Derek Lewis Explains Why He Wants PepsiCo To Lead The Charge In Closing The Economic Gap For Black Entrepreneurs

The new President of Multicultural Business and Equity Development talked to before this year’s Strength of a Woman Festival in Atlanta.

Derek Lewis was happy in his role as president of PepsiCo Beverages North America's South Division. He’d been with the company for more than three decades and spent the last 10 years content in his position. Then, the summer of 2020 happened and, like many people, Lewis was compelled by what he saw playing out in the streets of various communities where social justice was at the top of everyone’s mind. It changed things for him, and he began asking himself tough questions, ultimately deciding it was time for action.

“I demanded more of myself,” said Lewis.

As the nation was forced to grapple face-to-face with issues of race and inequality, Lewis wanted to contribute more significantly to making things better. When the chance to do so presented itself, he jumped at the opportunity. Now, he’s the first president of PepsiCo’s newest division, Multicultural Business and Equity Development, North America. The organization is dedicated to accelerating efforts both inside and outside of the company to address inequalities for historically underserved businesses and communities.

“We said, ‘let’s do something that’s going to be different, that’s going to be next level, and let’s create it from scratch,’” said Lewis. “We’re just really getting started. There’s certainly a lot to be excited about, not only in the short term, but the long term as well.” caught up with Lewis to talk about his leadership style, his plans for the future of the PepsiCo, and why it was so important to be involved in events like Mary J. Blige’s Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit. Talk about your role as president of PepsiCo’s Multicultural Business and Equity Development, North America.

Derek Lewis: This role was just created a couple of months ago as part of thinking about PepsiCo’s journey and racial equality. This is really a critical next step, as [the company] looks to continue to transform our positive agenda.

And so how do we create growth and share value at the same time? [Multicultural Business and Equity Development] was really built as a startup organization, for us to continue to address inequalities for historically excluded people. I represent not only the beverage side of the business, but also the food side of the business. This is [our] approach at tackling all those inequities and doing it as one team.

Again, this has been a startup organization, so [we’re focused on] massively connecting the organization against the pillars of people, business community, as well as a consumer component. We feel like we've made a tremendous amount of progress, but there's still a lot more to do, and this organization is going to tackle every opportunity, and attempt to level up as high as we possibly can. There are a lot of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and positions popping up, but this organization seems like it’s above and beyond that.

Derek Lewis: You’re right. It’s meant to be that way. Really, when you think about it, it's end-to-end. There is a tremendous amount of support for it. Obviously, our associates are very passionate about this work. Our executives are very passionate about this work, our C-Suite is very passionate about this work. I'm already excited about the momentum we’ve already achieved. We want to be pacesetters. We want to continue to level up this work, and to go as high as we possibly can on each one of these areas. What's in store over the next five years or so? Because one of the primary goals of the organization is to help close the economic gap for Black entrepreneurs, right?

Derek Lewis: Absolutely. I'm very familiar, obviously, with the pillars that guide our work in this space, particularly with our racial equality journey, our people, business, and community. There was a consumer platform, now we've expanded to a holistic, multicultural group. We're also focused on the consumer and making sure those consumer platforms are also moving along at the right pace.

But if you go back to the racial equality journey, and those three pillars I talked about, it's in the people— ensuring that we are driving strong levels of representation, that we are actually exceeding in the marketplace. Obviously, it’s also about [having] a culture that is very inclusive and then you can talk about economic impact. There's not a day that goes by where I don’t spend time with a supplier or potential suppliers of ours to understand those opportunities. It's my job to make sure I'm connecting parts of our organizations to those supplier opportunities that are out there in spaces, [where there are] different entrepreneurs.

And then there's a whole curation process where you bring about smaller companies, small organizations, and help them develop capabilities as well. We help them to grow over time and get them in the game. Then you get to the community where you can provide relief and support to those in the communities and to the causes that are most important to them.  Tell us about the Pepsi Stronger Together program.

Derek Lewis: It was born to address COVID and really deal with frontline health care workers and frontline associates that support central businesses. But we also started hearing about other pressing issues in the community. The outreach and the voice of the community has played such an important role in giving us feedback and input [in letting us know] there are other pockets we can lean into and provide support to.

President, PepsiCo Multicultural Business and Equity Development Derek Lewis attends as Pepsi Stronger Together Hosts Pep Rally and Giveback to Local Cleveland High School ahead of All-Star Weekend at Saint Martin De Porres High School on February 18, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio.
President, PepsiCo Multicultural Business and Equity Development Derek Lewis attends as Pepsi Stronger Together Hosts Pep Rally and Giveback in Cleveland.

We’ve started getting into places like education, de-escalation training, domestic abuse, homelessness, serving meals for those who were underserved... We started really pivoting and becoming very agile, and as we did that, the program grew because people saw that it was authentic and adding true value and impact. Then partners wanted to come in with us, so that has been outstanding.

In Atlanta, we’re providing massive support to the City of Refuge with $20,000 in grant money. But make no mistake about it, it's part of our DNA, and something that our associates have a lot of passion in, so we're going to continue to scale it up. Why was it so important for PepsiCo to become involved with the Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit? What do you hope is the take away for attendees?

Derek Lewis: I think if you're an attendee, you're going to feel uplifted. Again, we're here to elevate, entertain, educate. Atlanta just has such a great vibe to it holistically that you feel pumped and energized. We hope that everybody left the event with a smile on their face, uplifted, and excited.

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RELATED: Billboard Music Awards 2022: Mary J. Blige To Receive Icon Award Sustainability has been a key part of conversations when we're talking about the money that's coming in post-2020. How do you plan to ensure that some of the seeds you’ve planted during the festival and summit continue to grow?

Derek Lewis: We've got to keep boots on the ground, and  PepsiCo is actually very large here in Atlanta. Thousands of associates support the businesses here across foods and beverages.We want to continue to build momentum. So we get to do big events like this, but then after, we're still going to be here on the ground. We're still going to be doing a lot of the work to move along these initiatives in the market, working with our customers, calling up our partners and business owners that we do business with, to help the teams scale the effort up.

EDITOR’s NOTE: This interview was edited for clarity.

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