PepsiCo’s Manoj Fenelon Looks Past the Horizon

As director of foresight at PepsiCo, Manoj Fenelon’s job focuses not on the horizon but on what’s beyond it. “Changes are shifting the whole paradigm, and there are new economies emerging,” Fenelon said. “It’s a very interesting, exciting time, but also a very scary time for people in businesses like mine.”

Fenelon spoke at Yale SOM on November 7 in an event sponsored by the Design and Innovation Club. He told students that the world today is in the midst of a sweeping shift as the Industrial Age winds down and new thinking reshapes business practices. At PepsiCo, Fenelon said, his role is to determine how the company’s brands can prosper in this shifting landscape.

Organizations are out; networks are in.

Fenelon identified a number of major changes that, he said, businesses must take into account (He stressed that while the views he shared reflected his work at PepsiCo, they were not official PepsiCo statements and did not indicate business policies or plans at the company.) Environmental concerns, for instance, will increasingly require companies to prioritize sustainability issues. At the same time, consumers are experiencing “choice fatigue” over the dizzying array of products on store shelves today, and by the high advertising costs these products entail. Both of these trends suggest a focus on the quality, rather than the quantity, of products. “We’ll see a shift towards not more, but better,” Fenelon said.

Some conceptual shifts are also impacting the business landscape. Among them is a change toward viewing businesses, and even societies, not as collections of machines performing distinct functions but as ecosystems in which all the functions are linked, Fenelon said. Accompanying this shift is a change from “hierarchical to connective” thinking. The net result: “organizations are out; networks are in,” Fenelon said.

Another important change, Fenelon said, is that individuals view themselves as “citizens,” rather than “consumers.” The public is distrustful of corporations and more concerned about corporate practices. “Citizens will instigate the change they want to see,” Fenelon said. “They’re not going to wait for companies to do it.”