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2020 Star Women in Grocery winner Shirley Mukerjea (Q&A)

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Rising star

Shirley Mukerjea
Senior Marketing Director – Frito Lay Core Brands
PepsiCo Canada

How did you get into the CPG business?
I dipped my toes into CPG during a high-school internship program with Procter & Gamble, and discovered the importance of innovation and deep consumer understanding in building household brands that I grew up with. I was fortunate to have some great internships at Kraft Foods Canada within the sales organization, across category management and corporate trade strategy, which led me to joining their marketing organization full time after graduating university, working on brands like Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Triscuit. After spending several years with Kraft, I had the opportunity to continue my career with PepsiCo, with experiences across beverages and food divisions, including leading brands like Tropicana, Gatorade, Lay’s and Doritos, as well as media, shopper marketing, sports marketing, innovation and new business.

Proudest moment?
Being nominated by my team early in my career as a people leader for the PepsiCo Canada Coach of the Year award. It meant a lot to know that I had impact in helping others unleash their potential and help them feel confident in their own skin. One of my favourite quotes that my dad introduced me to has been a mantra for me professionally: “Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back.” (credited to Tony Adams, Arsenal FC)

Your best quality?
My ability to motivate and inspire people to forge ahead and win, deliver strong results, and feel a sense of unity and purpose. I’ve always been an eternal optimist with a hunger to deeply understand consumers, tell compelling stories, and find ways to connect a diverse group of people through a shared experience or goal.

Best advice ever received?
The best advice that I have received is that it is OK to be vulnerable, to ask for help, and to “fail.” True growth comes from those moments where you get on the other side of a tough situation, where you experience the greatest learning and develop grit. During times like these, it’s more important than ever to lead with transparency and vulnerability.

Career highlight/greatest achievements
Some of my marketing career highlights involve campaigns that were consumer-centric, captured “Canadiana” and told stories in bold and unexpected ways. On Tropicana, we brought “the sun” (a large balloon that simulated the 100,000 lumens of the sun) to the most northwestern community in Canada in the Arctic Circle (Inuvik, N.W.T.) during the winter when they experience 24-hour darkness. The Brighter Mornings story was captured by Canadian documentary filmmaker Samir Mallal, featured a song by Montreal artist Patrick Watson, and the entire endeavour was made possible by an all-Canadian creative and production team who braved frigid temperatures and complete lack of sunlight. The campaign was also documented by CBC North, Breakfast Television, and others, and received the Cannes Gold Lion.

On Gatorade, we celebrated Canada’s game by surprising a team of competitive sledge hockey athletes with NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby, who joined them in a game of sledge hockey. The magic came to life in the way the sledge athletes taught the NHL players how to compete to win, and with the behind-the-scenes documentary that demonstrated that no matter the athlete, the experience, or the abilities, the love of hockey and the competitive spirit is universal—hockey is hockey. The campaign went on to win a Clio Sports Marketing Award.

But after nearly 20 years in marketing, it’s the joy of seeing young marketers who I have had the honour of working with, mentor and coach, progress in their careers, move on to bigger roles and around the world, and make incredible impact on their brands, businesses, and teams. Co-leading our PepsiCo Canada Marketing Capabilities training agenda and partnering with global capabilities has been a great way to give back and strengthen the next generation of Canadian marketing talent.

What do you like most about your job?
The people. Yes, the powerhouse brands and incredible opportunities to have broad and deep career experiences brought me to PepsiCo, but I stay because of the bright, passionate and amazing people I get to work with every day. Nothing magnified this more than going through a pandemic, facing incredible ambiguity and complexity, and navigating stresses at work and at home. Beyond that, having the opportunity to co-chair the PepsiCo Women’s Inclusion Network has been an immensely fulfilling role. The leadership within WIN has been truly remarkable, especially during these uncertain times, in demonstrating support for female associates and for other employee resources groups. I am incredibly proud to work alongside colleagues and friends who truly care, lead with values and purpose, and support each other wholeheartedly.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel that the food and beverage industry continues to be important in shaping great leaders and marketers, and has a meaningful impact in the lives of Canadians—from farm to table. While some may see the industry as old and sleepy, I see accelerated focus on innovation (products, GTM systems, shopping experiences, etc.) and finding deeper ways to connect consumers with brands they love and count on. At the end of the day, all Canadians interact with food and beverage brands every single day, so nurturing and strengthening that relationship is critical. This is what keeps me in the food business and continues to excite and energize me.

Click here for the full list of 2o2o Star Women in Grocery award winners.

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