Leader interview

Cormac Gilligan, PepsiCo

The food and drinks maker’s vice president of environment, health and safety about attracting OSH talent and developing it. 

Leader interview. Cormac Gilligan, PepsiCo
Pictures: Andrew Firth

Cormac Gilligan, CMIOSH, is concerned about the millennial generation. Specifically, about how to hold on to the brightest and the best of those who reached adulthood since 2000.

“It’s the talent conundrum that we generally have in our field,” he says, “how to engage the millennials – the oldest of them are entering their mid-30s now.”

“When I started, what was important was that I have a long-term career. And certainly PepsiCo was a great organisation for a career. But what the millennial population are asking is ‘Can you give me experiences that would allow me to have a career that I’d stay here for? Because if I don’t get them, I won’t stay.’ That’s just the reality of how they’ve grown up.”

Making PepsiCo an employer of choice for young, smart OSH practitioners is important to Gilligan because, as vice president of global environment, health and safety (EHS) at the food and drink multinational, he sets the strategy and direction for the protection of employees who are manufacturing, bottling and distributing products under brands as varied as Quaker Oats, Frito Lay, Ocean Spray and Walker’s as well as the eponymous cola drink. And for that he needs EHS talent.

Cormac Gilligan career file

2016-present: vice president of global environment, health and safety (EHS), PepsiCo
2010-2016: senior director EHS, Asia, Middle East and Africa, PepsiCo
2007-2010: global, health, safety and security manager, PepsiCo
2003-2007: director, safety and security, Visa

“They’ll come out of university with a health and safety degree, an environmental degree, very well skilled and able to do really good work,” he continues. “They’re going to look for the company to have the most current technology that they can go and use. They’re going to look for those critical experiences, so they can say ‘OK I know how to do that. Two or three years I’m going to practice what I’ve learnt in university, build my skills in those areas. After that, what? How are you going to give me the opportunity to do something different from what another competitor down the road will give me?’”

Gilligan’s desire to create fulfilling work for, and getting the best from, millennial employees, is subset of a larger impetus to build OSH capability across the organisation. That involves increasing the technical EHS competence of all workers who have a role in worker protection and realising the potential among those in the functions he has strategic responsibility for (see box on p 41) to understand the wider business better and be fit to become EHS leaders.

The day you need your network is not the day to start building it

Cormac-Gilligan-PepsiCo-career-fileMapping exercise

“We’ve got lots of really good content and development programmes for technical skill sets and we do a really good job of building those skill sets and exposing people to opportunities to continue to refine those skills,” he observes. “But the conversation between a safety engineer and an engineer about how to guard a piece of equipment is very different to the conversation you have to have with a CFO about how to best allocate resources. And those are the types of competencies in the past people would refer to as soft skills. And I think increasingly they’re becoming core skills.

“We have a really good programme through our human resources teams which is called PepsiCo University,” he says, “with a whole suite of different virtual learning environments that we leverage and that really does help with building skills around strategy and around people management and some of those really core skills that you need to have as a leader.”

He plans to tailor some of this leadership material to an OSH context and is keen to overlay it with IOSH’s Blueprint competency framework (bit.ly/2lh2y0n), which he says could be a “game changer”. IOSH’s Training and Skills team will work with Gilligan and his team to bridge any knowledge and skills gaps found through the competency framework assessments.

Upskilling PepsiCo’s technically proficient EHS staff to a point where they are preparing strategies or drawing up budgets means identifying where the current competence opportunity areas exist. IOSH training and skills developers are working with the EHS team to offer programmes from the institution’s portfolio and to design bespoke training.

“We’re talking with IOSH about how Blueprint is able to look at our existing EHS leadership group, asking where do we have those really strong core skills around business engagement, being strategic and being a master talent developer and really driving the people agenda, because at that level that’s what’s absolutely vital. And what Blueprint gives us is not only the lagging indicators around where we have to strengthen skills, but it’s going to give us leading indicators of the future.”

Assessing the EHS staff against Blueprint will give the organisation a clear picture of the pipeline of future EHS leaders and how to keep it primed.

“It will show us who’s ready for those roles now, who’s going to be ready in three to five years,” he says. “And in order for them to be ready in three to five years, what they need to do; not only the training programmes but also the critical experiences they need.”

Centre piece

The identification of Blueprint as a map to leadership development was one of the outputs of PepsiCo’s leadership and capability centre of excellence (CoE). Gilligan points to the CoEs, virtual teams of around ten to 15 people working on projects to raise EHS standards, as one of PepsiCo’s exercises to create a cadre of experts in EHS specialisms, while exposing participants to more of those “critical experiences” he sees as key to development.

