Last year, the Food Industry Association of Canada recognized PepsiCo’s Marc Guay with the Golden Pencil Award for his lifetime contributions to grocery. Days before, Canadian Grocer spoke with Guay about his career and advice for the industry.
How did you get your start in the grocery business?
Growing up in Montreal, I loved shopping at Steinberg’s with my mom, but my hands-on experience started in high school when I worked summers at the five kiosks my family operated in the Montreal subway system. While in university, I was given some management experience on the weekends. Throughout, I learned how to work with customers, develop merchandising ideas and manage a business. After university I got a job with an industrial conglomerate in Europe and quickly discovered that it wasn’t for me. On my return to Canada, I was hired by Procter & Gamble as a sales rep. After five years with P&G and as sales manager in Ottawa, I joined Pepsi/ Frito Lay in sales. I’ve been at PepsiCo for 28 years now and credit the company’s senior leadership team with giving me the opportunity to experience many different challenges and a variety of markets–I moved eight times–and challenging circumstances.
Speaking of challenges, what was your greatest one?
My greatest challenge has been to tame my own impatience. I was never known as a person with a lot of patience. I always tried to get things done quickly, especially when I was younger. I’ve learned over the years that not everything can be resolved in one meeting or conversation. You have to take people along with you when you want to make big changes, and that requires time and patience.
Who are your mentors?
My longtime mentor is Dale Morrison, an American who was president of Pepsi Canada in the late ’80s, but also headed McCain Foods. He gave me many opportunities, including in the U.S. It was people such as Dale who gave me the chance to learn and take on different experiences in different markets and situations. I still have mentors, but I learned more from Craig Young in the two years I worked for him than almost anyone else. He was a military man who approached the business through execution excellence, which was an important education for me.
Which accomplishment makes you most proud?
I’m pleased with the work that we’ve done to build a great company. But what means more to me is my ability to emulate my mentors, to coach and teach and provide opportunities for young people to succeed in this business. There are many names and many faces that I worked with who are now making an impact in business. They are going to continue to build Pepsi long after my career, that’s for sure.
How do you give back to the community?
The most important thing for me is the work I do with food banks. I started volunteering at food banks 10 years ago and I’ve been able to see first- hand the impact of poverty on people. In a country like this, I find it appalling. In the last two years, I have been able to complement my frontline work with my involvement at a strategic level on the board of Food Banks Canada and in 2015 I will become chair for two years.
What advice do you have for people starting out in the business today?
Be curious. Learn as much as you can about as many things as you can. You should know different retail models, different roles in your own company. Don’t find a niche and stick with it for the rest of your life. Be flexible. Try different things, keep things in perspective and have fun.