Innovation Comes From You — Not Your Degree featuring Fumi James (Watanabe)

In a large organization like PepsiCo, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the world-class leaders surrounding you. How can you overcome your fears in order to contribute?

Remember that you’re in the room for a reason. It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD from a prestigious university or a degree from a community college. You’ve honed your skills over years of success and failure through the hard knocks of life. Your unique perspective and experiences are a strength to any organization. What makes you different from everyone else is exactly what makes you valuable — no one can replace you.

In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, Diana Fryc is joined by Fumi James, the Senior Director of Global Foods and Breakthrough Innovations Brand Design for PepsiCo, to discuss why experience outweighs advanced degrees. Fumi shares the story of her humble beginnings, how she developed a strategic design mindset, and why she values portfolios over educational background. She also talks about how to cultivate a work environment that values diversity and inclusion.

In this episode we learn: 

  • Fumi James describes her role at PepsiCo and how it’s shifted to focus on sustainability
  • How Fumi used her passion for the arts to build a career in graphic design and branding
  • The mindset shift from decoration to strategic thinking
  • Fumi describes the moment she felt empowered to take her career to the next level
  • What lessons did Fumi learn from her challenges and setbacks?
  • The power of saying “no”
  • Advice for creative thinkers who are just starting out
  • How you can cultivate an environment where both introverts and extroverts feel free to contribute
  • What are brands losing when they don’t nurture and grow diversity in design?
  • Why Fumi prioritizes portfolios over advanced degrees
  • Fumi gives a shout out to other creative women in the industry and discusses trends she’s tracking
Gooder Podcast

Innovation Comes From You — Not Your Degree featuring Fumi James (Watanabe)

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About Fumi James (Watanabe): 

Fumi James (Watanabe) is the Senior Director of Global Foods and Breakthrough Innovations Brand Design for PepsiCo. Fumi is a passionate, creative thinker experienced in leading teams to deliver beautiful and purpose-driven brand design. She’s helped lead the design for campaigns like the “Pepsi Generation” and Pure Leaf’s “No is Beautiful.” Fumi is also a champion of creative diversity and maximizing individual strengths in a team.

Fumi began her 15+ years of branding and retail expertise at Starbucks Coffee Company before joining PepsiCo in 2016. As the Creative Manager at Starbucks, she built a top-performing in-house design team, managed multiple re-brandings and promotions, and led packaging redesigns.

Guests Social Media Links: 

LinkedIn Fumi James: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fumiw

Website: https://design.pepsico.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pepsico_design/

Show Resources: 

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo

Retail Voodoo has been building beloved and dominant brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness CPG industries for over 30 years. They’ve served multinational companies like PepsiCo. and Starbucks, startups like High Key, and everything in between. 

Their proven process guides hundreds of mission-driven consumer brands to attract a broad and passionate fan base, crush their categories through growth and innovation, and magnify their social and environmental impact. 

So, if you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, Retail Voodoo is here to help.

Visit retail-voodoo.com or email info@retail-voodoo.com to learn more.

Transcript:

Intro 0:05

Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.

Diana Fryc 0:44

Hello, Diana Fryc here I am the host of Gooder Podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. Thanks for joining us today. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo Retail Voodoo as a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks kind, Rei, PepsiCo, high key and other many market leaders. We provide strategic branded design services for leading brands in the food, beverage and wellness categories. And if your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk. You can find out more about us at Retail-Voodoo.com. Well, today I’m very excited to talk with our guest Fumi James is the Senior Director of Global Foods and Breakthrough Innovation Brand Design for PepsiCo. Fumi is a champion of creative diversity and experienced in maximizing individual strengths in a team. She built her 15 plus years of branding and retail expertise at Starbucks Coffee Company before she joined PepsiCo to lead design for global beverage brands and sustainability in 2016. Fumi is a passionate creative thinker experienced in leading cross disciplinary teams to deliver beautiful and purposeful design, purposeful driven brand design, innovation and design strategy that drive business results. We’ve always liked that she believes that future is being built right now. And brands must have a strong and multifaceted identity that can withstand to be redefined. Pepsi generation and Pure Leaf no is beautiful are a couple of campaigns that you guys might be familiar with that she was participated in lead. Did you leave those for me?

Fumi James 2:39

Yeah, from design point of view in partnership with branching. Yeah.

Diana Fryc 2:43

Excellent. So and she’ll talk about a few other things as we get into it. But I do want to share a really fun quick story. This isn’t this is kind of a rare thing to have happen. While it isn’t fresh in Fumi’s memory, she and I actually met when she started at Starbucks, I think this was an 1847. It was a long time ago. And we had an affiliation through the AIGA. I want to say that it was Art With Heart. Were you on the Art With Heart team at the time?

