New Tool: ProSource
Checkout our packaging and processing solutions finder, ProSource.
Start Your Search

UnPACKed podcast: Changing the Rules of the Game

Hear Dawn Hudson detail her journey from the advertising industry to designing packages as a brand manager for Clairol to executive leadership roles at Pepsi and the NFL.

Stephanie Neil, Editor-in-Chief of OEM Magazine, interviews Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network keynote speaker Dawn Hudson after she headlined the massively successful PPWLN breakfast at PACK EXPO International. Neil and Hudson detail her journey from the advertising industry to designing packages as a brand manager for Clairol to executive leadership roles at Pepsi and the NFL. Every step of the way, Hudson was the minority simply because she was a woman. She describes her earliest days when only 1 in 10 in advertising was female and navigating the male-dominated rooms she walked into in the NFL. She also provides insight into navigating microaggressions and the importance of authenticity in the workplace.

To subscribe, rate, review, and find more unPACKED podcast episodes, visit pmmi.org/podcast or find us on Apple podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

 UnPACKed on Apple PodcastUnPACKed on SpotifyUnPACKed on iHeart


   

Read the full transcript below. 


Stephanie Neil:

Okay, well, I am here with Dawn Hudson who was the keynote speaker for the Women's Leadership Networking Breakfast at PACK EXPO International in Chicago. We had record attendance for that event. It was because everyone wanted to listen and learn from Dawn. So, thank you, Dawn, so much for coming to Chicago.

Dawn Hudson:

Oh, it was a pleasure, a great audience, and a really diverse audience in every sense of the word. Afterwards, I ended up talking with people from Europe and Eastern Europe. It was great.

Stephanie Neil:

So, you've worked in advertising to designing packages for Clairol to executive leadership roles at Pepsi and the NFL. You said in the beginning of your keynote that you didn't set out to build a career in a man's world, but that's exactly what happened to you. Can you briefly bring us through that journey?

Dawn Hudson:

Sure. I'll probably start with college. I grew up outside of Boston, and my mother went to Wellesley College and met my dad after college. He went to Harvard Law School, and they wanted me to go to Wellesley College. Being the oldest headstrong daughter of three, I decided I would not go to Wellesley, but I would go to Dartmouth College and apply early decision to go up to the north. Little did I know, but my mother was not allowed to go to Dartmouth College when she was at Wellesley, because the men were too wild. But, off I went. So, that was a little bit, I guess, of my rebelliousness. But, the reason I went to Dartmouth, and there were very few women there when I went, is I loved the landscape. I loved the outdoors. I loved sports. I loved the trees. I saw it at a beautiful day. It was a very pretty campus.

It was also a smaller college, more dedicated to undergraduate education versus graduate students. For a lot of reasons, I went there and I had a great time. I will tell you, as much as I learned from my coursework, I think I learned ... didn't realize I was heading into it, but when you're in an overall environment of 10% women and 90% men, and there are no sororities, and there are no college centers for the women to hang out at, you learned to find other ways and became very good friends with many of the women that I was there with. But, also I learned to be friends with men, to compete in the classroom with men, to compete on sports fields with men. I didn't realize it was part of my education, but it was, and it made me very feel very comfortable, so that when I then started after Dartmouth, I thought I would go to business school or law school.

I hadn't decided, but I was leaning toward business school, but I needed to make some money. So, I went into advertising, which seemed to be a good fit with me. I'm analytical on one side and creative on the other. That industry supports both. So, I went into advertising at a time ... Today, the advertising industry is more than 50% women. At the time, it was 10% women. Unfortunately, today it still doesn't have enough women at the senior ranks, and it definitely didn't have women at the senior ranks there. So, my Dartmouth experience was just carried over into advertising. I do chuckle a little bit, because one of my big claims to fame in my first job was they thought I was doing such a good job, they made me the first woman to ever run the account, Tide laundry detergent.

I look back on it. I said, "Oh, that was a guy's account that they had to run? And, you're finally going to let a women run Tide?" Any rate, I went on from there with a variety of clients, including Frito Lay. Frito then hired me at a time when I went in as head of sales and marketing for their international business. As sometimes happens, they hired me to be the client in charge of sales and marketing on the client side. From there, I went to Pepsi in the marketing department, became chief marketing officer, eventually became president and then CEO of about five and a half billion dollar division. But, what was really interesting to me about Pepsi is at the time I was there, the bottling system was a franchise organization. It was 100 bottlers from small, family owned businesses with seven trucks to multi-billion dollar publicly traded companies. 99 of the 100 were men.

