21:00 GMT+0400 – Today’s visit was to a single company with a name we all likely know: PepsiCo. We did not get to sleep in until late in the day because we had to be to the bus by 08:00. The day’s weather was pretty hot which we noticed a lot especially while later touring the bottling facility. The majority of our day was spent at the headquarters of Pepsi’s AMEA (Asia, Middle East, Africa) operation here in Dubai.
The first presentation was from Michael Lindsey, a VP of strategy. Some of the insights he provided into what Pepsi does from a strategic point of view were intriguing and I doubt I can do them justice. A few of the topics he covered include focus on current vs. future winners, growing vs. stagnant or declining markets, the carbonated soft drink (CSD) market or foods, competing with Coke vs. local brands, and competing head-on in traditional ways requiring a lot of infrastructure (Coke does this well in the USA) vs. finding alternative distribution methods. Running a global business like Pepsi’s requires balancing investment domestically (in the USA) vs. in foreign territories. At the end, I found myself remembering a quote stating, paraphrased, that for every complex problem there is an obvious and simple answer that is undoubtedly wrong. Mr. Lindsey’s statement of “Challenge every assumption” is particularly applicable for strategy and it was clear from his presentation that he was able to do this and Pepsi was benefiting greatly from his skill.
The next three presentations were from Kurt Fremer, Reda Bouraoui, and Michael Keinath, and all of them had insights into the business from various angles that were valuable to all of us. Specifically I was impressed with the depth reached by each individual and how they must work together in the organization. From the outside, it always seemed pretty simple, the beverage and snack foods industry, to get food created and sent from here to there, but when you are doing so globally in this competitive environment, the issues that come up can be exceedingly complex.
After lunch, which Pepsi provided, we went to the bottling facility in the area. Some highlights included seeing little green tubes expanded in seconds to make full two-liter bottles as they ran through a machine. The size difference was what amazed me the most, and the fact that the increase in size happened so reliably (without putting holes in the material). We were there on the first day of Diet Mountain Dew production at this facility, and the green bottles were probably being created for that product. We also saw machines where sugar was dissolved, later combined with concentrate, and finally combined with water and CO2 to make a finished product. Seeing cans with an orange drink on a conveyer built before they had lids and then learning how the products were tested for compliance with set standards was also neat. Seeing several-hundred-pound bags of sugar used for creating the drinks reminded us that most drinks here have sugar instead of artificial alternatives (diet sodas do not sell as well here as they do in the USA).