Fumi James 3:13

Yeah, I was helping out Yeah, definitely. Yes, really

Diana Fryc 3:17

amazing, amazing organization that stemmed from a very passionate community design community within the local Seattle area. And I just thought it was really fun to be able to see her kind of grow through all these years and now be able to connect with her. And in a different capacity and a completely different role. So well. Hello, Fumi is so very nice to see you again.

Fumi James 3:45

So good to see you. Diana, thank you for having me.

Diana Fryc 3:47

Of course in you are in New York today. Yes, I am. Okay, and are you in the city? Are you in the main offices there?

Fumi James 3:56

Yeah, so my team is based in the Soho office, but we have been working from home for the last two years. So I might my house or apartment in Hoboken? Right across the river, technically in New Jersey.

Diana Fryc 4:11

New York. I don’t know. I think Hoboken is probably grown up a little bit since I have been there, which has been quite some time. Yeah, no, it’s still quiet, you know, small city next to the big city. Hmm. And I understand congratulations are in order you and your team won and FE recently, is that correct?

Fumi James 4:31

Yes. So DDP team brand team, you know, the the Pure Leaf team won the FE silver award. So super excited. We, you know, kind of had an outdoor celebration to really reconnect, which, you know, for all of us, it’s been two years. So yeah, to train you believe it? I know. I

Diana Fryc 4:52

know. It doesn’t seem possible. Not at all. Yeah. Well, I’m excited to talk about your journey. But before we go to To down too far down the roll. I always like it when my guests have an opportunity to share a little bit more about our organization. And in the case of PepsiCo, your it’s so big and you guys do so many different things that I thought maybe we could start with, what your role is within the organization and how you support the company and the brand at large. Can you share with that a little bit?

Fumi James 5:24

Yeah, so I initially joined as a global beverage design director, looking after Pepsi and Aquafina. And then I moved over to look after tea brands. So purely then brisk and tahsil come to, you know, that point, those portfolio and then Global Sustainability Initiative, which we just announced, so it’s PepsiCo positive initiative, worked on the branding strategy, you know, kind of the Global Initiative for that. And now currently look after design for global food brands. So Lay’s Cheetos, Doritos, pop works, you know, and smattering of new initiatives like portfolio strategy and breakthrough innovation. So it’s been really exciting career journey for me.

Diana Fryc 6:07

No, my goodness. And it’s this kind of a new type of org, I feel like we talked about there was kind of a little bit of shift in how you it your role, maybe in the past, or maybe your role is brand new altogether. Is that right? Am I remembering that correctly?

Fumi James 6:25

Um, no. So I my role for that local food design existed. But the breakthrough innovation role was kind of added on to it. So just kind of a new hybrid role. But sustainability was a new role from for the organization. So that’s the one that I started. And then, you know, handed off when I shifted over to the gotcha, I’m still involved, you know, the, my passion is the same, I’m the same person. So now I’m supporting the sustainability initiatives through the, you know, food brands.

Diana Fryc 6:56

Good. Okay, great. Well, because of so much of what you and I discussed in preparation for this episode starts at the beginning, so to speak, let’s head back a little bit to that point in time of your career, maybe, maybe even talking about how you decided to go into graphic design, because a lot of people don’t know, you started as a graphic designer, but then you then as your role grows, you have far more of an impact in the role that you’re in now. And I think a lot of people don’t understand how graphic design can teach you how to think in these strategic ways. So let’s start with how did graphic design, what was the calling of graphic design? What drew you to that?

Fumi James 7:44

Yeah, no, so I initially was a fine art major, actually. So I started in fine art. But you know, I’m originally from Japan, and a couple years, and I realized, oh, shoot, I have to, you know, get a visa. So I definitely have to quit shift toward employment, you know, kind of a commercial art type of practice. That’s what it was called back then, you know, as before graphic design was graphic design. So it shifted to commercial art in, you know, in university. But as you know, we discussed earlier, as part of my, the part of our earlier conversation, you know, when I graduated high school, I was a foreign student, right? So I really wanted to go into art school, but it wasn’t fine. It wasn’t financially viable for me. So I looked into my options, and I decided to go to community college for two years to get my MBA degree to transfer to the university. And, you know, 25 years later, and I work at amazing global company like PepsiCo, you know, among many, like in a world class peers with, you know, MBA prestigious education, but I really believe that it’s possible to achieve this with, you know, humble start, like a community college student. And when I saw I started in community college, shifted to the, you know, four year university halfway through transfer, and I, you know, was doing the fine art major, but then shifted to commercial arts ended up getting BFA, so it was graphic design and interactive design was kind of rolled up into one. And I was always, you know, strategic thinker. So my portfolio coming out of college was, you know, almost like case studies. So, instead of just looking at the graphic applications of design, I was thinking, you know, brand building from the get go, but, yeah, and I think a lot of brand designers who might start in the graphic design or potentially start and experiential design, there’s always an opportunity to think bigger and think holistically. And, you know, as you dig into this discipline of design, we all get curious, right, like, Okay, so who are we talking to? What are the consumer curious about and, you know, so on and so forth. It’s really kind of easy way to really started thinking in strategic more holistic, 360 experience way.

