PepsiCo courts minority workers through PSU

PepsiCo and Portland State are banking on each other.


On Oct. 17, The PepsiCo Foundation pledged $350,000 over the next three years to PSU’s diversity initiative. That contribution could increase to $500,000 if the university can raise an additional $150,000 in scholarships from food retailers, which the foundation has promised to match.


The money is intended to create a program in the Food Industry Leadership Center for attracting and preparing minority students for careers in retail, food and consumer products. Called Pathways to the Future, the program’s funds will largely supplement the diversity initiative already underway at the center.


“We were actually working on this before Pepsi contributed,” executive director Tom Gillpatrick said. “Now we hope to accelerate the process.”


Nothing could be fast enough for PepsiCo.


In his presentation to the Food Industry Leadership Center’s annual executive forum shortly before announcing the donation, PepsiCo’s president of sales Al Carey cited statistics that point to a 10 million-worker shortage in the industry by 2010. His company alone is projected to need 60,000 positions filled in just three years as baby boomers continue to retire en masse.


According to PepsiCo’s research, however, the current generation of college students is disillusioned with big companies and impatient with corporate politics. Moreover, the demographics of business leaders aren’t representative of their multi-cultural consumer base.


That’s a real problem for PepsiCo, which reported $29.3 billion in revenue last year, and the $1.3 trillion food industry as a whole. Gillpatrick said the industry, from agriculture to retail, is the single largest employer in the Pacific Northwest.


“The world is littered with the carcasses of companies that didn’t do the right thing,” said Kevin Coupe, founder of and a featured speaker at the 2005 forum. In a telephone interview from Boston, Coupe said successful corporations must begin to address the disconnect between management and consumer just to remain competitive. “People that run stores and companies don’t look like their customers and that puts them at a severe disadvantage.”


The Food Industry Leadership Center and a handful of comparable business programs nationally are the front line in a fight for future skilled and diverse workers. As one of several self-support programs at Portland State, the center receives no money from the university for its academic programs. Instead the center relies on contributions from industry retailers, Gillpatrick said. The 2005 executive dinner, for example, raised just over $100,000 in sponsorship money.


“The numbers speak to why it’s smart business to diversify,” Gillpatrick said, adding that companies increasingly approach the center with specific diversity goals. “Pepsi is going to be serious about this. They really have to be effective if they wish to keep in business.”


Rahel Yared, the Food Industry Leadership Center’s diversity program coordinator, said the initiative is meant to illuminate a path between minorities and the industry that many aren’t aware is there. Before graduating from Portland State in June, Yared was active with the Black Cultural Affairs Board, the Association of African Students, the NAACP college chapter and the Multicultural Center.


“We do whatever is necessary to prepare these students for opportunities within the industry,” she said. “We make it easier for the industry to accept them and see that they feel more comfortable as well.”


The food industry’s urgent push to diversify may have the added effect of gaining its retailers expertise in a growing minority market, according to Steven Brenner, professor emeritus of business administration at Portland State. He said multicultural hiring practices could aid, consciously or not, attempts to penetrate that specialized market.


“The ethics of it partly depend on the goals and objectives,” Brenner said, “and partly on how it’s viewed by minorities and the rest of PSU.”