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Building a Foundation of Trust

PepsiCo General Counsel David Yawman discusses his leadership style, including the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and empowering individual team members.

CCBJ: What led to your role at PepsiCo?

David Yawman: I began my legal career with a federal clerkship and spent three years at Fried Frank in New York. where I received excellent training by working on a myriad of matters for different clients. And while I enjoyed the experience at the firm, I aspired to work for one single client. It was early on in my career that I made the decision to move to PepsiCo. It was the best decision because essentially, for the last 20 years, I’ve had a career within a company – from starting out as an employee benefits attorney to becoming the Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer, and then to General Counsel for our beverage business to my current role as PepsiCo’s General Counsel. My story is a great illustration of PepsiCo’s DNA and culture where through hard work and an insatiable curiosity, you can earn the opportunity to do different things, gain diverse experiences and ultimately, learn more, do more, and be a value-add to the business.

Tell us about your leadership style and who has influenced it.

I’ve worked for, with and near some great leaders during my career. The best leaders I’ve seen always cared about the team and the team members more than themselves, and they empowered individuals to contribute to the collective effort. As a leader, I prioritize my team – I aspire to be a doorway to answers, a buttress of support, and when needed, a bulldozer of obstacles that may be in the way of delivering for the business. While I always provide guidance and counsel, I expect team members to own what they do and to know their area better than I do. When building a team, I focus on diversity, broadly defined. Where diverse representation exists, diverse perspectives can be shared, all voices are valued, and we can work from a foundation of trust. What I’ve found is that when we have those types of team members and that type of environment, PepsiCo gets the best results.

What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your team?

There are two qualities that I look for when hiring new team members and both are things I expect from myself, too. First, is the person self-motivated? In my opinion, you’ve got to have your own internal engine and drive yourself to be better. That ultimately manifests itself with folks being very curious. The second quality is confidence. As a lawyer or public policy advisor, you have to be confident because you help guide business decisions. But that confidence needs to be paired with humbleness. You have to be humble enough to realize that there is always more to be learned.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Two concepts come to mind. First, never take a job just for the money. A successful legal career will be lucrative enough. If at a point in time you emphasize compensation over experience, you may very well miss an experiential opportunity that will propel you to even greater heights down the road. Second, and this is related to the first, think of your career in two-year installments. When in a role or faced with a new opportunity, ask yourself whether you will continue to learn and grow in new ways for the next two years. If the answer is yes, you’re doing just fine in growing your career.

How about the best life advice?

The best life advice I’ve received is certainly relevant to the hard working career that is law, but I’m sure it applies to other professions too. The advice is to ensure you’re living a balanced life, where your life priorities are reflected in your thoughts and actions each week. This means never forgetting what matters most to you. For me, that’s my family. Before anything, I am a father, a husband, a son and a brother. I am at my best when I know I have put my family first, even when I’m buried in a tough workweek or extended project.