Craig Weatherup: What's your leadership model?

Retired CEO Craig Weatherup was addressing a group of finance undergraduates at the W. P. Carey School recently when he popped a question. "How many of you would profess to have a model or a definition of how you want to grow as a leader?" he asked. Three or four hands went up. "I think everybody should raise their hand on that question, and I'll tell you why," he said.

Weatherup himself has a model for leadership: a simple yet comprehensive set of attitudes and behaviors that have shaped him in his personal life and as the leader of people and organizations — often through periods of dramatic change.

"Leadership is something you develop, and it can be developed at a very early age," Weatherup told the group. But, he said, you have to be proactive about it. It's important to decide how you want to lead, and why. The resulting model will be different for every individual, but according to Weatherup, what's important is to have a model — one that fits.

Weatherup began to develop his model while still in his thirties, and it propelled him through a career that peaked with stints as chairman and CEO of Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. (including leading the company's IPO), CEO of Pepsi-Cola Co. and president of PepsiCo Inc. The model continues to guide him today as a corporate and non-profit board member and mentor to CEOs.

These are given

Weatherup, a Phoenix native and a W. P. Carey alumnus with a degree in accounting, went to work for General Foods immediately after graduation. "I had envisioned going to work in New York at the corporate headquarters," he said. "Instead I ended up in Kankakee, Illinois, whose claim to fame was that it had the world's largest dog food plant." He started as a cost analyst at the factory, but his next position was in New York, in the General Foods financial analysis division. The head of marketing, who had noticed Weatherup's work on a special project in Illinois, took an interest in his career, and Weatherup was able to transfer to marketing. For about five years he was a brand manager, learning classic marketing.

Then, "PepsiCo came calling," he recounted, and he moved his wife and two small children to Tokyo. A brief posting in New York followed, then the Weatherups were off to Brazil. Back in the U.S. again, the last 18 years of his career were spent in top executive positions with the company. Now retired, Weatherup serves on the boards of directors of Starbucks Corp., Macy's Inc. and the Arizona Nature Conservancy. He is an active supporter of the Bishop's Fund for Children in Connecticut, Tuskegee University, and Arizona State University.

How does someone build a leadership portfolio like that? Weatherup said that it requires focus — something more than fulfilling the core qualifications to be successful.

"The given here is that you have smarts, you have great ethics, you have great values and you work hard," he said. Anyone expecting to succeed is expected to possess those qualities — what he called "the givens." Leadership, however, is what develops when you add something more, and that's where a model is needed.

Weatherup's model comprises six points: three that involve developing yourself and three that guide your interactions with others.

It's all about breadth

The first three points in Weatherup's model all relate to what he calls "breadth."

Number one is broadening the self, he said. "In this case it's about the breadth of your humanity," he said. "Anything you can do to get breadth is a huge, huge determinant in how successful you're going to be as a leader." He said to look for opportunities not only on the job, but in all parts of life: through family, friends, community, travel, volunteering, church.

Number two is professional experiential breadth. He told the students that their attendance at the Financial Management Association meeting where he was speaking was a step toward breadth. Other ways to broaden yourself could include working on a task force or taking a chance to do something outside your specialization.

"I wouldn't ignore depth, but if you've worked at many of the companies I've been involved with — the boards that I'm on — depth is a given. If you've got a job you'll go as deep as you need to go to know it and know it cold," he said. "To me what's far harder to get and far, far more important is breadth."

He noted that he started his career with an accounting degree, working in a plant, but when he went to New York he switched to finance and marketing, then he accepted assignments oversees.

"Breadth is the definer," he said. "I'd venture to bet that the top 10 in this room are the people with the broadest set of experiences."

The third point is to learn to value and use failure.

"It's an absolute truism," he said. "You will not grow without risk, and you will not take risks if you do not value failing." Individuals and companies espouse this point all the time, he said, but "I find this is normally not the case." However, "failure in itself has great value, if it was a risk worth taking."

Weatherup said he puts these three points — breadth of humanity, breadth of experience and valuing failure — together because they are the well a leader draws from when it's time to make a decision.

"Nobody ever wanted the things that arrived at my desk. Half the facts were on the left, half the facts were to the right, or there were no facts," he said. "Often it ends up being judgment, and judgment is about intuition and instinct and experience. You'll make far better decisions if you have a broad set of experiences."

Leadership of others

His second three points related to execution. You've articulated a vision and made a brilliant decision. Now you have to execute, and "99 percent of the time you have to execute with people." How do you get people to follow you and feel passion for your vision?