The CoEs mix existing specialists in each subject – current groups include fleet safety, machinery safety, waste water treatment, work at height – with promising EHS staff from all levels down to junior manager, each sponsored by an EHS lead.

In the scheme of things

As vice president of global environment, health and safety, Cormac Gilligan reports to PepsiCo’s executive vice president of global operations, who in turn reports to the CEO.
His seven direct reports include the head of occupational health, head of environmental protection, director of safety systems and capability, fleet and sales safety lead, and the technical safety lead who focuses on manufacturing safety.
PepsiCo has six global divisions: Frito Lay North America; North American Beverages; Quaker Foods North America; Latin America; Europe Sub-Saharan Africa; and Asia, Middle East and North Africa. Each of these sectors has an EHS lead who has a dotted reporting line to Gilligan.
His role involves establishing the roadmap for how the company will achieve its EHS commitments as outlined in PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose 2025 agenda which its chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi, summarised as representing “our fundamental belief that in the 21st century, we will do business in a way that’s also good for society.”
“What I need to bring to that is the articulation of the specifics,” says Gilligan. “[Saying] here’s what we’re going to go and do, here’s how we’re going to do it, and by when.”
He says the managers in the divisions will achieve the safety and environmental goals, which include increasing the health of the workforce, but that his job is to ensure they have clear objectives and the skills and support to realise them.

He points to the machine safety CoE, which has spent the past 12 months standardising its approach globally.

“It’s helped standardise the programme, which is important from a risk [management] replication point of view, and it’s helped build the capability of everybody on that CoE,” says Gilligan. “As a result, we’ve built our capability in safety engineering and technical engineering.”

The members have also developed vital leadership skills: “It’s given them all visibility to their engineering leads and their EHS leads in each of their sectors because they have to go back and align their leaders on decisions that are made and the direction that we’re moving in. So from a critical experience perspective it requires somebody who may be responsible for a smaller region or small business to come back in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing. This is the global direction’.

“It’s also identifying for me who our future talent will be in these key areas,” he adds. “It’s helping create these critical experiences for people without having to globally relocate somebody or give them a bigger role and a different geography.”

Low hanging fruit

PepsiCo has the same common hazards as most other fast-moving consumer goods companies, Gilligan says. They include road risk, slips trips and falls, moving machine parts, electricity and work at height.

As with Vodafone in a previous leader interview, part of the company’s rapid improvement in accident rates in recent years is due to raising driving standards in developing markets such as South America and Africa.

“We’ve deployed telematics on all our vehicles that tracks core behaviours: speed, seatbelt use, acceleration, sharp braking, leaving a truck idling,” Gilligan explains. “It’s a very large fleet, a lot of drivers. And what that telematics gives us is big data, really powerful data to be able to go and say: OK, these drivers are driving in a way that we feel presents a risk or vulnerability. So we’re going to help train them, we’re going to identify for them why we’re concerned and why they should be concerned, and then help to improve those behaviours. We’ve seen that through our improved incident and collision rates over the last couple of years.”

In the manufacturing plants the incident rates have also been driven down by increased support for frontline managers.

Cormac-Gilligan-PepsiCo-close-up“Manufacturing managers and directors want to be told what they need to do,” he says, “and we come with a generic approach [saying] ‘implement lock-out/tag-out’ or ‘make sure your guarding complies with zero access’, it’s not helpful because you’re not being specific and you’re not helping them go and execute work.”

So a lot of what we’ve done in the last couple of years is to develop very specific standards, technical standards in relation to things like machine guarding, isolation of hazardous energy, working at heights.”

Wood for the trees

Gilligan says he does not believe that simply refining existing patterns of risk measurement and control will safeguard the company against serious accidents.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are experts at doing risk assessment and so we have a really good read on our risk profile overall,” he says. “What I’m increasingly interested in is where our vulnerabilities reside, as opposed to our core risks. I have a good friend who talks a lot about the importance of vulnerability and I think it’s a great context. For example, we know fleet [operation] is a risk but within fleet what is the vulnerability? Well, young drivers create vulnerability. Tired drivers create vulnerability.”

Finding these points of vulnerability is not necessarily a separate process from risk assessment, but it means verifying assessments to see nothing significant has been missed.