So, the big part of my job was trying to get alignment with this group that really invested their capital into making new products and putting them on their trucks and investing in launching them. So, it's really important that whatever we wanted to do for the main company and for the brand, that I had alignment with the field. I did learn how to be friendly. I went out and got to know a lot of the men. I got to know their families. I did things business-wise. I got up in the morning and talked to their sales forces, but I also did things personally with them, and it served me well. From there, I left when the industry started to really decline as soft drinks are perceived to be bad for you. I don't think they are, but it was hard.

It became a job about cost management and downsizing, which I could do, but I don't like as much as growing things. I ended up going to a consulting firm, unusual, but I'd had a background in advertising and service industry. There, there were a lot of men and women. It wasn't male dominated, but when we sold that firm to Ernst & Young, and I was trying to figure out what to do, Roger Goodell at the NFL, whom I had worked with at Pepsi, offered an opportunity for me to go to work for them. So, you talk about starting at a male dominated college, then going to run a bottling system that was largely men, to then going into the NFL, ultimate male testosterone. There were 35% of the staff at headquarters were women, but obviously all the players, all the teams, all the owners, it was overwhelmingly male dominated.

So, I was well prepared and really enjoyed it. It was probably the one that tested most of my learning. Discomfort is the wrong word. I'm never uncomfortable, but you put this very male dominated environment that was somewhat of a throwback for me, if I'm honest. But, then you do it around a sport that a woman doesn't play. A few women do, but not too many play contact football. So, you're at a disadvantage from being able ... In the bottling system, I could know as much about production and making of the product as my male counterpart, but I'm working with a lot of former football players, and I couldn't. So, I had to learn to bring expertise that was unique to me to the table that they didn't know about. That's the power of obviously a diversity around a conversation. But, loved my time at the NFL. Then, I left to return to board work about four years ago, and I do boards and public speaking. I wrote a book, a little of this, a little of that.

Stephanie Neil:

Yeah, it's so interesting to me though, because your whole history has been ... You're the 10% of the women versus men. Especially when you walked into the NFL, what kind of reception did you get? Was there pushback from any of your colleagues?

Dawn Hudson:

First of all, when I walked into a marketing department, which today marketing is majority women, and an events department, which is again majority women, they were thrilled to have a woman as their leader. So, I got a phenomenal reception from the groups that I was going to work with. I think that Roger was smart in that before I joined, he had me meet a lot of the senior people. So, they were sort of part of saying, "I think she'll fit in well." I knew one or two of them from my time at Pepsi when we were the sponsor of the NFL. So, I was familiar. It wasn't as if I was walking completely into uncharted territory.

But, it was definitely just the nature of the business and the nature of what I come from, from consulting. I did feel like I was stepping back in time. I think that while people outwardly supported me, I had to prove myself and I had to come to the table with something different. I would say I wasn't embraced and brought into the fold. But, I would say six months later, I very much had great relationships, pretty much across the senior team. The why of that was not me. It was fortunate, lucky, in that when I joined the NFL, it was literally in the middle of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

When organizations are under real stress and times of challenge, they change more, and they have to act differently. So, all of a sudden, I had a set of skill sets in my past, having fought the cola wars and been in Washington to defend soft drinks against obesity. That was very valuable in that environment, and I had a female perspective. So, I really had to partner with everyone from the head of football operations, to how we were communicating with the players, to obviously to PR, to working with the media group. I think that cemented and made me feel very much part of the team more quickly than ordinarily would've happened, had I gone into a business as usual, everything's going great situation.

Stephanie Neil:

Yeah, so that Ray Rice incident too, you're walking in. It was early, in terms of your work there. You had just been hired at the NFL, correct? First of all, you're walking into a crisis, but do you feel maybe your perspective as a woman was an advantage here to shift the narrative?

Dawn Hudson:

Oh, I think absolutely. First of all, it was a few other of the women at the NFL that had already started down a path. I joined, literally joined the NFL and took my mom to Africa on Safari to play out something I'd had planned for a long time. I came back, and the Ray Rice video had gone viral while I was gone. So, there were a set of people already starting to work on some initiatives. They were women, and they had reached out, because the thing about people's passion for the NFL and the number of people that follow the NFL, particularly our younger and our female fans, had an expectation that an organization as successful as the NFL would not just sit by, would do whatever it could to try to help the situation, acknowledge the situation, be open and transparent, and use our scale to try to help.

