September 18, 2019

There exists a symbiotic relationship between corporate America and the nation’s military reserve forces. Businesses give time off to talented professionals who want to serve and protect their country, while the military offers them valuable training and life experiences that can enhance their leadership skills in the private sector. For proof, look no further than Frito-Lay North America, where not one, but two executives recently achieved the prestigious rank of colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. Less than one percent of those in the Army achieve the rank of colonel. It’s clear we work alongside our nation’s finest.

Gretchen Decker, a strategy director, has 24 years of service in the Army, which includes a tour in Iraq and providing support for Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines. Today, she’s in the 84th Training Command from a base near Portland, Ore. Vin Duncan, a finance senior director, joined the Reserves in 1990, and after a tour in Iraq, now leads a military police brigade of 3,000 from his headquarters in Long Island, N.Y. Both have demanding roles at Frito-Lay and children at home, and are regularly traveling between locations.

“I’m always wearing both hats. It never stops,” says Vin. “But you have to find ways to compartmentalize, to ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time.’”

Thanks to a combination of modern technology, job flexibility at Frito-Lay, and supportive families, they’re able to make it work. And making it work is extremely important to them both. They each found a calling in the Reserves for different reasons, and through the years they’ve developed a commitment to service that runs deep.

Vin says joining his campus ROTC in his early college days gave him some much-needed structure and accountability. For Gretchen, the military provided a ticket out of an impoverished childhood.

“It started as just a contract, but then it became more about the camaraderie and the sense of purpose you gain,” Gretchen says. “The fantastic critical experiences – mental and physical challenges you go through – push you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and gain confidence in your abilities.”

Being repeatedly tested in their military careers has undoubtedly shaped their contributions to the PepsiCo team. For example, Vin says the need to cut to the chase and make informed decisions quickly has carried over into his management style.

In Gretchen’s case, “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to be comfortable with ambiguity, knowing you’re going to make mistakes and knowing how to learn from them and get better,” she says.

Living the taxing lifestyle of a citizen-soldier for nearly three decades speaks of their personal conviction to a life of service, both in the military and civilian worlds. One word – duty – sums it up nicely.

“I feel like everyone should do something to give back, and this is my way of doing that,” says Vin.

However long they continue to serve, PepsiCo will always raise a flag in their honor on Veterans Day.