“It’s the reality check on the traditional approach. Talk to the operators who run the process and have them directly involved in completing the risk assessment. Because if you do a risk assessment on a process with your safety team in a room and then you go to the floor and you get a supervisor and an engineer and an operator and have them do the same exercise, I would put money on it that nine or ten times out of ten they’d come back with a different answer. The risk may not be different, but what they talk about as vulnerability may be different. And more importantly, their ideas for resolving that risk will be very different. And I think that’s a part of looking at vulnerability.

“The way you are taught how to drive is not the way you drive every day. It’s similar from a risk assessment perspective. We can’t just put a full stop after it.”

Involvement of those at the sharp end also has the benefit of engaging them more with the risk controls. “It gives ownership for that risk, for that vulnerability, to the people who are facing it on a day-to-day basis. It is no longer just an issue for the safety team to deal with.”

Industrial athletes

A key part of PepsiCo’s environment, health and safety strategy is having a positive impact on its workforce’s health and wellbeing.
The human resources staff form “healthy living teams” in each facility which run programmes on stress management, smoking cessation, mental health, with the support of the EHS staff.
“We have some great programmes in some of our businesses around what we call the ‘industrial athlete’, says Cormac Gilligan, “where we do a lot of work with our occupational health team and the healthy living teams to make sure that people are physically fit for the demands of the jobs that we’re asking them to do.
“I was in Mexico a couple of weeks ago and all the sales teams do calisthenics at 6.30 in the morning before they go out for the day. And it’s become part of the culture of the various distribution centres where these employees are based. You can see people owning it and really enjoying it and embracing it.”

Standard answer

Another contributor was the adoption of the Global EHS Management System (GEHSMS – “we have very creative acronyms”), which applies in the company’s plants from Leicester, England to Wuhan, China. Aligned with the ISO 14001 and OSHAS 18001 environmental and OSH standards, GEHSMS has helped PepsiCo ensure consistency of standards and promote continuous improvement and transfer of best practices at all the sites.

“If you say ‘this is a really good practice in this plant, so now we’re going to replicate that solution across our entire manufacturing footprint,’ it drives down those exposures on a global scale and that subsequently has an influence on your injury numbers,” says Gilligan.

The replication is also necessitated by the group’s commitment to the Lean Six Sigma principles, which promote collaborative working to remove unnecessary steps from processes and improve productivity.

“So rather than saying ‘let’s share best practice’ – sharing best practice has a subtext that means ‘if you like it, use it’ – we’re saying ‘this is a best practice you need to go and replicate.’ If we have a working at height solution in one plant and that’s relevant in all of our manufacturing plants, then we’ll track that on a global level in terms of what percent of our facilities are executing the same risk control programme.”

The progress of adoption of proven safer practice and equipment plant by plant is checked by PepsiCo’s internal and external auditing systems and has become one of the key performance indicators for EHS. Gilligan says the company prefers to measure its EHS progress by such leading indicators. Others include the number of items flagged for action closed on time, number of inspections and whether local EHS funds are spent.

We can say let’s make sure all the new hoppers are designed at this height, instead of let’s install a vacuum lifter in every plant

Movement and rest

The vehicle telematics and data gathering to focus risk reduction in the PepsiCo fleet is part of a commitment to use technological advances wherever they can add value to worker protection. Another example Gilligan offers is the adoption of wearable motion capture systems to analyse manual handling and ergonomic risk.

“The traditional way of doing an ergonomic risk assessment is that I’ll observe you, maybe video you, and identify your at-risk postures,” he says.


The new system uses lightweight stretch fabric bodysuits with inbuilt sensors over the major joints that record bending, stretching and repeated movements. They are supplied by Heddoko, a Canadian company specialising in ergonomics analysis and improvement for athletes and industry.

“The bodysuit allows a minute evaluation of what percentage of time you’re spending in a high-risk posture,” says Gilligan. “The interpretation of the data points is giving us insights that we wouldn’t have seen before.

“Things as simple as the height of a door handle on the back of a truck. [It shows] how many times in a shift a driver has to raise their elbow above shoulder height to open a door and what kind of risk that presents.”

The information conveys not just ergonomic and handling training, but helps the EHS function check the value of potential purchases: “Does the installation of a vacuum lifter eliminate ergonomic risk? Motion capture suits will tell us whether it does or whether it replaces one risk with another one. Or whether a design modification is required to reduce the risk further.”