So, I think the perspective I have as a woman, knowing a few people that had been in a domestic violence situation allowed me to quickly come up to speed. I'm always someone that used data, and I quickly looked at the data. The data said, "Wow, yes, this is an isolated incident that occurred in the NFL," and I can look at data that says the incidence at the NFL is not the same incidence in the general population for that male age group, but that doesn't matter. The fact is when you look at it, it's a significant issue. If one in four people in this country are affected by domestic violence, we must listen, learn, and figure out, what can we do to help the agenda? While we can't reach out and help every domestic violence, what we could do is go to the organizations, say, "What do you need?"

And, the first thing they said is, "We need people to be aware, and we need them to be aware that there are help, that are help lines, and there's websites, and there's people you can reach out to." So, we did that for a period of time, and we used a lot of our inventory on the games to tell the story. The way we made it work for football is we used our players, because so many of our players, the vast majority of our players are phenomenal people and cringe at what happened. Even Ray Rice has become a huge advocate, anti-domestic violence now and publicly speaks on it. But, the players came, and they went into the ads. So, it was very organic and not some executive, talking about things at the home office. It was really from the players wanting to tell this story.

So, first thing we did was make people aware of the issue, know that there's help out there. Then, as we started to get toward the Super Bowl, we learned that we were really growing awareness. There was a lot more outreach to these services. But, again, the woman in me wanted to understand. Not that men don't do this either, I just think women more often do it. I wanted to understand the personal circumstance. What we learned from these organizations, I had a couple women that were just critical partners at the NFL as we worked through this. They said, "Yeah, you've raised awareness, but it takes on average seven attempts to leave a violent situation for a woman to extract herself." There's a lot of reasons, financial support, what will happen to kids, whether there would be any blow back on me.

So, we then moved with these organizations to educate people on bystanders who see or suspect. Please do not stay bystanding. Women need help, and men. There are men in domestic violence situations as well, not all women. Anyone in that situation, regardless of sex or race or creed, they need a community to help them get out of that situation. So, that's what we focused on in the playoffs and led to a Super Bowl commercial. But, I do believe that a female perspective and personal knowledge through others and a team of women that I was working with certainly helped. That didn't mean that there wasn't male perspective in it, too. Just given that it is more often a victim of women, it helped to have women figuring out how to help other women.

Stephanie Neil:

Yeah, and the ad that you showed was so powerful. I think the female perspective was really important in what you developed. But, I'm also wondering too, in business in general, are there-

Dawn Hudson:

I didn't want to interrupt you, but I was just going to say if people want to look at that commercial, it was a commercial called "Listen" on the Super Bowl, an NFL ad from 2015. It was a 60 second commercial. You can look at it, but what I didn't say at the meeting that I'll say now is that commercial was the result of a radio broadcast of an actual call that came in from a person at home to the police. This operator on the line had the ability to listen well, to hear not what the woman was saying. Because, what we learned is domestic violence unfortunately is quite high around the Super Bowl, that period of time. Often, when people are reaching for help, if there's someone who's threatening them in the room, they can't call up and say, "Help." They would get hit. So, instead they'll say, "I'm ordering pizza." They try to find a way to get on the phone and pretend they're doing something. It's a very real world experience, so we were bringing to life something that really happened.

Stephanie Neil:

Right. Well, just zooming in on your point of listening well, I'm wondering, there are female traits. Women are sometimes thought of as to be better listeners. Things like that or communication, can that even be an advantage in business overall?

Dawn Hudson:

So, of course I'm very careful not to stereotype, but I do think many women tend to be good listeners and to be empathetic. I think that I find it in myself, not just men or women. It can be very easy when you're under a lot of pressure and you're moving very quickly to hear something, make a knee jerk decision, reaction, move. Sometimes, you need to do that, but the power is in just pausing for a minute and listening. Because, sometimes you learn so much in that listening. That is a skill. Regardless of sex, it's incredibly worthwhile. The other is being inquisitive and asking and not assuming, because I have a senior position, I know more than you in a more junior position. One of my biggest learnings, if I take something from really the past, is at Pepsi. It was often, some of our best campaigns were things that bottlers in different local communities thought up.

So, the Pepsi Challenge was something somebody tried, I believe in Texas. Then, we amplified it in a few more markets and worked, and we turned it into a national advertising campaign. For the NFL, it was a few local football teams that decided to partner with the American Cancer Society and focus on breast cancer. It was very successful in connecting with their local community, and so we amplified it on a national basis. Those things wouldn't have happened, if we'd just taken a ... We're in power. We know what to do. Here it is. Get the ideas. Got a good idea, let's move. It's that interaction and that listening to get feedback where you often get a tremendous amount of ideas.

