How would you lead an organization serving 75% of the world’s population and generating $7.4B in annual revenue in an industry where the customers are majority women and the company managers majority men?
This week Wharton students had the privilege of listening to Mr. Saad Abdul-Latif, CEO of PepsiCo Asia, Middle East, and Africa, as he shared his personal leadership story, reflected on his business experience operating across international boundaries, and discussed the necessity of empowering women in the workplace.
Mr. Abdul-Latif is a strong and vocal proponent of the need to empower and engage women in the workplace. Raised by his mother after his father passed away when Mr. Abdul-Latif was only seven, he credits his strong work ethic to his mother who inspired him as she managed family affairs through tough times. He also stressed the strong impact that PepsiCo Chairwoman and CEO Indra Nooyi and Arab International Women’s Forum Founder Ms. Haifa Al-Kaylani have had on his leadership style. Ms. Nooyi helped him to bring a more balanced perspective to the table.
The Dubai headquarters Mr. Abdul-Latif works from has now attained greater than 50% of women in management roles. His belief is that the business case for having an inclusive workplace is tremendous. He went on to say that inclusion because it is “the right thing to do” downplays the full importance of women. For instance, why should men in management call the shots when women are so important in family decision making for the purchase of consumer packaged goods? By bringing in more female managers, PepsiCo was able to gain even deeper insights into their consumers’ minds, improving productivity and profitability.
Mr. Abdul-Latif’s candid and heartfelt talk about the need to empower more women in order to bring about a balanced perspective in board rooms was inspiring. By sharing his story, Mr. Abdul-Latif helped contribute to the language we can use to express gender issues and lowered the barrier to discussing this important issue.
Mr. Abdul-Latif has a knack for making his life story both relatable and inspiring. Here are the leadership lessons he shared with us:
Lesson 1. Take initiative.
Grab opportunities and don’t let go. Don’t wait for things to happen to you.
Lesson 2. Go where others won’t dare.
Taking risks helped Mr. Abdul-Latif kick-start his career. He took a role at PepsiCo where the last three people had been fired – yet he was determined to succeed. Hard work helped him tackle the difficult problems plaguing that role and helped establish a reputation of superb reliability.
Lesson 3. Believe in yourself.
Especially when you are down. Only you truly know yourself and what you are capable of accomplishing.
Lesson 4. Embrace change.
Don’t be arrogant. Don’t wait for change to come to you, be the driver of change and always aim for self-improvement.
Lesson 5: Drive for results.
Be someone who delivers. Don’t be a person who goes through life with an empty scorecard.
Lesson 6. Surround yourself with good people.
Many times you will be defined by the company you keep, make these people count. Professional success is interlinked with personal life.
Mr. Abdul-Latif stressed that these six lessons that guide him in his business life, are just as applicable to his personal life as well. He closed by stating that the world is changing for the better; it is a journey that requires effort and support. He left us with this powerful thought, “Whatever the mind conceives, the mind achieves. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.”