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Vikram Somaya, PepsiCo Chief Data and Analytics Officer, shares the reasons building trust and becoming a better storyteller can boost anyone’s career.
“Working with data means understanding how the business works, simplifying technical notions and making sure they can be meaningfully understood — skills that have utility for anyone,” explains Vikram Somaya, PepsiCo Chief Data and Analytics Officer.
Vikram taps into that range of expertise in many ways through his work, from processing consumer feedback with marketing to collaborating with R&D to strategize which ingredients have untapped potential. Data is something he infuses into daily life too, regularly poring over cycling stats for his rides from Manhattan to Bear Mountain. “I use data to drive something I love and see it actually apply in the real world,” he says.
Here, Vikram shares how to channel what he’s learned to drive success in any role.
START BY BUILDING TRUST
In the world of data, it is essential to ensure your information is accurate, first and foremost. “If you don't trust the data, you're never going to truly rely on it to help you make decisions,” Vikram says. It’s an idea that extends far beyond the data world: No matter what project you take on, take care to confirm all the facts, so any foundation you’re building on is solid and you can establish trust from the start.
STRENGTHEN YOUR STORYTELLING SKILLS
Vikram admits that data can be difficult to translate for people who aren’t engineers or analysts. But he still must make sure he gets his message across to a wide range of audiences. Being able to relate to diverse groups of people is an essential communication skill anyone should hone. “Storytelling is the most human way to build connections between different worlds,” he says. In the name of translating complex ideas, he’s used Shakespeare to illustrate programmatic advertising and acted out a scene from Julius Caesar to humanize data. The goal is to find a narrative that brings your point to life.
BE READY WITH AN ACTION PLAN
Reporting on the status quo is only half of your story. Vikram says one of the most crucial skills he’s developed is to have a “future-thinking mindset.” That means considering the implications of the information he uncovers and how it can be used in meaningful ways. “We have to keep thinking what is next and what sits after that.” It’s essential to think about potential ways to use available information, and to make suggestions about moving forward with your findings.
SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY
“When working with data, I am like a sculptor,” Vikram explains. “I take blocks of information and carve them into understandable and useful insights for the company.” Any time you can find a way to take a complex concept and convey it in clear, simple terms, you can make your point that much more compelling.
REMOVE BARRIERS FROM YOUR THINKING
Science fiction is a source of inspiration for Vikram because so many of the ideas once dreamed up in futuristic worlds have now come to be. “Science fiction opens you up to a set of thinking of what you could accomplish without any parameters,” he says. Approaching your work can become much more productive if “you don’t put a lot of blockers on your thinking,” Vikram suggests. “That leads to so many more opportunities.”
Executive V.P., Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer at PepsiCo
Athina Kanioura is Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at PepsiCo. An accomplished innovator and transformation leader, Kanioura oversees PepsiCo’s end-to-end strategy to win both as a total company and in key markets, including their digitalization strategy. She also leads company-wide transformation—ensuring that their scale is leveraged as they focus on accelerating profitable growth and identifying areas of cost efficiency and optimization—in addition to overseeing Data Products, Platforms, and Talent. Prior to joining PepsiCo, Kanioura was the Chief Analytics Officer and Global Head of Applied Intelligence at Accenture, where she specialized in applying AI and analytics to drive business value. During her 15 years at Accenture, Kanioura grew the Applied Intelligence function from a subspecialty to a global group at the forefront of scale business transformation. She also ran Sales and Customer Analytics globally and drove the company’s offerings in customer relationship management and personalization. Kanioura specializes in transforming businesses with emphasis on data and technology, and brings many years of practical experience globally in industries such as telecomms, oil and gas, financial services, and consumer packaged goods, having worked with companies such as Mondelez, Unilever, P&G, Reckitt Benkiser, Phillip Morris, and Adidas. Kanioura is a member of the Royal Statistical and Economics Society, where she contributes to shaping government policy around how data is used by bodies like the IMF. She also sits on the board of the Institute of Marketing Sciences and is a keen educator who has held lectureships at UMIST (UK), Imperial College London (UK), and the University of Sheffield (UK), where she also earned her PhD in Econometrics and Quantitative Economics.
Contributor: Frederica Bolgouras
Describe your passion for innovation.
