Laura Maxwell | Photo by Cydnee Jex
When asked, Laura Maxwell defines her superpower as “getting things done.” As Senior Vice President of Supply Chain Optimization at PepsiCo – Frito-Lay North America, she helps get products such as Cheetos, Fritos and Lay’s onto shelves and, ultimately, into the homes of consumers across North America . Her role includes supply planning, transportation and commercialization. One of her most recent tasks was working to bring to market Doritos Flamin’ Hot Nacho tortilla chips.
“Everyone loves Doritos; Doritos are awesome,” Laura says with a smile as we chat in a small conference room at the Frito-Lay headquarters off of Legacy Drive in Plano.
“R&D and the marketing team will come up with this fantastic idea, they bring it to us and we figure out how in the world we can bring that to life, get it to market,” Laura says. “We love a challenge and it’s always fun to see something on the shelf that you had a hand in getting there.”
As a child, Laura didn’t have a career picked out, but she knew she loved math and science. She followed the advice of her school counselor who encouraged her to pursue engineering, and she landed a job with Frito-Lay as a project engineer at a plant in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“When I think about my first few years, my [thoughts] go to people [who] helped me along, standing beside me and giving me confidence. The people at PepsiCo and the people I had the chance to work with had a lot of experience and wisdom, and my fondest memories are [of] them helping me along the way.”
Thirty years later, a lot has changed. The company now implements advanced technology and controls that keep production going at an impressive speed. Laura has been there for it all.
When she’s not working, Laura enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters at local restaurants, sporting events and concerts, sometimes with Tostitos Scoops Multigrain tortilla chips—one of her favorite Frito-Lay products—in hand. You may also find her inside a boxing ring. What started as a way to exercise has now become a passion that lands Laura at boxing competitions a few times a year. It also enhances her leadership skills out of the ring.
“One of the objectives [in boxing] is to avoid getting hit,” Laura says. “You might think that the way you do that is by watching your opponent’s hands and trying to determine when the next punch is coming. But the truth of the matter is that if you watch their hands, by the time you come to realize that the punch is being thrown, it’s probably too late. What I’ve learned is you’ve got to watch the body, the eyes, the tweak of the elbow; that’s what lets you move and miss the punch. And business is a lot like that. You don’t want to wait until a problem is right in front of you to address it.”
Laura is a respected professional and a sought-after mentor. With three decades at Frito-Lay, she has truly climbed the corporate ladder and learned a lot along the way. Here’s her advice for how to become the best version of yourself, both professionally and personally.
Read more: Roslyn Dawson Thompson on elevating women in the workforce
“As we bring new people into our organization today, my advice to them is to gain developmental experiences by being around people who aren’t like them in their background, areas of expertise, etc. . The same holds true for us. As longtime leaders at the company, we have to be as tech-savvy as the people we are bringing into the workplace. You have to be on social media if they’re on social media; you have to be in their world. In order for us to come together and create great things, we all have to keep learning and evolving.”
Stay true to yourself
“We all have our own unique management style and I’ve found that we each have to stay true to that authentic style. For example, I am a big believer that tough conversations with team members are sometimes necessary, but they should take place behind closed doors, one-on-one. There was a time, I received feedback that maybe I wasn’t tough enough, so I started publicly talking tough … making people feel bad. Stylistically, it wasn’t me and it wasn’t effective. My wake-up call was when a brave manager pulled me aside and told me that people were wondering what was going on. That made me realize that I have to stay true to who I am. It was one of my biggest lessons.”
Make a decision, even if it’s the wrong one
“So often, teams get stuck waiting on decision makers to make a call. When a decision needs to be made and no one is making a decision, consider that a jump ball. Meaning, if there are a lot of things swirling around, and no one’s making a decision, make the decision – whether you are the decision maker or not. Because if no one’s making the decision, taking the initiative will often bring out the decision-makers to finally come forward and have a point of view! One of the greatest gifts we can give to our team is a decision, allowing them to move forward and get things done.”
Get it done
“I’m such a believer in getting things done. In business, oftentimes it’s tempting to spend a lot of time on ideas and ideation, and ideas are great, but they accomplish nothing. Execution accomplishes things. Oftentimes you can change the car tires when it’s running; you can get going and make changes as needed. Sometimes being first is better than being second or third, or perfect.”
Invite men to the conversation
“We need to tell women to remember to include men in the conversation. We tend to get a lot of energy off of each other; we have our Women in Business clubs and organizations, and that’s fantastic. As women, we need to invite men to be part of the conversation about women in in business.”
Create a self-development plan
“Be intellectually curious. Everyone should have a self-development plan that lays out what they have done and what they are going to do in the next year that satisfies their intellectual curiosity and builds capability.”
Invest in yourself
“The other thing I’ve learned in life, and it relates to the boxing a bit, is that I think it’s really good to have something outside work that makes you happy. We spend a lot of time at work and with family and both make us happy and are extremely important. I found boxing and fitness later in life and can now say that when you have something that gives you energy and it’s something you enjoy, it’s amazing how that reflects positively on work. I’m better at what I do because I have something; I take more risks because I have something that involves risk-taking, and I think it’s something I learned later in life. An added plus, my passion for boxing and fitness is something I can enjoy with my two daughters.” Originally published in the October 2019 Women’s Issue of Local Profile under the title “Bob & Weave”
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