Diana Fryc 10:05

Yeah. And and you’re kind of leading into this direction here. I, of course, in our studio, David, my business partner has an absolutely uncanny way of finding talent, that he’s able to groom. Oftentimes we bring in people who are designers, per se. And then as they move on to the next part of their journey, they’re almost brand strategist, you know, because the way he integrates strategic thinking into the concept of the creative deliverable is is such a gift. Let’s talk a little bit about some of those things that you have found. Or, you know, maybe at what point in your career was it when you were in community college? Or when you were later on where you started to think strategically about design rather than making decoration? Does that make sense the difference between decoration and strategic thinking?

Fumi James 11:06

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So I was at Starbucks for so long, right? I felt like I touched every business, you know, from loyalty program to, you know, reserve, reset, you know, from where it was luxury to more kind of small lock type of thing. You know, or even the rebrand of all those brands that require like taso evolution fresh, and even like a, you know, Starbucks brand itself, every time designer get involved, you know, that we’re curious, right, and by nature, so I’ve always been excited by holistic thinking and design. And I’ve cultivated myself and also my team to ask a lot of questions, right. And as we go into, you know, deeper into the each brands, you know, it’s consumer insights, how do we make money? What’s the business agenda, what’s the business opportunity, all those things are connected, right. And from purely design point of view, you know, once you start to build a brand, it’s traditionally non design things like, you know, like a brand stand for like purpose, or how we show up in the world, or, you know, what time of the day is kind of our prime brand time, or who we hang out with, and all that things becomes your business. So, you know, when we talk about creative direction, it’s hard to limit it to just like how things look or decoration to your point, you know, or color palette, or logo and like, to those things, each of these things that we design have a role. And not everything can be a beacon, like a logo, sometimes a brand role is to create the mood that the atmosphere or create kind of the little cultural drops, that people then kind of take and run with it. So yeah, it’s it’s and you know, as we go deeper into it, it just naturally becomes more all inclusive and holistic. And honestly, when we are not working like that, then is starting to, you know, it kind of brand becomes disconnected and yeah, and take, right, so I feel like it is our partner. So as designer, my partner is the brand partner insights, you know, r&d, we are all in it to kind of in operations to right, we are honored to create this experience together.

Diana Fryc 13:22

Absolutely. I find that the organizations and incidentally, I’ve interviewed a few people from PepsiCo, probably for the size of organization that you guys the most community based when it comes to brand building that I’ve seen in some times, and that’s just, I haven’t had a peek into too many organizations. But this concept of the design, the designer, and the ops person, and the brand and the accounting, can all participate in in fact, should participate kind of have this. This collective group making decisions for the brands so that you’re looking at it from a 360 standpoint, bringing your expertise in, but also then having a respect for those other elements on the team. This design thinking is not just graphic design, but design of a team and design of the process. I think it’s really, really a smart, a smart direction. And I love watching you guys grow. Thank you. Yeah. So when you stepped back, when you step back to your I don’t know if it was Starbucks or some other point. Along the way, did you have a moment in time where you were like, This is what I’m loving this, I want to do this. In fact, I want to do this at a bigger level, or was there some moment that kind of shifted you and directed you in this to where you are now?

Fumi James 14:51

Yeah, so you know when when you ask, you know, when I knew when I you felt that I’m headed in the right direction is Yeah, When I felt that, so I was empowered to build a team, and to grow a team and lead a team, right? Like, while being authentic to myself, and you know, how I work, how I relate, and you know, who I am, that’s when I felt that, hey, I’m in the right place, I was having so much fun. And also, up until that point, even, you know, when I was being true to myself, I, there were some, throughout my career, I felt like, I had to be a little bit different, right? Like, I have to be more or I have to, you know, do it in a certain way to in or I have to, you know, present myself in a certain way to be successful. And, you know, more, more this less so that, you know, that kind of things. And I feel like, it’s not just me, most people feel the pressure to confirm to like, either others agenda or the form of, you know, how the success look like? And, yeah, when I realized, you know, I was like, no, no, I can just be myself, my curious, you know, vulnerable, you know, authentic selves. And I bring that my unique skill set and insight that only I can bring to the table and just felt empowered to build a team during those different talents together, and show that this could work. That’s when I felt like, wow, you know, that I’m in the right place. And this is the work that I’m here to do.

