By Rebecca Beyer
Emily Silver ’07 wasn’t steeped in the business world before she arrived at the Yale School of Management as an MBA student.
Growing up in a Massachusetts college town, she explains, she knew “academics, and psychologists, and yoga teachers,” not business people. After graduating from Brandeis University, she worked on political campaigns.
But, as she zeroed in on marketing at Yale SOM, she found some surprising parallels with her political experiences. When she heard representatives from PepsiCo speak during her first year at SOM, “a light bulb went off in my head,” she told SOM student Max Dworin ’20, in an episode of SOM’s Career Conversations podcast last year. “I realized, actually, what I’d been doing on political campaigns was marketing. I was marketing a candidate, and marketing a set of policies, and I felt that same energy from the PepsiCo team.”
When she joined PepsiCo—first as a summer intern (her role included managing street ball tournaments in New York City to try to build up Mountain Dew’s brand with African Americans) and then full time after she finished her MBA—Silver learned a major difference between marketing candidates and marketing consumer packaged goods (CPG) or carbonated soft drink (CSD) products: “With a candidate, you’re trying to get people to the polls once a cycle,” she says. “For our brands at PepsiCo, we’re trying to get people to make the choice almost every single day.”
Silver didn’t have much luck in politics (she says she “lost every race that I touched”). But at PepsiCo, she’s had great success: She helped launch the Pepsi Refresh Project, a digitally led social impact campaign that directed corporate dollars to consumer-chosen community projects; and Mountain Dew Kickstart, a breakfast drink that combines fruit juice, Mountain Dew, and caffeine. In 2015, Kickstart, which topped $100 million for PepsiCo in its first year, was included in Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovation Report.
Silver had originally planned to use her Yale MBA to build better political campaigns. But, after learning more about the corporate world, especially CPG companies like PepsiCo, she found her fit.
“I just felt in my gut more similar to those types of roles,” she says, adding that she also briefly considered consulting and investment banking. “These incredible brands are part of the cultural conversation, and, I would argue, part of the cultural fabric of America. That really shifted my thinking.”
She says her political campaign experience has been a major asset, however.
A campaign “teaches you a scrappiness and a flexibility that I have found have been critical enablers for me in the corporate world,” she says. “After working on campaigns, the rest of the world actually seems a little bit slower and more manageable.”
Since she joined PepsiCo, Silver has held a variety of roles, including within the company’s two biggest soda brands, Pepsi and Mountain Dew; heading up the media planning and purchasing division; leading a team devoted to portfolio transformation; and as vice president and general manager of PepsiCo’s joint venture with Unilever’s Lipton tea brand. In August 2018, she was named vice president and general manager of The PepsiCo Hive, the company’s new operating entity focused on developing smaller, emerging brands (the Hive’s first investment came two months later with the acquisition of snack bar company Health Warrior).
Part of Silver’s role involves meeting with small-business owners who are interested in partnering with the Hive. “One of the most interesting things for me is bringing people into the team who do come from that world,” she explains, “and relying on my team and collectively trying to figure out what kind of culture we want to build.”
At Yale, Silver took “fundamentals” such as marketing, economics, and finance; and she credits the career counseling team with helping her find her footing, including at PepsiCo. But she says confidence is the most important takeaway from her experience at SOM.
“The confidence I gained in terms of being able to learn from my classmates, and learn from the amazing professors, and do relatively well there, has propelled me through the rest of my career thus far,” she says.