From an innovation standpoint, it has sometimes been said that there's no new ideas, per se. It's the fact that you listen to an idea and figure out how it could be applied to your situation. How often have you said, "That's a great idea. I'm going to steal it." Absolutely. But, you don't grab all that. You don't grab all those ideas and that external input, if you don't listen, and not listen in 10 seconds, really listen and ask a question and probe. You may say, "That's not right for me," but you have to have that it. If you're dealing with your kid, you've got to listen to your kid. You can't be dismissive of them. The same thing in the workforce, listen. You learn. You'll get better.

Stephanie Neil:

So, I want to switch gears a little bit here and ask you, who are the Band of Sisters?

Dawn Hudson:

All right, so the Band of Sisters, we are a group of six women who grew up at PepsiCo. Some of us were there for over 20 years. I was there for 11 years, but we were in a really great time at the company where we were growing share, having fun. We really made friendships that, as we all at different times left PepsiCo to go on to our next company or experience, we carried those relationships forward. So, we were six women who got together at an event and started talking and laughing about some of the things that happened to us back in those early days of Pepsi, working with this very male bottling system. We ended up talking about not Me Too moments, but these little [inaudible 00:17:56] mini moments that occurred during the day out on a business trip that you kind of laugh at and looking back at.

But, you also kind of cringe, because they're uncomfortable. Any one of which, you would've felt stupid bringing up, but you'd take a subject, and all of a sudden, we'd all start talking about it. So, this really resonates with me. Any rate, we ended up becoming passionate about helping younger women enter the career with our advice about how to handle these little situations and how men and women in the room might help when they see something like this happening. So, COVID hit, and we were developing material that we would speak about. We were enjoying each other's company on Zoom, and we were writing in our Google Doc. All of a sudden, we had 350 pages in our Google Doc and a lot of ideas. It was clear that COVID was not going to be two or four weeks, so we said, "I guess we'll put it in a book."

So, we wrote a book and decided, "Well, what do we call the six of us?" Obviously, there's Band of Brothers. There's a sisterhood that sometimes I think more women need to support each other in the workforce. Certainly as somewhat of a pioneer of women in business, I wouldn't say that that was necessarily true, but we're trying to give it back and be supportive. We thought the Band of Sisters really captured that collaboration and that sisterhood that we have, both personally and professionally.

Stephanie Neil:

The book you wrote, tell us about the title.

Dawn Hudson:

So, we wrote 31 chapters, and we tried to give them catchy handles. One of the chapters was called, "You Should Smile More." Now, the derivation of this was the six of us were talking about things that have happened to us in performance reviews. It's never happened to me that somebody has told me that I should smile more. But, for my other five sisters, every one of them had had that circumstance where somebody had given them that feedback. We asked men, "Have you been told to smile more?" No, they're not told to smile more. Smiling more is more personal. Can you work harder with the sales group? Can you develop your public speaking? Have you built the best promotional program integrated with the Salesforce? Those are functional things you could talk about.

That's a personal thing and that shouldn't come into a business review. Of all of our 31, we all had a lot of chats on which one should be the cover of the book, but we thought that one so connected with women. I had a slight reservation, would men understand it, which was proven true after the book launched. I had a few men say, "Oh, that's a great title. I probably should smile more." So, you chuckle, but we thought it was a provocative title and would hit a nerve with many women. Particularly, diverse women are told this a lot, not to look angry or tough or aggressive, smile more. That's not about how you leverage your strengths to become better and more successful in the business world. So, that was the title, and then every chapter has kind of a catchy headline.

Stephanie Neil:

Yeah, and so the book is really about how to dismantle gender bias in the workplace, right?

Dawn Hudson:

Yes, it is.

Stephanie Neil:

As we break through gender bias, how can women best advocate for themselves, be it negotiating for a raise or more resources or getting credit for ideas or not being automatically put on the party planning committee?

Dawn Hudson:

So, yeah, I talked a little bit about that. The book, there's a lot of books written obviously on the Me Too era. We specifically wanted to not be a Me Too book. We wanted to be a positive, slightly humorous book that would invite many people in to read. First and foremost, our target were women and helping them figure out how to navigate these little small moments that occur every day. But, our second target was to try to educate the other people in the room, so if they saw it helping, they could help. Our third were the men in the room. After each chapter, the beauty of six of us, and we did hire a ghost writer so it doesn't sound like a disjointed book. It has a flow of one voice. But, in each chapter, three of us will comment on how we would've handled the circumstance.

