent undergrads from a variety of schools and departments. We were a group of passionate people who said, “Let’s go do this,” and made it happen. It’s inspiring to work with a group of employees who have a strong drive for results and a desire to collaborate.
What impact did Connect Tank have on PepsiCo?
C: In our first year of the show, all four of the teams that pitched their ideas received funding for activations that ranged from revamping how we talk to consumers to how we predict demand during inclement weather. Beyond that, CT set the tone for the “Think Bold” cultural shift that Frito-Lay values as part of its plan to build for a great future. Big growth doesn’t come without big thinking, and Connect Tank allows employees to step out of their day-to-day role to do that. We’re excited to see how year two of CT turns out as it has set a precedent for analysts making a splash from day one.
K: My CT project team, all first or second year analysts, developed an employee advocacy platform, which was funded by our CMO, Ram Krishnan. The application enables passionate employees at PepsiCo to share content about new product launches and brand programs with their friends and family on social media. Since receiving funding, we’ve launched at Frito-Lay HQ and have begun rolling out into the broader Frito-Lay organization. We even had an opportunity to meet and present the idea to the CEO of Frito-Lay, Tom Greco.
What kind of impact can you have at PepsiCo in an entry level role?
C: You come across unique opportunities to take your ideas straight to the top. When I worked on the Innovation Finance team, I sat down in the CFO’s office to present a holiday product that had challenging margins. I came in to ask him how we should proceed, and he instead flipped the question on me and told me to decide. Our executives understand that analysts spend a lot of time in the data to get the full story, so analysts have a very valued perspective on where we should stand on a proposition.
Tell me a favorite story about your time working on Connect Tank.
K: One of our goals for Connect Tank was to generate broad awareness of the event and inspire employees at every level to think like entrepreneurs. The challenge was that we had to break routine to achieve this – schedules are busy, attention is scarce, and time is limited. We dressed up someone from our team in a shark costume and had him take photos with employees during lunch. Was it a bit silly? Of course. Did every employee leave the cafeteria that day knowing about CT? Yes, and it resulted in great attendance at our premiere.
What tips would you have for students starting their first internship or job?
K: Focus your energy, drive for results, learn constantly, and have some fun!
C: Don’t be afraid to ask questions to A) allow yourself to learn most quickly and B) poke holes in the system. That’s how you can find inefficiencies and drive for change within your role. Companies are looking to you to bring a unique perspective to the table, so make sure to deliver on that.
Courtney Duncan is currently a Finance Sr. Analyst on the Net Sales Finance team in the Texas/Oklahoma region. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 with a B.B.A. in Business Honors/Finance and a B.A. in Hispanic Studies.
Kent Hoffman is currently a Marketing Sr. Analyst on the Lay’s Brand team. He graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2012 with a B.B.A. in Business Administration, concentration in Marketing.
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