Diana Fryc 16:22

Nice. Did you have was this within the world of Starbucks? Or is it been within the world of PepsiCo? Where Where did that show up for? You know, he came

Fumi James 16:31

and went, right, I saw a glimpse of this at Starbucks, and I definitely felt empowered to build the team, I was managing there for, you know, a bit like, maybe 10 years or so. So I definitely felt, you know, kind of, at the trust and empowerment to grow, then, you know, I was starting to think, wow, I want to really work in the global you know, environment, where can I get to work with diverse culture, diverse point of view, learn about the consumer, really directly, powerful consumer insight tools, and, you know, really innovate in the way that I’ve read about in books, right? Because Starbucks is really innovation, innovative company, but it’s a retailer. So when we come up with a new idea, we can watch and see what happens so we can roll it out. So when I really wanted to innovate in the way that is really customer centric, and learn and, you know, kind of study the diverse cultures around the world. You know, I came to PepsiCo. And right away, I was inspired to build a team, being able to kind of, I think the expectation that I didn’t know at the time was for me to come in and start setting the agenda. And of course, I come in, you know, from outside, so I spent, like few months, you know, learning about how everybody work, and just to kind of ground myself, but I realized PepsiCo, there’s a lot of trust in, you know, for leaders to come in and really set the agenda. So yeah, that was, yeah, that’s when I felt like, wow, I’m having so much fun and anything that we any any challenges that we have, we can find solutions together. That was a really powerful feeling.

Diana Fryc 18:16

Nice. Did you so I’ll ask the flip question, right? Do you have any moments that any use the word flopped or failed, something that was like did not go the way that you wanted it to? Or you had hoped to, but that ended up being a really, either really repositioned you for success? Or you simply learned a lot from?

Fumi James 18:39

Huh, well, let me think about it. So it’s kind of a situation when I was like, oh, shoot, you know, like, I can do I can do better this time. Yeah. No, you know, so, um, yeah, I learned from everyone I interacted, right, like, interact with, right. So especially sometimes a bad experience is a great teacher. And I also think, right, and also, when we’re under pressure, or when we’re in a tricky situation, that’s when we really get to demonstrate what we’re really made of, you know, can we stay focus? Can we stay collaborative, when we, you know, kind of talk about how we support each other, can we really show up for that? And so, yeah, no, I feel like there are many times when, you know, teams are under pressure or, you know, things were challenging. I felt that that’s when we actually could demonstrate that, you know, the to build the trust and, you know, come around to really demonstrate how what we bring is actually really valuable. So, my own moments, you know, I tend to and I still have this challenge, right? So I tend to overcome it. You know, when I see challenges that I know our team can solve, and you know, we’re already like 120 and nobody psych Oh my gosh, this this great opportunity, but things are not working out. Can you help us solve this? It’s so hard for me to say no. But you know, when I know our team can help, and we can do it, but if I say yes, sometimes that it’s over committing, and you know, the team can do a great job, right. So there is a line where I’ve learned, I’ve learned how better now to let go and kind of say, think to myself, hey, there is going to be a next opportunity. Or hey, let’s, you know, this is kind of already too broken, we’re already too busy to come in and fix it. Let’s just see how it’s gonna settle. And then come back around, you know, if when, when the circumstances are impossible for the team to be successful. I do need to do a better job. But I tried to kind of let go and say, hey, you know, I really want to help. But right now, if I jump in, we probably want to optimal job for this. Yeah, but it’s really hard.

Diana Fryc 20:57

I completely respect that. I think people who are natural problem solvers tend to be that way. And I, and I definitely think that this is so funny, this is the second No, the third podcast in a row, that I’ve spoken with somebody where they said, the power of no was their biggest learning where just not just for themselves and for their teens, but then also for the brand, sometimes the best thing you can do is say, this is not the right opportunity, not the right time, not the right insert, whatever it is. So I think that is fair, because not only do you jeopardize that group or that project that you are wanting to help with, but you end up jeopardizing everything else in the way the collateral damage can be bigger, right? It’s yeah, you know,

Fumi James 21:49

I mean, your team, etc. Exactly. And sometimes these moments when we say no, it’s actually the path is very clear, right? If we do have the bandwidth, we can do it. But the thing is, bandwidth is also part of the resource, and we need to be respectful for that. And it’s actually funny, because, you know, the purely noise beautiful campaign, it’s all about that, right? By saying no to things that doesn’t matter, you can say yes to things that that and it was absolutely such a great learning for me and my team to work on that campaign, because it is such a clear statement, but we are like, we have to kind of live by this, if we’re having this, you know, as a brand purpose. So yeah, definitely learning from all the things we do.

Diana Fryc 22:37

What would you say is a I don’t know if you could identify a proudest moment, per se. But what would you say a proud moment is for you? What is something that you just love reflecting on or sharing with people when you have the opportunity?