It might be different for each of the three, but hopefully our audience then can identify with one idea or another. There are a couple of chapters that focus on observations about how women could handle themselves better in interviews. In an observation that I think one of ours is called, "Be Like Bill," which is many men I've observed are better at coming into a performance review and certainly open to discussing what they could have done better. But, they want to lead with what they've done well. What are their core capabilities? And, what's the next step for them in the company? And, what's the value of their service? Having a strong fact-based approach to coming into what you've done and a focus on skills in their future application is more effective than coming in and letting somebody tell you about all the things that you have to work on.

I always believe that you win on your strengths. You try to minimize your weaknesses, but you win on your strengths. You really get promoted on your strengths. The book also encourages that we don't ... We have a chapter called, "He's a Good Guy." That's lazy language. What does that mean, he's a good guy? What I think it means is he's part of the club. He fits in. I shoot hoops with him. I go have beers with him. It's really not about that they're really saying he's a good guy. He fits in and he has future potential, but you don't hear, "She's a great gal. We've got to take a shot on her," not nearly as often. So, women coming into an interview situation, one, we want to make sure that bosses are open and understand this dynamic, but also that women come in really prepared and not aggressive, but willing to voice where they think their all competencies are and what other successes they've had in the last year.

Also, there's a chapter, for example, on, "He's a great dad." I fall into this category too, when I saw a guy in my team and said, "I've got to leave to go to little Joey's soccer match. I'm going to have to leave here at 4:00." I think, "Wow, what a great dad." But, you've just got to make sure that what a woman says she's coming in late the next day because she's had to take her daughter to the pediatrician that you don't think, gee, what's her commitment? No, you think she's a great mom, same as the guy. So, it's just trying to apply and raise awareness of these situations and the equal-ness with which we need to treat everyone.

Stephanie Neil:

So, one last question before we run out of time, Dawn, any advice for women entering a male dominated industry like manufacturing? And, you have experience in manufacturing, but we are constantly trying to attract more women into our industry. So, any advice?

Dawn Hudson:

So, a couple of things for packaging and processing. One is, again, diverse teams drive better business results. So, encourage the diversity. But, as hard as you work on getting them in, make sure you keep them. So, that's about recruiting and attracting, but also making sure that their experience is positive. As a woman entering a male dominated, if you enter and you find this culture that's uncomfortable to you or you don't feel like you fit in and you try to be a person that fits in with that, you will feel uncomfortable, if not day one, over time. So, it's really important that as you enter a different culture, that you make sure you bring your whole self to work and you voice what ... again, in a nice way, how things could be done differently. Or, if you have a certain dressing style, and they don't dress that way, still dress that way, because that's you. That's your personality.

I think that over time, you will connect better with people if you're being yourself, you're being authentic. Coming in and trying to be something that you're not usually doesn't win in terms of connecting with people. I do find that for the concern women have, men are good people. They like variety. They like people that bring something different to the table. So, it's making sure that you voice your ideas. You don't be afraid to speak up. You join and have fun, but you bring your own sense of fun to it. I think it's really, really important and needs to be just thought about as you enter an organization that's maybe very different than where you came from.

Second advice I'd have is to make sure that you find a sponsor, male or female, likely male, but somebody who you can go to. Well, first there's a mentor that you can go to for advice on how to handle this situation. Generally speaking, mentors are lateral or just a little bit ahead of you, and they give you good advice, but they're people you have lunch with, that you have fun with. But, the sponsor is probably somebody you don't interact a lot with, but you want to figure out. Maybe it's the person that hired you. Maybe it's the person that runs your department. But, you want to, on important things for business, develop that relationship with a sponsor so you can go to them for help. And, they're in a more powerful position to then advocate for you. So, I'd think about developing your own network of mentors, and critically, sponsors.

Stephanie Neil:

Well, excellent advice all around. Dawn, thanks again for joining us in Chicago and for being on the podcast, really enjoyed the conversation.

Dawn Hudson:

Oh, I just also want to thank you. I want to thank the industry, because there have been many times, pivotal times in my career, where I've had packaging or processing issues that could have been extremely detrimental to the company. And, it's the various people, the different organizations came to the table, fixed things fast that I really appreciate the industry. Secondly, I've worked where packaging is my brand. It is my face of the brand. It is my personality. So, the industry does a lot more than just deliver products at a speed and a cost structure that works. As a brander, I wanted to say thank you.

Stephanie Neil:

Yeah, thank you for saying that. We appreciate that. All right, well, thanks for joining us on this episode of Unpacked, and until next time.

Discover Our Content Hub
Access Packaging World's free educational content library!
Unlock Learning Here
Discover Our Content Hub
Test Your Smarts
Take Packaging World's sustainability quiz to prove your knowledge!
Take Quiz
Test Your Smarts