More fundamentally, “it’s allowing us to go a bit further into the specifics of the analysis of what the risk is. So we can go back and redesign the work, [saying] to our engineering teams ‘the lip of this hopper needs to drop by 6 mm’. We can say let’s make sure all the new hoppers are designed at this height, instead of let’s install a vacuum lifter in every single plant.”

PepsiCo is also piloting a programme designed to gather data on employees’ sleep patterns as part of a programme to combat fatigue at work.

PepsiCo recently started working with specialists Fatigue Science on a trial of wristbands that measure employees’ at-rest sleep. The data may provide the foundation for future work to promote better sleep habits. Gilligan emphasises that programmes that provide benefits of good rest to employees are part of EHS’s “Pursue Positive” ethos and the aim to make everyone who works for PepsiCo fitter and healthier for having done so (see the Industrial athletes box above).

He also notes that this may be one area where replicability of any campaign will be tempered by cultural sensitivities: “In different parts of the world the times you go to bed and to sleep varies. Even the amount of sleep you take is different from country to country. In Spain people go to sleep very late. That’s the same in the Middle East. It’s not so much the case in North America.”

Gilligan-PepsiCo-close-up-smileWhatever the outcome, he is enthusiastic about the technological enhancements to the sum of the company’s OSH knowledge. “It’s giving us that little bit more insight. We’re still learning as we go but what we’re trying to do is push the balance, push the bounds of how we’ve traditionally done risk assessment.”

Starting point

Gilligan started his career with a bachelor’s degree in OSH from the South Bank University in London. At the time, he says, no college in his native Ireland offered a degree course in safety and health. He then joined Hewlett-Packard and worked in Europe and the US, latterly in Palo Alto in California. He first moved to credit company Visa, then joined PepsiCo, with whom he initially returned to be based in Ireland while his children were small, before a move to Dubai (“we went for two years and we stayed for seven”) to run the EHS function for the Asia, Middle East and Africa division.

He says that job, which encompassed a massive geographical area, was “very challenging” but was one of his own “critical experiences”, teaching him skills and lessons that equipped him for his current role.

What sort of lessons? “The importance of collaboration. I know it’s an overused word but the importance of being able to influence a business agenda without having control and being able to take others with you while driving an agenda.

“Building relationships and so on, having a network, is key. The day you need your network is not the day to start building it.

“We connect with people on social networks like LinkedIn, but how well have we built networks in our own companies? And if something happens somewhere in the world, have you already built that relationship with the GM, with the CFO, with the head of HR, so you can pick up the phone and have a have a frank and honest conversation? Or do you not know who that individual is? Because if you don’t know who those individuals are, or you don’t have them in your network, you’ve missed the first couple of rungs on the ladder of resolving the issue.

“So one of my biggest lessons in that role was the importance of having a valid and helpful network.”

As with all the OSH leaders interviewed in this magazine, I am interested in what qualities he has had to develop to lead an EHS function.

“I would say it’s those soft skills, such as my ability to articulate a compelling business case with senior executives, employees, team members.

“I find building networks great, connecting with people is a strength for me. And on the flip side of that coin it’s when those networks are not working.

“The work that we do is enormously stressful. It’s enormously important work. And we have to have a sense of humour in our day-to-day approach. However there’s always a line in the sand where we have to have those tough conversations. And that’s been something that I’ve had to work hard at and I continue to work hard in terms of giving and receiving feedback.

“If you want to develop mastery of something, you have to practice. If I’m about to have a difficult conversation I know that in advance. People don’t usually stumble into tough conversations. But what I do is prepare for them, so I try to understand the context and the intentions of the person I’m having a difficult conversation with but I can also articulate the reason I’m not OK with the approach. Part of practicing is preparing.”

What would he still like to achieve? “What excites me is PepsiCo’s “Performance with Purpose” agenda and our 2025 targets around people, planet and our products. From an EHS perspective we have a very large role to play in both the people objectives and the planet objectives. So I think for me achieving those targets well in advance of 2025 is something that inspires me and something that keeps me motivated.”

He would also like to contribute to changing the image of the profession in the businesses it serves.

“I’d love to get us to a point where as a profession we’re viewed very holistically as value-add to every organisation that we’re in. And not only value-add but critical to the DNA of the organisation. And I think the only way for us to effectively do that is to continue to pursue positive impact.”



  • The deployment of LEAN in the

    Permalink Submitted by Anonymous on 5 September 2018 - 09:18 am

    The deployment of LEAN in the UK has destroyed much of the good work carried out by the EHS teams. Production is now the priority, rather than Health & Safety. FACT.


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