Fumi James 22:53

Yeah, well, my proud moment, you know, of course, as a brand designer, I love you know, seeing beautiful brand execution, right in all touchpoints when everything come together, that is like there’s nothing like it, where no, you feel, yeah, it’s magic. But I also have to say that when I see my teams collaborating really seamlessly, in their unique, you know, bringing their unique talent and skill, and really, you know, building the team, like building the kind of a working relationship. That’s, that’s another part that I really feel like it fills my heart. Because, you know, now I get to work with not just my team who’s on the global food, but I partner with regional design team who isn’t all over the world. So Mexico City or London or Moscow or Shanghai, might want to my teammates in Shanghai, I also partner with Plano, Texas design team, and I see all the designers come together and writers come together and really collaborate without any kind of a, you know, silo that really, you know, it’s like a designing the ecosystem, right? When you mentioned earlier, designers can, you know, design the process designs, the approach design division, that’s one of the things we can design the ecosystem of talents and when you know, it takes nurturing it takes clear kind of expectations to make sure that everybody can really thrive. But when it all works, it’s such a beautiful thing to behold and also amazing work come out of it. So while having fun so yeah, that’s that’s one of my highlights of my job. I guess.

Diana Fryc 24:41

That’s awesome. Yeah. I have a you know, I interview a lot of founder owners are different. Their companies are at different stages. And or, you know, I interviewed Cynthia Tice form the founder, owner of Lilly sweets I don’t get to interview many people like yourself who are part of a much larger organization, one of the things that I always like to ask is around advice. And I wonder, when you were thinking about where you are now, and you’re thinking about the Fumi, from, you know, the 20 year old Fumi, that was like going what’s possible for me? Like, what sort of advice? Do you like to give creative thinkers about what’s possible?

Fumi James 25:30

Yeah, so, um, well, what’s possible, you know, so one thing about big organization is that it’s, you know, like PepsiCo, it’s filled with world class, you know, leaders and talents. And as a creative, sometimes you walk in the room, and you’re like, Whoa, these people are execs, they have all of this backgrounds and all of this insights and knowledge and experiences, you know, what can I bring to this, this room, right? And my advice to you is, you know, don’t be intimidated by others credentials, because you’re in that room for a reason, right. And when we talk about diversity, I think, by by definition, if you know, the organization, you know, a big organization is lacking in diversity, whether it’s from, you know, traditional sense, or maybe it’s kind of a skill set and experiences, having different point of view is a strength, right. So as a person in the room, you’re bringing your unique experience skill. So if you’re an entrepreneur, you know, you have run your own small company, or what have you, then you have so many skills and experiences that you honed over the years doing, you know, success, failure, learning all of the years of experiences, you know, to figure new things out, right, coming into the room full of potentially people who are very impressive, you know, your, your point of view is really valuable to contribute, right. So as a leader in I always start by observing and learning and you know, when I learned join the ledger organization, but in the over the years, I’ve learned that, actually, I should not assume that others know more or know better, or have the right answers, right? Especially when it comes to creative projects and innovations. Everybody is coming in kind of thinking, okay, what are we gonna do? And as creative thinker, you know, it, there’s always a benefit to jump in and to contribute, because there’s value there and earlier, you can influence us at the agenda, the better, because we’re all crafting this new world together and, you know, old credentials and things is, while it has a lot of value, it’s not the only way to do things. Yeah. Does it make sense?

Diana Fryc 27:45

Yeah, totally. And you say a couple of things. The one thing that I would that are interesting, the one thing that I want to ask about is this. I have in a previous life, I used to work with lots and lots of 1000s of graphic designers and people who are creative and you say, you said something about when you’re being brought into the group, you want to help craft and influence the agenda and the direction early on. And what do you say to those graphic designers that are far more introspective, quiet? Not? What’s the word I’m looking for? They’re not extroverts, like the ones that are more introverts because most, most creatives, whether they’re architects or engineers, or graphic designers tend to be more introverted. How do you how do you encourage them to be comfortable with their introversion and still be able to participate in a way that the team needs them to participate?

