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Pepsi CEO plows ahead amid resistance

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

As a senior executive at Pepsi in 1992, Craig Weatherup realized his company’s core product—cola—was losing its luster. Years of lagging sales indicated that consumers’ interest had peaked and they weren’t going to buy more cola regardless of Pepsi’s marketing efforts.

Concluding that Pepsi had to broaden its product line to include water, bottled tea, sports drinks and juice, Weatherup presented his proposal to a skeptical board of directors. But he met stiff resistance. The board rejected his ideas and wanted Pepsi to stick to cola.

“The vision, which was maybe radical in those days, was relatively easy to come up with,” recalls Weatherup, now 69. “Getting people to understand it and trust you and follow you was incredibly difficult because there’s nothing obvious about where you wanted to take them and why.”

Refusing to give up, Weatherup launched an initiative to gain buy-in from all key constituencies. He called it “enrolling the organization.”

He explained the rationale for change in easy-to-understand language and cited supporting facts. He followed the mantra “simplify, clarify.”

He then educated board members and employees in a systematic manner. Through this “enrollment” process, he helped even resistant individuals see the benefits of change.

Weatherup didn’t let up. He quoted re­­­search showing that many big companies that embarked on a change campaign failed because they quit prematurely. He was determined to reach the finish line.

— Adapted from “Craig Weatherup: What’s your leadership model?,” research.wpcarey.asu.edu.

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