Small businesses are struggling to survive in the midst of a global pandemic, but Black-owned businesses are being hit the hardest. According to a population survey conducted by the University of California, Santa Cruz, 41 percent of Black business owners between February and April saw their businesses shut down completely.
Fern Johnson, the senior director of global information technology for PepsiCo, and her fellow executives just announced the formation of a special task force that will make meaningful, million-dollar investments in Black communities and businesses during this difficult time.
“We had a combination of marketeers, sales leaders and frontline business leaders to say what could we do that would drive sustainable, meaningful change,” Johnson told Local Profile as part of our Local Leader series on Facebook Live.
PepsiCo’s task force will invest at least $400 million into Black communities and businesses over the next five years. The money will be used to make major investments in business, community and “people development” and provide “internships and apprenticeships” to college students of color. Johnson says the goal of the task force is to diversify the makeup of the business community.
“We’re going to make sure that we take our current population and grow that even more,” Johnson says. “It’s about not only bringing in new talent but then taking that talent and growing them up the pipeline. We’re also going to double down our efforts and how we recruit at our historically Black colleges and universities.”
Johnson says she knows firsthand how invaluable an education can be for people with a dream of making it big in business.
“I don’t have a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education,” Johnson says. “I don’t have that kind of education. I actually learned all of it through my dad.”
Her father worked as an executive for companies like NCR and Pfizer and always brought home different kinds of computers. She says she developed an interest and deep wealth of knowledge for computers and technology and it led her to a college degree and a career in IT and business leadership.
“What’s really been great is PepsiCo has afforded me the opportunity to learn different disciplines and get really super, creative, critical experiences that helped me mature as an IT practitioner but then as an executive,” Johnson says. “So I’ve been in management now probably, gosh, 15-17 years and that’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to really think about how can I build leaders.”
During her time at PepsiCo, she’s started several initiatives to help people learn the business of business and how to compete and lead in a constantly changing global economy. She says she’s learned a lot from them too.
“That global initiative just opened my eyes to how to work not just from a US perspective but what it means to understand, you know, dollar devaluation in Latin America, what does it mean to have to work with different languages and cultures,” she says. “It’s been very, very rewarding.”
She says she’s also had the opportunity to mentor several women with ambitions for a career in management and even though “we still have work to do there around attracting women into it but then also grow them into leadership opportunities.”
Johnson advises aspiring business women to take some initiatives of their own to pursue their dream of business management like “take the role nobody wants to take” and “learn a second language, live outside the United States of America” and “learn how to do business.”
“Find your passion early if your passion is building applications, if your passion is project managing or if your passion is to serve the community,” Johnson says. “The most you lean into it, the greater yourself will be in the work that you do for any organization.”
Local Leaders by Local Profile is an ongoing video series featuring incredible local leaders sharing their best leadership insights. Going beyond business, Local Leaders aims to inspire and motivate you to become the best version of yourself. It broadcasts LIVE via the Local Profile Facebook page (click here.)