The Legalities of International Success

PepsiCo’s Marjorie De La Cruz employs Latin charm, diplomacy, and a zest for knowledge to reach the top

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Marjorie De La Cruz, SVP and Chief Global Counsel Global Groups, PepsiCo

Marjorie De La Cruz doesn’t have difficulty explaining the cultural differences that make negotiating deals in Latin America unique. All she has to do is emulate the ways her mother dealt with her father while De La Cruz was growing up.

“If you understand Latin cultures, you understand that a heavy-handed, pounding-on-the-table, often very North American style is not very effective in Latin America, particularly as a woman,” says De La Cruz, SVP and chief counsel, global groups for PepsiCo. “To counsel and give good advice in that part of the world, some charm needs to be involved.”

Charm, the ability to speak the language, and the ability to translate the dynamics and nuances between cultures all came into play as De La Cruz worked her way up the ranks in PepsiCo’s legal department. She started as a corporate generalist supporting the Latin American beverages business in 2004. Four years later, she  was in a VP role for food and beverages—it was a similar role, but expanding geography. By 2011, De la Cruz was bringing a deep pool of international experience to the table. “When you’re a corporate generalist attorney, you tend to do soup to nuts,” she explains. “There might be a tax audit, or a governmental inquiry, or even a certain level of government affairs you have to do. By 2011, my goals were to expand and grow, not to stay pigeon-holed.”

The year 2011 also happened to be the year she became pregnant with twins. Blessed with a boss who was the parent of twins himself, and who appreciated that she wouldn’t be able to sit on a plane all the time, De La Cruz’s role at PepsiCo shifted to a North American focus as she became the legal VP for all marketing matters related to its US beverages business.

To say her shift to marketing came at an interesting time is an understatement; it coincided both with the start of an evolving consumer landscape and a deep involvement with sports leagues such as the NFL and Major League Baseball. Furthermore, the focus on portfolio transformation and “the PepsiCo of the future” resulted in a transition to creating the better-for-you products that consumers desire while keeping their food and beverage options plentiful too.

“We know how to execute and sell our products really well,” De La Cruz says of the company’s ongoing global success, even during such challenging times. “It’s a very entrepreneurial, from-the-ground-up culture. We are very connected with what our customers want and like, and we adapt our products for that.”

In fact, De La Cruz has done some adapting herself during her tenure at PepsiCo—particularly in relation to what she’s learned along the way about being patient, choosing battles, and staking claims. She cites something a former boss once told her—about developing a “modicum of comfort” with others taking credit for her work. She considers it one the most important skills she’s cultivated. “When you position yourself as someone that gets things done—that’s something of a gravitational force—you become that much more valuable,” she says. “It becomes less about getting the credit, and more about knowing your place in the stratosphere.”

Getting to know marketing processes in that role provided some of her most valuable learning tools to date, as De La Cruz was thrust into more of a gatekeeper role than ever before. “It was a fascinating exercise because as you’re developing these thresholds for policy guidance, you really have this tension between different perspectives,” she says. “From the cultural perspective, socioeconomic perspective, generational… We haven’t got it down perfectly, but at least we’re having conversations more holistically around approving certain types of marketing materials from each experience.”

In 2014, De La Cruz was promoted to senior VP counsel for global groups and global functions, which once again put her in the international hot seat as she worked with then PepsiCo president Zein Abdalla  in developing responsibility from a legal perspective for global marketing initiatives for all PepsiCo food and beverages. The knowledge needed for this new role includes IT and all cybersecurity matters, as well as global procurement, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, and global operations as handled by the  headquarter legal team.

And the interesting challenges continue to arise for De La Cruz—quite literally, in fact—with PepsiCo’s recent updating of the Pepsi Challenge. The classic consumer taste test has been supplanted by the request for Pepsi drinkers worldwide to present challenges to themselves, or their communities, in exchange for unique prizes. She likens the Challenge to their Doritos Crash the Super Bowl annual commercial contest or their Lay’s Do Us a Flavor social media campaign of 2012.

Each opportunity at PepsiCo allows De La Cruz to flex her management style a little more as she works with different members of the organization worldwide. “PepsiCo gives me the space to leverage my identity for a successful professional career,” she says. “It’s much more than diversity for me—it’s the actual fundamental aspect of who I am that I’ve been able to leverage to be successful.”

We Are Proud to Be Strategic Business Partners with Marjorie De La Cruz Senior Vice President Chief Counsel Global Groups and PepsiCo, Inc.

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