Steve Reinemund at Redeemer - A CEO's Views on a Life in Business

by Jennifer K Chan

Last summer, Steve Reinemund, got a surprise phone call from the CEO of Coca Cola thanking him for an enormous favor. But Reinemund, at the time the CEO of Pepsi Co., had no idea what that favor had been.

It turns out an unsuspecting Pepsi Co. administrative assistant received a package in the mail containing confidential Coca Cola documents. In keeping with Pepsi's commitment to high ethical standards, the employee notified the appropriate company manger and the entire contents were immediately returned to Coke's headquarters in Atlanta. Only two Pepsi employees were directly involved, and they both knew what they had to do right away. No executives at Pepsi so much as glanced at the secrets contained within that envelope.

Steve Reinemund recounted this story to a rapt group of 250 in February as an example of the type of integrity he believes is –"within the very DNA"of Pepsi's corporate character.

Jointly hosted by Redeemer's Financial Services and Marketing & Advertising Groups, the event addressed on the role of business in society. "Businesses are arguably the most powerful institutions in the world today. The global reach of small and large companies in terms of their economic power and cultural impact is unparalleled. But towards what end?" asked Katherine Leary, Director of the Center for Faith and Work, in her opening remarks.

Steve Reinemund's position is that the corporation has a responsibility to both generate profits and address social issues. Companies certainly need to be successful in order to provide meaningful employment—and anything beneficial beyond that. But to remain successful in the future, social responsibility must guide all corporate decisions. "Your generation wants more out of work than a paycheck," Steve argued, "More so than ever before, people want to work for successful companies who are also doing the right thing socially and environmentally."

Reinemund also offered more personal advice for Christians called into the business world. Revisiting and articulating our own stories can help strengthen and clarify the direction God is leading us in our careers and in service to the wider world. In Reinemund's story, his mother's faithful resilience after his father's death when he was six years old remains powerfully influential. Her faith shaped his relationship with God, which is now the compass, the "true north", by which he operates.

Perhaps the best advice Steve offered to Christians in business was a reminder to stick to the basics. Reinemund emphasizes the necessity of daily prayer and actual memorization of God's word. He and a friend are memorizing the book of James at the moment. Reinemund also recommends the disciplines of self-examination and regular review of one's definition of success. A final imperative is a strong relationship with one's "circuit breaker", that person who tells you what you don't want to hear, when you don't want to hear it. Reinemund's wife has played that role for him throughout his career, and was instrumental in his decision to step down as Pepsi's CEO last year in large part so he could be more than just a part-time dad to his 13-year-old twins.

Reinemund encouraged the audience to view business as a noble calling that can be used by God for the benefit of society. In his reflections of PepsiCo's environmental initiatives, Reinemund illustrated the potential of business to address the world's ills. He believes there remains a largely untapped potential in partnerships between businesses, government and non-profit organizations.

The remaining challenge is one of good leadership. Reinemund reminded the audience that even the Great Wall of China could not hold back invaders, though not for any deficiency in length, height or strength of the wall itself. The fatal flaw lay in the character of the wall's gatekeepers. Therefore, the question is this: What character will the gatekeepers of our corporations demonstrate in our time?

This is the type of discussion that Redeemer, largely through the ministry of the Center for Faith and Work, encourages it's congregation to grapple with. In fact, one of the cornerstones of Redeemer's vision is to support New Yorkers in assuming leadership roles in the church and in other cultural institutions. As Christians are transformed by the gospel, they have the responsibility and privilege to help shape the surrounding culture, in the arts, in education, and of course, in business. If, indeed, businesses have become the dominant players in society, questions of character, of transformation and leadership are worth struggling over with ongoing thoughtfulness and courage.