Fumi James 28:52

Yeah, no, that’s really interesting question. I think this applies not just to graphic designers, or anybody who is introverted, right. And as a leader, I’ve learned over the years to work with different way that people think so when I’m setting up a brainstorm session. I can’t cater this brainstorm session only to the external processors are extroverts, right? There’s amazing talented people in the team who might be introverts who might be a visual thinker. So they think in literal pictures, there might be a language barrier to because you don’t have teams in the kind of across the world. So English is not necessarily their first language. So when we bring those different thinkers together, different cultures, different processing, well, if if you’re the leader who is setting up the ideation, there’s a couple of prep work you can do, right? Okay. First, you know, you want to really clarify, this is coming, we’re coming together to do this. And, you know, sometimes you could assign tasks so you know, hey, can you bring something in? If you’re working with visual thinkers? Can you bring some other visual expressions and sketches to a business ideation. If you’re working with introverts, then you might want to give them some of your thoughts ahead of time. So they have time to process when, you know, quietly without all the distractions and then come with amazing ideas, right? So on your quest to answer your question, if you’re introverted, right, and you know, they’re going into the room, there is this additional complexity to having to navigate other people while you want to really drive that agenda. One thing that I’ve learned over the years working with many people who are more, I do want to label them introverted, but not not extroverts. Right. They’re great listeners. Yeah, they, when they’re in the meetings, they spend most of their energy listening, processing. And that’s why they don’t talk. It’s not because they’re shy, it’s because they’re focused on input. And that’s why they’re not outputting. Right? So advice to the people who are more internal processors, is that asked for agenda first, what is the agenda of this meeting? What are we trying to achieve? Who is in the room, so you have quiet time to process and think and bring things to the table? And you’re not necessarily navigating all the input while you’re in the room? Because a lot of meeting happens, you know, way too often with no agenda? No, you know, you don’t know what you’re walking into. And those are the worst environment for people to process, you know, for internal processor to put so that would be nice. Well,

Diana Fryc 31:34

great. It That’s great advice for leaders, I think, especially some more extroverted and comfortable you are, I like to say driving by Braille, like, I am quite comfortable with shooting from the hip, whatever happens to come my way. But I think it’s a good reminder to those of us that are that way that the rest of the world is not that way. And it’s a good way to kind of codify your thinking and then prepare everybody else for the team. I think it’s just leadership 101, that has become really easy to not do because we have technology, and we’ve got 40 different 747 different types of platforms. So you know, we’ve got our items, we’ve got social media, of email and everything. And I think there is an expectation that we’ve already discussed about it, or we alluded to it or I said something in the hallway or whatever. But I think that centralization, the codify codify zation. I just made that word up, codify zation of the thinking, helps you as a leader, and helps you drive to deliverables and then also makes for a much more comfortable meeting. You know, everybody comes

Fumi James 32:45

Yeah, exactly. And, you know, if you’re not the type of person who likes to come prepared, you don’t have to write I kinda wanna see how it goes. And then hey, by the way, I don’t want to. Yeah, I don’t want to, you know, overthink this. Yeah, that’s fine, too. Yeah. But when I say, I love working with a diverse group of people, that literally means like, I’m fascinated with how differently people think. And yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s all of my passion.

Diana Fryc 33:17

Now, you and I had a pretty open conversation about, we talked about education, particularly because you feel like yours is different than what you’re necessarily interacting with. at PepsiCo, we talked about advanced degrees, and kind of a holistic lack of diversity in design and design thinking. Now, I want to talk a little bit about your POV on how brands, how are brands losing when they don’t nurture and grow diversity in design and design thinking?

Fumi James 33:50

Yeah, no, just to clarify, though, I feel like PepsiCo is like the most diverse place I’ve worked for, like I said, I work with it literally, every day I you know, work with people from all over the world. And that is one of the the fascinating thing about kind of a global operation, right, is that I get to learn different culture, different consumer needs and things like that. But yeah, to answer your question, yeah. So the most of the brands right, but especially like food and beverages, we serve people who are very different sometimes, or we can’t, or the people who are driving the brand is not always necessarily serving the the people who interact with everyday right. Food and Beverage is a very fundamental element of people’s lives. And so there are, you know, kind of the backgrounds that the brand drivers like the brand managers will bring, that they need to kind of really have a consumer empathy and learn about the diverse background that exists Nobody that consumer products are living through, right. So diversity in both marketing, but also in design is really critical to embed curiosity and cultural well events and, you know, kind of the relatability to every brand touch points. And, you know, I feel like there’s no more opportunity, we can have to, you know, create this interaction with the customer, that the better that is, the better the designer will be. Maybe we talk about this a little bit more this way, when I think of what the schools and

Diana Fryc 35:34

and I don’t know what this looks like, at a global on a global level. But here in the United States, when we look at what design and design thinking is, it’s still pretty dominated by Caucasians. And, and I wonder, how do we? How can brands kind of foster like, at what point where do we create the opportunity? I feel like by the time we’re in college, we’ve already people have already started knowing what direction they want to go into? Do we need to start talking about design thinking earlier? Like in high schools? Does it need to be more of an open conversation? What are your thoughts?

