“My role is to be a change agent for PepsiCo,” says Athina Kanioura, EVP, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer. For some people, that may sound like a daunting job description, but Athina says game-changing work excites her. “Big ideas come from stepping outside your comfort zone — that’s where the transformative thinking comes from,” she says.
Having deep, focused knowledge is key for mastering your field, Athina says. But the most visionary people are what she calls horizontal thinkers. “To drive huge change in an organization, you need to be more entrenched across domains,” she explains. “For example, combining knowledge in social sciences like anthropology and sociology with computer science or engineering will develop a broader outlook.”
Everyone needs someone to expand their perspective, whether that’s a mentor, co-worker or colleague in the industry. Athina values the input of a mentor — an advisor from another part of PepsiCo who offers insight on how to overcome roadblocks and unlock new ways of thinking. “I’ve learned new approaches with mentoring,” she says. “How my style should adapt, how my language should change, where I should be much more assertive about my argument. It’s something that’s helped me extensively.”
“If you stop learning, you stop evolving,” Athina says. “And learning is not just about reading books.” When she joined PepsiCo, Athina made learning about the company her top priority to spark inspiration. “I learned from visiting factories, talking to salespeople about our products and merchandising, and meeting with supply chain contacts to see how they operate.”
“To drive the change we want to drive at PepsiCo, we cannot be standalone heroes,” Athina says. “We have to be a team that co-ideates, challenges and deep-dives into the toughest problems together.” To spark ideas, she says building a connection with your teammates is essential. “I put in weekly meetings to forge those behaviors from the beginning, so everyone feels part of a project,” she explains. That time is used to ask questions and bounce ideas off each other.
Part of having a great idea is getting people on board with it, Athina explains. She says it’s important to involve key stakeholders before you make a big pitch. “You want to walk them through it and get their opinion,” she says. “A big mistake I’ve made in the past is not doing pre-work with stakeholders.” Their insight and support can help make your idea successful.
Athina says she often finds her mind is “ready to explode with content,” so she needs a way to clear her head in order to have the space to come up with new ideas. One of her go-to activities is playing tennis with her family. Athina also finds playing classical music on the piano a failsafe way to recharge. She’s been playing since the age of 6 and says music turns off her analytical side. “I can just shut my brain off and play,” she says. “It’s a real decompressing moment.”