Al Carey – CEO of Frito Lay

Somehow I forgot to post this, but sometime last year (circa September 2007) I went to go see Al Carey, the CEO of Frito Lay speak on the University of Texas campus.

I go to a lot of these things, and for the most part I don’t post anything about them, but this one definitely deserves mention. I say this because he was actually an interesting CEO to listen to! Most big time CEO’s that come speak basically give a one hour promotional speech about their company….but it’s not entirely their fault.

The student groups that bring the speakers say, “Hey (insert name here), come to the University of Texas and say words for an hour.” If I had to speak for an hour given such a vague subject matter, I’d probably talk about something uninteresting for an hour also. They also select a HUGE auditorium where the front row of the audience is at least 25 feet away from the speaker. This causes the whole thing to seem very un-personal.

I thought that’s what this speech would be also, but was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise. For the speech, I wanted a more memorable picture with Mr. Carey, like the one with me and the CEO of Gibson Guitars, or the Herb Kelleher with booze & cigarettes picture. While I wasn’t dressed very well, I did come prepared with a big bag of Fritos so I could get an interesting picture. Long story short, I lost my camera a few days before, so I was using an old camera with a crushed screen…so I couldn’t see the pictures as they were taken. I ended up getting two awkward looking pictures:

Me eating out of the Fritos bag:

HA! He was more than happy to take the photos, and even re-do them due to technical difficulties. I was also happy to hear him give a pretty good speech which the audience ate up! Unlike a lot of other CEO’s who end up inadvertently boring the crowd with information about how great their company is, he knew he was speaking primarily to college students, and therefore tailored his speech to what he thought college students were interested in. It worked great, and the audience enthusiastically asked questions all throughout.

He also just seemed down to earth and interesting. He spoke confidently, looked like he was having fun up there, didn’t hide behind the podium and usually walked right at the edge of stage, close as possible to the audience.

Like many CEO’s I’ve seen speak, he never came into the company with the intentions of going all the way to the top. He just did his job and did his job well. He also spoke very highly of several bosses who simply gave him a chance and challenges when he first started. In fact that was a big part of his speech….simply give the new blood in the company A LOT of responsibility and creative leeway (if they want it) and see what happens. He says more often then not they exceed all expectations.

He gave a great example of how a small group of brand new, young marketing employees wanted to take control of the entire Frito Lay Superbowl campaign (their largest, most expensive and important campaigns). He let them “do their thing” which was an interactive internet campaign where users submit homemade commercials for Fritos, and the winning video would be aired live at the SuperBowl plus a bunch of other prizes. The winning video had a budget of $8.00 and was featured on a $1.5 million SuperBowl ad. Frito Lay product sales went up 18% as a direct result of the campaign! When you consider that sales are in the BILLIONS of dollars, an 18% increase is massive….all because of some young marketing kids who took a risk.