First, he said, you have to show that you truly care about those people. "When things are really tough, when it's unclear, when nobody knows what's really happening, they follow you because they think and because you've demonstrated that you really care about them," he said. From the janitor to the chief of staff, Weatherup said, affirm that person's human dignity. That's the one thing that inspires passionate followership.

Second, he said, act out of your deeply held sense of self worth. "If you don't have the strength of your convictions you cannot persevere, and you certainly cannot engender those feelings and confidence in those who work for you."

Self worth, he added, is the product of broad experience. "Confidence comes from failing, experiencing different things, being challenged in different circumstances," he said.

Weatherup said he borrowed the sixth point from a consultant who worked with him somewhere along the way: Do the work head, heart and hands — yourself. "If you aren't out there with the troops, using your hands, you won't engender the followership you want," he said.

Lessons from the edge of change: enroll, simplify, persevere

A leader must be able to manage the status quo, but if you want to get anywhere you need to be able to lead through change, Weatherup said. "Real growth is change," he said. "Life is change. Circumstances change." But, to paraphrase an old song, the fundamental things can be applied, especially during change. Weatherup offered three examples from his experience.

Scenario One: In 1992 Weatherup was running the North American beverage business for PepsiCo when he and his director of marketing looked at the numbers and concluded that the cola category had topped out. "The math of an aging population was driving it." Based on that, he presented a new vision to the board, that PepsiCo had to become a total beverage company in order to continue to thrive. The company needed multiple categories: water, bottled tea, sports drink, juice and coffee businesses.

The board disagreed, he said, but he told them that no matter what he did cola was not going to grow. Wall Street responded to "stick with your knitting," and even the competition, Coca Cola, asserted at the time that it was an all-cola company. He said his own company didn't believe the numbers, either, and certainly didn't want to deal with the complexities of that many products.

That was the setting. "The vision, which was maybe radical in those days, was relatively easy to come up with. Getting people to understand it and trust you and follow you was incredibly difficult because there's nothing obvious about where you wanted to take them and why."

Scenario Two: In 1996 Pepsico International experienced a meltdown. The company was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for weeks, and PepsiCo took a $750 million charge. The international company missed its pre-tax profit plan by $1 billion, "a lot of money in those days."

Weatherup, who had been running Pepsi North America, asked "where do you start?" The president and CEO of PCI had already departed when, in the course of one week, Weatherup asked the other nine senior executives to resign.

"Everybody knows you have to change — the issues were strategy, culture, operating philosophy, business model, people, organization … so how do you deal with that sort of situation?" he commented.

Scenario Three: In 1999 Weatherup was in charge of splitting off Pepsi Bottling Company in what was at the time the fifth largest IPO in U.S. history: it involved a $10 billion entity with 40,000 employees.

The challenge was to get everyone on board for a move that on the surface seemed to involve no major change: same people, same trucks, same plant. To those 40,000 employees it appeared to be a bad move, Weatherup said: "Why leave a $40 billion, powerful, successful PepsiCo for this IPO company?"

What were the lessons learned from the three scenarios?

First, in each case there was a need to "enroll the organization," Weatherup said. Each scenario was a case where there was confusion about the facts or the strategy or some other element of change. To deal with it, the leadership developed what Weatherup called a process of enrollment, to educate the entire organization quickly. In the case of the IPO, every individual Teamster was touched by a manager "relative to what this is and why we did it."

Second, in dealing with major change, "simplify, clarify." As an example, Weatherup pointed to the strategic direction statement for the IPO Pepsi Bottling Company — about 25 words that include "We sell soda." It was all about simplicity, he said, because they were trying to drive behavior change.

Third, once you've launched a change, drive through to the finish. Weatherup quoted a study of Fortune 500 companies showing that in the majority of cases where companies attempted a change initiative they failed. And the number one reason they failed was that they quit. "There are no time outs," he said. "It's all about persevering, not accepting 'no.'"

Leadership is hard, he concluded. At the upper echelons it's a 24/7 endeavor. In order to maintain the effort, a leader must find a compelling reason to go on — something more than making money or collecting perks. In Weatherup's case it is a desire to be a servant leader.

"My faith has grounded me in the fact that I care about the people I lead, and I do think it's my job to serve them," he said. That's his model.

The question for the students in attendance was "what's yours?"

Weatherup was the guest of the Financial Management Association (FMA) student chapter at the W. P. Carey School of Business. The FMA affords finance and other business students the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of the finance industry and the realities of working in the field. The W. P. Carey student chapter has been recognized by the FMA as a "Superior Chapter" for several years running.


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