Finding an Authentic Voice As a Global Business Leader - by Umran Beba - SVP, PepsiCo
I feel very lucky to be born and raised in Turkey where there is a long history of world civilizations and rich culture of amalgamated experiences.
I was educated at Robert College and Boğaziçi University — both highly respected educational institutions that deliver an American system of education. After graduating as an industrial engineer, I decided to finish my MBA with a thesis focusing on consumer insights. Soon after, I started to work in the marketing department of the American company, Colgate-Palmolive. This role was based in Turkey. After working there for six and a half years, I left my position and started to work at PepsiCo. Living and working in numerous cities and countries such as Hong Kong, Dubai, and the US during my tenure at PepsiCo made me a global citizen. As of December 2019, I have completed my 25 years with the company, a milestone to celebrate.
When moving to other locations, one starts to understand the importance of coming from a rich cultural heritage. In this instance, being Turkish had its advantages. We are European, Asian, and Middle Eastern, and for many years now, have been an ally of the US. We have excellent listening and conversational skills that emanate from being direct and our respect for other cultures. Although we are impatient, in terms of immediately wanting to see results from a business point of view, we also like to connect on a friendly basis before diving into business. Moreover, we have the agility to adapt to change and the tenacity to deal with ambiguity. We are young as a nation and ready to take on challenges. The diverse background of the population in Turkey creates a nation with a proud and strong identity.
Studying in a high school and college influenced by the American education system has allowed me to be an independent thinker. As a young student, I learned to question, research, debate, and voice my opinions at these institutions. My personal involvement in Turkish folklore for 12 years inflicted me with a deep understanding of the cohesion and harmony arising from differences.
While some of the traits I gained throughout my education supported me in my professional journey, at other times, I had to adapt and adjust. After all, leadership is all about assessing the situation and adjusting your style in a way to have a win-win outcome. It does not matter where you come from or who you are. Listening, understanding, and empathizing are crucial in building trust and respect. These have been my values for many years, and that is the way I was able to move across various countries for different roles.
Set of Values
Every individual has a “set of values”, and this value group starts to form in childhood. School and family life, in addition to social activities, accomplishments, and obstacles experienced in one’s lifetime, constitute this value group. With time, this value group becomes a part of our business life and forms our leadership model. As a result, this leadership model affects our job performance, the way we work, our style of building and developing a team, and our role within the team. I believe our effectiveness, sincerity, and happiness as a leader depends on how much we know ourselves, our “set of values”, and our strengths and weaknesses.
What is my “set of values”, and how has it been formed over the years?
Firstly, passion. I do my job with passion and reflect this onto other people. When I say passion, the word “dancing” immediately comes to my mind. As I mentioned earlier, I was involved in folk dancing throughout my school years, either as a player, team leader, or mentor/coach, but always primarily as a team member. The fusion of music and rhythm turning into a dance has always excited me. Up until today, I have tried to feel this passion in all the work I have done. If I could not feel it, then I knew that it was time for a change. Change could be developing a new project, changing the system, enriching the work, or moving to another role. Altogether, I believe that passion is critical in one’s work. If there is no passion, then the job is not right for you.
The second value is determination for achievement. If someone has determination for achievement, anybody with any given desire can achieve the results they want. Before setting goals, a leader should set the vision together with team members, which will motivate the whole team. In this regard, my mother has been very influential in my personal life. Although I would get good grades as a student, she always believed I could do better, and supported me to set higher goals.
"I believe our effectiveness, sincerity, and happiness as a leader depends on how much we know ourselves, our ‘set of values’, and our strengths and weaknesses."
The third value is listening, understanding, and empathizing. While running towards targets as a leader, we should run together with our team and the whole company. This race may sometimes be a speed race and sometimes a marathon. In any case, we can realize a successful race in accordance with how accurately we can hear and understand our organization’s principles and values. When I look back at my career, the best position which gave me the understanding of these values, and the opportunity to execute them, was my time as a Human Resources Director. I had worked in marketing for about 10 years before being asked to take the Human Resources Director position at Frito Lay Turkey, a PepsiCo company. I had very little time to think about it, and after a night of thinking, I said “yes”, because I believed that I could bring a new perspective by assuming that employees could be a target group, just like consumers are. During my three years in this position, I learned a lot while contributing to the company. I learned the importance of building dialogue with individual employees across all departments of the company, to listen well, and to make fair decisions as a leader. We cannot achieve success without listening to and understanding our employees. A company cannot move forward without informing their employees of their undertakings. This was a very crucial and enlightening experience after my marketing role. I have been back in Human Resources since August 2013.