Fumi James 36:18

Yeah, no, 100%? So I have a couple of thoughts on that. So at PepsiCo, actually design center, we started to identify that challenge, right, we, you know, hire a lot of artists and photographers and, you know, kind of a specialist from diverse backgrounds. You know, so the black illustrators, or Latino photographers, like, we do hire very different talents from different backgrounds. But when you really think about design thinking and design profession, you’re right, there is a history of, you know, certain backgrounds or certain expectation that people grew up with, right, their parents say, Don’t be an artist scenario. And we do hear that, right? The students, high school students will say, you know, hey, my parents are really asking, you know, me to get a job that is, you know, kind of a guaranteed income type of regression, certain professions are more attractive to them than the others. Or when we had the, actually, I had an opportunity to join the mentorship program for really brilliant high school students who might not have a robust financial background. And, you know, when we, you know, so they’re like, maybe six high school students who are really top of their classes. Yeah. And, you know, when I came in the room, and, you know, they’re looking at PepsiCo, it’s a big corporation. And, you know, I mentioned my committee college background, they were, you know, saying, Oh, I didn’t know, that was an option. I didn’t I thought that I had to go to, you know, for your university or art school. Yeah. So it was a, that’s one of the reasons I mentioned that to you, right, in this kind of a public podcast environment, I want to have the representation of all different backgrounds and education and see the model of, you know, how people can create their career the way they envision. So for those high school students that I, you know, kind of temporary, like, give us like, a one day things, I can’t say that was a, you know, mentorship program, but I had interaction with that, for them that that wasn’t it, they didn’t know that, you know, they thought that it wasn’t the option. So having that kind of exposure to high school students on Hey, you could be an artist and have a great job, you could be a graphic designer and still be, you know, strategic and create a career that is really, you know, successful as you know, like your grandpa was or your parents or, and to kind of say, Hey, you could be graduate from community college, you know, transfer that degree to the four year college and build to continue building your career. I think those are, you know, if whatever the background that you’re in, if you’re a graphic designer, I want to create a diverse workforce. I think that’s a great place to start. One. There are a few passionate designers on at PepsiCo Design Center who actually started a mentorship program. Really? Yeah. So they go to the high schools, they go to universities that are primarily black students, they go to art programs, and say, hey, you know, if you’re thinking art is an optional, actually, this could be a career and these are a myriad of ways that you can be a successful professional, being a designer. So we have identified that challenge of, you know, not of by the time people We’re in college they’ve already locked in and start to kind of create representations for the type of jobs that they can get being graphic designers or artists. And so yeah, it’s it’s really important and really close to our heart.

Diana Fryc 40:16

I love that. Well, and to follow along that line even a little bit more, do you feel? Do you feel that there is an over reliance in advanced degrees when it comes to recruiting in organizations, and I say this from here, when I was, I, myself have gone back for my MBA, because I, I felt like I was missing out on something, there’s things that I could be learning or be doing better, or by having

Fumi James 40:49

all of your background you bring to the table, the unique perspective. So to me, you know, that’s one thing that I want to kind of share with you. And, and going back to your original question of, you know, still over reliance on advanced degree for design, no, I only look at Portfolio first, you know, so it’s either it’s all for me, it’s all about portfolio? What is our selection of work? How do you think? And how do you, you know, represent your work, attention to detail strategic thinking? Are you thinking about the brand, holistically, originality, you know, all the skill set? Like, are you dabbling in new technology? Like, everything shows, to me shows up in Portfolio first. So, that’s my first game, I don’t even look at your educational background, before I look at the portfolio, and, you know, that’s, it’s a no, those are the things that tells me a lot more about how you think and the potential and things that I can teach, you know, if I’m, if I’m adding a team member to my team, I look at, you know, what this can this people can this person bring to my team that is so unique to this person that I need so much? And what can I intern teach this person, so they can, you know, grow as the designer, right, and it’s an exchange. And so to me, there isn’t that fast, you know, I mean, to be fair, there is another benefit of best degrees, like networking, or, you know, people who, you know, that confidence that, you know, you feel like you exchanged your Yeah, for, you know, and everything with your confidence, right. But the thing is, if you could gain the confidence and the way that, you know, you can look at yourself and say, you know, what I achieved, I my work is really good. And I’m achieved, I’ve learned so much in my career, then, you know, that is the currency that you bring to the team, right. And I also think that aluminized, from the same school have a very similar approach to things right, like how they educational background, you know, how they think is, by definition, kind of trained in a certain way. So if I’m building a team, I probably say I have like, a, you know, five position and, you know, five candidates, and, you know, like, there’s like, if four of them is from the same school, and then, you know, a vast degree, and then one of them don’t, I don’t know, if I’ll necessarily prioritize that vast degree, because I mean, first of all, I look at the portfolio of race, right? And second of all, then I’m not giving the diversity and thinking in this group, right, everybody’s gonna approach the problem the same way. And, you know, I think organization is better served when they really look at bring in different thinkers.