Innovation has always been a deep passion of mine since it is a true catalyst of change. At PepsiCo, we embed innovation into everything we do. From product innovation to technology and process innovation, we want to drive the growth of our business while constantly evolving it to reach new heights. Innovation has evolved to a tremendous degree already. With the help of several external partners, we are already infusing innovation in the ways of development, not just innovation for the sake of innovation.
How did you navigate your career early on to focus on Marketing Sciences, Analytics, Applied Intelligence, and Global Data?
STEM is incredibly important to me on a personal and professional level. When I decided to pivot from academia to consulting, the data, emerging technology and AI space was very synergistic and attractive. Entering this very competitive and demanding space would take perseverance, but as a woman, I was determined to show that female talent can not only thrive, but also lead.
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work across industries and capabilities. These experiences were very valuable and played a large role in shaping and preparing me for my current role as Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer at PepsiCo.
Describe a couple of your most proud accomplishments in your current role as the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at PepsiCo
I am honored and proud to serve as PepsiCo’s first Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer. In the 16 months that I have been in the role, we have accelerated our transformation agenda, better connecting our value chain end-to-end (from our consumers to our suppliers). Under my leadership, interconnectivity and leveraging the power of data are priorities. The breadth of talent at PepsiCo is truly unmatched, and I’m enjoying the cross-functional collaboration to tackle the hardest of problems. That’s why everyone in the organization will play a role in the transformation that benefits the company and the individual.
Who has inspired you the most in your life?
I’ve always been inspired by Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first individual awarded two Nobel Prizes. Her passion for continuous learning led her to fundamentally change our understanding of radioactivity. It’s innovators, like Curie, who led and revolutionized fields of science despite the bias against them and continue to empower women in the field.
What advice would you give to professional Hellenic-American Women today in their careers and those who are up and coming stars in the technology sector?
Being authentic, inspiring and purpose driven are key attributes I believe are important for having a successful career in the corporate world. Also, as a female leader, I have always tried to be assertive while being empathetic. In this climate, leading with empathy is more important than ever.
Are you active in the Greek Community in the United States?
As we safely socialize more, my family and I look forward to making new connections in the Greek community. Don’t be a stranger! Please reach out.
Given the COVID pandemic, how are you handling the stress this has caused and which wellness and coping exercises and mechanisms would you recommend?
The pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us. I often turn to music and tennis to help me recharge and relax. I also like that these are activities my family and I can do together.
Networks at T. Rowe Price can be sponsored by the firm or built organically, over time. What are the perks of having a network at T. Rowe Price? And how do you find them? We asked our associates to share the benefits of "having your people around" and give advice on how to build those relationships.
Perks of a network fall into four buckets:
- A Facade Is Not Needed - In other words, you feel safe enough to be vulnerable. You do not filter your life to highlight solely the good, like a social post. We all want to bring our best selves to work, but some days are harder than others. An argument with a partner, an inconsiderate driver, news headlines, etc. can impact your mood before you log in. If you can confide in someone about an issue you’re having, at work, or outside of work, that person is part of your troupe.
- Support and Advice - Navigating careers, family, health, and wealth is challenging, and it can be difficult to face alone. A troupe will be there to offer advice, a much-needed laugh, and most importantly, a non-judgmental ear.
- The Truth Will Be Told - Troupe members support in public, and scold in private. They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. And you listen because you know it’s coming from a genuine place. Did you bring a "C" effort to a Tier 1 project? Be prepared for a coffee chat the next morning. Your troupe will push you to be better, to go further, and then celebrate your achievement with you.
- T. Rowe Price Runs on Relationships – Imagine the benefit of having someone to call for help. Knowledge is readily available throughout the organization. Your manager, team, colleagues, and stakeholders are information sources you can tap. Upon arrival at the firm, you may stay close to your work team, but the richest relationships can also develop with people who, at first glance, have little in common with you.
Interested in finding your troupe? Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Sign up to play sports or join a club. There are running groups, softball teams, tennis, mixers and more. You’ll meet new people in different parts of the company and at all levels, build comradery and hopefully, find your troupe.
- Enrich the lives of others and the environment via community service. Our associates tutor students, beautify parks, and donate money to other worthy causes. Our ESG approach demonstrates our commitment to drive measurable and positive environmental impact where we have the power to do so.
- Participate in business resource groups (BRGs) to connect with associates across the company. Our BRGs create communities for Black, African American, Latinx and people of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as women and their allies, the LGBTQ+ community and military veterans and their families.
Finding a troupe at work can be an enriching experience, personally and professionally. Find your place and your troupe at T. Rowe Price.