The Barilla Group is more than just a pasta company. It’s an establishment founded on the principle of bringing people together through food, passion, and acceptance.
Over the years, Barilla has elevated its brand in ways that have widened its capacity to weave innovation and modernization into its more than 140-year-old makeup. Along the way, it has partnered with big “foodie” personalities like Hannah Hart to create a web series that discusses people’s passions while satisfying their appetites, and Thug Kitchen to develop a plant-based recipe for a limited-time promotion at its Casa Barilla restaurants. Both efforts are examples of how Barilla tries to connect with its customers universally, showing the brand is more than just a blue box of pasta.
To make the company feel like a family externally, Barilla works hard to ensure the connectivity of its internal staff reflects outward. One of its leaders at the forefront of these efforts is Talita Ramos Erickson, general counsel of Barilla (Americas), and CEO of Barilla Restaurants.
Erickson’s purpose extends beyond initiating legal review and serving as a face to the company name. She works tirelessly to ensure that Barilla stands by its mission to celebrate passion and encourage community both internally and externally. Since starting at the company in 2012 as general counsel after nearly a decade working across the food industry, she has adopted the company’s long-term way of thinking to guide strategy based on foreseeable trends.
“We’re a company that has been around for more than 140 years. As the market changes, we are now very much on trend,” she explains. “Consumers are shying away from overly processed foods and have concerns about sustainability and the environment. Because we have always had this philosophy of being ‘Good for You and Good for the Planet,’ we are already aligned with the trend.”
As the company continually strives to make a positive environmental impact, Erickson channels the same drive for positive impact into building her team. As a Brazilian immigrant herself, Erickson seeks to empower other Latinx employees to both integrate and excel in the workforce.
Five years ago, Barilla embarked on its journey to make the company more diverse and inclusive. At the start of the project, Erickson was chosen to serve as Barilla’s first chief diversity officer, leading the company’s Global Diversity Board and its initiatives to enable a corporate culture that welcomes different perspectives, cultures, and genders into every branch across the world. Since starting this endeavor, Barilla has been recognized for its efforts, receiving multiple awards for its support of refugees and its program that includes people with different abilities, and even achieving a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index five years in a row.
After three years as chief diversity officer, Erickson left the position in good hands to carry on the work she started as general counsel (Americas). Upon leaving the role, she decided to further her accomplishments on the business side of Barilla, applying what she learned during her time at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where she received an MBA in 2010.
“I’ve always been passionate about business, and expressed this interest to leadership,” she says. “In 2018, our company CEO asked me if I would be willing to take over the restaurant operations. It was a great opportunity to work closely with him and other leaders and further enhance my business acumen.”
As she transitioned into her new role as CEO for restaurant operations, Erickson maintained her focus on preserving inclusivity. She constantly finds ways to incorporate new viewpoints into her work, whether that means something as simple as asking for her colleagues’ advice on a matter or something more complex, like applying cultural dexterity and incorporating best practices, respectively.
Furthermore, she carries on her mission of empowering Barilla’s Latinx workforce, subsequently supporting the next generation of Latinx business leaders. She starts first by developing an environment that fosters multicultural growth.
“I always go back to the definition of inclusion,” Erickson says. “Inclusion is about uniqueness and belonging. To me, uniqueness comes from trying to understand how people working on my team are different and how their backgrounds contribute to their personalities. Understanding how people are unique allows us to create an environment where they feel they belong, where they can provide feedback without feeling like they will be judged or reprimanded for it.”
Erickson channels this mentality into her work with Barilla’s employee resource groups, in particular as the executive sponsor of one called Alleanza—“alliance” in Italian—which caters to Latinx and Black American employees, as well as allies of these communities. This group, and others like it, were created to foster open dialogue about resources employees need to feel included, like celebrating important heritage milestones, and to shed light on biases they may be facing inside or outside the company. Alleanza provides a platform where these communities can receive support from devoted, likeminded mentors and coaches.
“We’re helping our Latinx workforce and other young, Latinx talent outside the company by showing that there is a place for them in corporate America, and that they can remain authentic and succeed,” Erickson says.
Outside of Barilla, Erickson works with the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that partners with Barilla to recruit Latinx talent. HACE engages its affiliates through several leadership development programs, including its signature program, Mujeres de HACE.
Pursuing these initiatives has taught Erickson how to invigorate her team by inviting fresh perspectives while preserving each unique interest. “The caliber of talent you get when you look outside the norm is great,” she says. “We make better decisions as a company now that we have input from people with all kinds of backgrounds, and we also manage risk better because we have people with different views of the workplace.”
No matter the endeavor, she encourages her team to continually be curious about people and engage in conversation. As a C-level Latina, Erickson serves as an example for aspiring Latinx leaders to work hard to achieve their dreams.
“It’s hard to tell people they’re going to have a fulfilling career when nobody in leadership looks like them,” she says. Her hard work and commitment to empowering her employees serves as a testament to the merit of finding resiliency in nonconformity. Regardless of age, ability, race, gender, or upbringing, Erickson shows members of her world that they are united under their own alliance, and it is their duty to uphold these connections.
With Erickson’s help, Barilla strengthens its people-oriented corporate culture to carry the company into the future. She encourages her team to imbibe the resources before them, treating every unique story as an opportunity to learn, and to use these lessons to become better workers, leaders, and community members inside and outside the office.
Latinx Leadership at Barilla
Carlos Garcia, vice president of finance and administration for Barilla Restaurants, is Erickson’s most senior Latinx report. In fact, Erickson is the first Latina to which he has reported directly in his career—an experience that has provided him with a mentor who upholds the same vision and passion that he strives for every day. Just as Erickson leverages her position to serve as an example for and empower future Latinx leaders, Garcia shares his professional experiences to become a similar mentor for others.
“On the restaurant side, a lot of our back-of-house employees are of Latin descent,” he says. “Seeing Talita and I in these leadership roles helps provide inspiration to our team. If they want to, they can aspire to go wherever they want. It’s a positive ripple effect, where people see likeminded people in high-ranking positions and ask: ‘How can I become better? How can I get there, too?’”