Company of the Year: PepsiCo

Indra Nooyi’s promotion[1] from CFO to CEO of PepsiCo in 2006 broke barriers, as a woman and an Indian-American.  

Nooyi went on to lead the company on a steep growth path through acquisitions and strategic divestments and broke another barrier by becoming an early champion[2] of the socially and environmentally responsible corporation.

The same forward-looking values that led to Nooyi’s rise from CFO to CEO and then board chair, from which she retired earlier this year, have defined the company’s finance operation for decades, and for that reason, PepsiCo is CFO Dive’s Company of the Year. 

“I think there’s probably no one company where I’ve heard CFOs give greater credit than to PepsiCo,” said[3] Jack Sweeney, host of the CFO Thought Leader podcast. “What exactly was Pepsi getting right? What was setting it apart?”

Andreas Schulmeyer, CFO of Better Choice, a pet wellness company, and a former CFO of PepsiCo’s China operation, has an answer: the company was a champion of the strategic CFO long before the movement took off in the last decade.

“PepsiCo put an emphasis on the finance part of the planning and the business partnership vs. the controller,” he said[4] on Sweeney’s podcast. “I don’t come out of a typical accounting school. I actually had one accounting course in my life, so most of my knowledge has come from the experience of being out there. So, the financial planning and the strategic piece are really what drives the PepsiCo finance team. Almost all of the CFOs — divisional, country, and so forth come from the planning or strategy and business development side rather than the accounting teams. So, I think that’s a resource that’s become more and more in demand rather than the formal accounting treatment.”

Whether CFOs do best if they start as a certified public accountant or as a business strategist with an MBA is a debate that will continue, but one thing is clear: PepsiCo recognized early that the rising complexity of business made it necessary for CFOs to approach their job as a strategist. 

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