Eighteen years ago, Karen Jordan decided to make a career change, even though she loved the company she was working for, saying she felt “on track to have a good, long-term career” and that she would’ve been able to retire comfortably and early. Even still, Jordan couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. After the events of September 11th, she realized that the absence she had been feeling was a greater sense of purpose. She knew it was time for a change so she embarked on a new and fulfilling journey.
“My choice to leave boiled down to the fact that although nothing was ‘wrong’, I just didn’t see where I could have an impact at the level I desired to if I stayed,” she recalls. “I was introduced to the Pepsi Bottling Group (later, PepsiCo), by a colleague and friend… and when I walked in the door, I was blown away.”
A different kind of corporate culture
Jordan instantly recognized that PepsiCo’s company culture was different from those of other corporations. Meeting with the leadership team in her prospective function, she says, “left me with the possibility of being in a fast-paced culture where there was a commitment to diversity and to making industry-leading changes in supply chain.” It was the level of impact she’d been looking for.
At the time, PepsiCo was also forming a new team and being very intentional about ensuring its diversity, Jordan says — a focus that spanned “diversity of thinking, industries, experience and backgrounds.” Here, too, she saw an opportunity where she could be her “authentic self and make a profoundly positive impact on the company.”
And so, she joined PepsiCo’s supply chain organization, becoming part of a small unit that was “given a lot of autonomy and creative space” to design solutions that would transform service and inventory results. Eighteen years later, she’s still in touch with the sense of impact she’d originally craved, finding it today as PepsiCo Beverage North America’s Senior Vice President of Operations, South Division. But, of course, a lot has happened between then and now.
Leadership that can’t be learned from a book
Jordan’s career at PepsiCo has taken her in many different directions. After her first role (as a Supply Chain Operations Sr. Manager), and after many key career-planning discussions, she set her sights on running a manufacturing plant. Nashville, Tennessee was her first assignment and not long after, she was promoted to manage an even larger and more complex plant in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a turnaround operation, as the plant had been clocking some of the worst results for the company — and the lessons Jordan learned from this experience have stuck with her.
Jordan says, “This assignment taught me that teams with terrible results often have great employees who are hungry for great leadership to help them learn how to win… If we can get people to think differently, we can achieve different results. I learned how to build trust with front-line associates and how to transform people’s thinking from ‘we can’t’ to ‘we can,’.”
Running plants, she says, was “truly the best job I’ve had.” As the leader of one of these plants, it’s a lot like running your own business — you’re accountable for the plant’s culture, its human resources, the quality and safety of its people and products, and its customers. It’s a high-impact job, one that comes steeped with “getting to experience the privilege of leadership,” Jordan explains. And by leading facilities like this, she discovered that she had the ability to not only turn around business outcomes, but also play a fundamental role in changing people’s lives.
“You can learn about leadership from a book, but it’s a whole other experience when you have people and their families counting on you,” she said, adding that most people come to work at PepsiCo with a shared goal: to “create great lives” for themselves and their families. “The heart of America is in our plants, and they’re the heart and soul of our company. A common saying is that we ‘bleed Pepsi Blue.’”
You can always keep growing
After yet another promotion and a “special role” within PepsiCo — this time as Senior Director of Manufacturing and Warehouse Operations in the Mid-Atlantic region — In 2014, Jordan once again felt like it was time for a change.
“Through mentorship and career-planning discussions, I identified that doing an international assignment was of interest to me, and in the spring of that year was offered the opportunity to relocate to Cork, Ireland, to be the VP of Global Supply Chain for PepsiCo’s Global Concentrate business,” Jordan says. “This was a life-changing experience that significantly accelerated my career growth, and more importantly, expanded the horizons of my leadership to be globally relevant.”
In this role, Jordan traveled all over the world, having the opportunity to visit everywhere from the United Arab Emirates and China to India and Russia. From there, with a globally expanded outlook, she was promoted to SVP of Supply Chain for PepsiCo’s North American Nutrition business, taking her back stateside. And, in 2019, she transitioned once again, this time into her current role as SVP of Supply Chain for PepsiCo Beverage North America’s South Division. Reporting directly to the Division President, she is responsible for $1 billion in operating costs in a $4 billion business. Jordan calls this latest move “an adventure that has challenged me to create breakthrough strategies to deliver elite service and drive teamwork and cultural engagement in ways that unleash the power of our people and celebrate diversity.”
It’s reflective, really, of the unique culture Jordan has had access to throughout her time at PepsiCo — a culture that empowers you to grow and evolve on a personal level, she says, while using the resources that only an organization of PepsiCo’s size and stature can offer. The end result? No shortage of adventures and new directions in which she can stretch her career.
“Throughout my career here, I have learned that although this is a big company, I have been able to create living my dreams here, as everything I have declared I wanted to do or explore thus far has been made possible through teamwork, career planning, mentorship and executive sponsorship,” she says, ending with a word of advice. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want.”
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