Diana Fryc 43:46

Yeah, agreed, agreed. I’m really enjoying this conversation. And so glad that we’ve been able to chat. We’re kind of coming up against our time here. And there are questions that I’d like to ask you before we wrap up, if that’s okay. Mm hmm. So I am sure you probably have many interesting facts, but I love it when my guests can share some sort of interesting factor story about the industry or the products that they work with. I like to call it like a happy hour fact something that I could share with my friends and go, did you know, and I wonder if you have something to share, either about PepsiCo or one of the brands that you’ve worked on in the past?

Fumi James 44:28

Yeah, no, um, well, so, you know, food and beverage, it’s a very kind of a unique industry. It’s a lot of the mixture of, you know, the sensory, you know, kind of experience the emotive, you know, things they also subliminal right, so, I guess my tip is, you know, don’t underestimate the power of lighting and sound. My team will attest to that I always talking about lighting. And also sound is really funny like the other day I I was listening to I don’t know, like 20 Sound video, you know, sound sample of like chips crunching? Yeah, some of them, you know, it’s like, makes me cringe. And I’m like, you know, it’s kind of like shattering glass and some of them might automatically make my mouth water. And there’s a subliminal factors to, you know, those lighting and the sound that graphic designers might not pay attention to often, but it’s a it’s definitely part of the brand design. And so, yeah, fun facts, you know, the, all those little tip crunching sound and videos are all designed.

Diana Fryc 45:37

I love it. Yeah. Are there any other women leaders or rising stars out in our industry? Or not? That you would like to elevate or just simply admire for the work that they’re doing?

Fumi James 45:52

Yeah, this is I love this question, right. And, you know, she might not be the rising star, she’s kind of risen already. But I want to highlight a friend and a creative director Pum Lefebure. She owns with her husband, a design firm in Washington, DC called Design Army. And I love Yeah, I love working with her. And so she’s, you know, what I love about her is that she’s an amazing creative director, who can create like iconic visuals and you know, playing multi distance disciplinary design, but she’s also really great collaborator. So we work really closely together. And I noticed that she’s really, you know, listens. And an exchanger intern, I really trust her instinct, and, you know, experiences and that what she brings to the table. And, yeah, she has the tenacity and the grace, you know, really amazing style. So yeah, she’s definitely the one if you haven’t followed her, she’s, you know, great one to one.

Diana Fryc 46:50

Okay. Design army. Right? Yeah. of design. Excellent. Okay. And then what brands or trends or do you have your eye on? And why?

Fumi James 47:00

You know, we’re in a very, we’re living through such an interesting time right now. And COVID are not, I think this shift was already happening. But I feel like the COVID has really amplified, and it’s expedited this shift. So I have my eyes on, you know, that the kind of, we’re in the middle of a huge cultural shift from owning to kind of an access and sharing, you know, when you really think about it, and especially, you know, if you’re a designer, you’re designing traditionally things, right, so traditional value of only things building up, you know, growing roots in where you live, you know, buying foundation, you know, is shifting to more, you know, lightness, networking, access, you know, the ideas, and also kind of a sharing type of culture. And those used to be just something that kind of was like air, like, it’s free. And it’s this everybody knows, but it’s nothing to really hang anything on. And culturally, we’re shifting into those things being very valuable. Yeah. So there are products and services and ways of life that is being invented with this very cultural shift that is like, I’m really fascinated by, you know, like, Yeah, cuz, you know, when you really think about it, like, what the wealth and value and you know, status used to mean, right, and now with the shift, you only things could be weighing you down, like they’re lightness, and nomadic and I, you know, kind of people who are floating around networking, like those people are potentially the wealthiest people in this new culture. Right. So, yeah, it’s it’s really, you know, it’s not just hypothesis or kind of a temporary thing is actually a tangible shift that I feel like we’re going to see the results open in 2030 years. Wow.

Diana Fryc 49:02

I love that thinking. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah. Wow. Well, we’ve been talking with Miss Fumi James, the Senior Director of Global Foods and Breakthrough Innovation Brand Design at PepsiCo. Miss Fumi, where can people learn more about you?

Fumi James 49:21

So my team’s work, so @pepsico_design on Instagram, okay, or for my own, you know, travel notes and using Cisco meetings, handle Instagram as well.

Diana Fryc 49:35

Oh, I love it. Well, for me, thank you so much for your time today and thank you for your the work that you’re doing. And and I mean, the work that you’re doing from a leadership perspective, not just the design, I think you’re influencing a whole generation of thinking and I appreciate that. I’m excited to see what you tackle next. And so very happy that we’ve reconnected.

Fumi James 50:01

Thank you so much, Diana. Thanks for your time, of course. Thank

Diana Fryc 50:05

you, everybody for your time today. Have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Gooder Podcast.

Outro 50:18

We hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you haven’t already, be sure to click subscribe and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do Gooder.

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Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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