Mauro Porcini has a new passion: PepsiCo. Porcini, whom we profiled last fall in "The Nine Passions of 3M’s Mauro Porcini," has been named PepsiCo’s chief design officer. "It’s a fantastic opportunity," he tells Co.Design. "It’s a completely new role at the company."
Creating that role and hiring Porcini, 37, is part of a strategy PepsiCo announced earlier this year to focus on expanding its 12 biggest brands, including Pepsi, Gatorade, and Lay’s. An important part of that is developing a design language for each one. "We’ve always valued design, but you’re seeing us taking it up a notch by bringing in a thought-leader," says Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group. [Mauro] is charged with leveraging design as a critical component of innovation to power those top 12 global brands."
In February, PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston called 2012 "a year of transition" for the world’s second-largest food and beverage company. It announced plans to cut 8,700 jobs, or 3% of its workforce and to invest an additional $500 to $600 million in advertising and marketing to grow its biggest brands. Jakeman began looking for the company’s first chief design officer. "I had no shortage of interested candidates with incredibly impressive portfolios," he says. "What made Mauro rise to the top was not only is he an extraordinary design visionary. He understands how to build a design culture in a large organization. … Building out departments is a very easy thing to do. Building out design thinking into the culture is much, much harder. It takes extraordinary talent and extraordinary patience."
As different as a $30 billion materials-science conglomerate and a $66 billion food and beverage conglomerate sound, Porcini sees similarities. Both have a vast portfolio of products, global reach, and a long history of success, he says, much of that success driven by business analytics. "Design thinking is based in the mindset of intuitive thinking so the challenge of integrating that way of thinking inside a corporation is very similar [at both companies]," he says.
Porcini did just that in 10 years at 3M, a company known for its proud, at times stubborn, engineering-driven culture. Born and educated in Italy, he joined 3M when he was 26 after designing products for Philips and starting his own online design company in Milan. Porcini, who dresses for the office as if he has a daily photo-shoot scheduled with the Italian edition of GQ, won over his American colleagues with his blend of creativity, business savvy, and ebullient passion. In his rise from designer to become 3M’s first chief design officer, Porcini built a sought-after design team, worked on products from office supplies (including a red high-heel tape dispenser) to health care, and opened a playful design center last fall the likes of which 3M had never seen. CEO George Buckley described him to me as "an infectious agent" for design. What also serves Porcini well in the executive ranks is that he’s an organizational and process wonk whose favorite designers include those who successfully navigated large corporations. He’s bilingual in every sense of the word.
In recent weeks Porcini has been preparing for his new job the only way he knows how: research. He goes to restaurants, retail stores, and vending machines seeking out PepsiCo products and buyers. "It’s all about observation," he tells Co.Design. "So I put on my ethnographer glasses and try to understand the way that people interact with the brand, how they feel with the brand."
Porcini starts at PepsiCo on July 2, so he’s also preparing to move from Minneapolis, where 3M was based, to New York. The Manhattan design community is getting a two-fer. In Italy, his wife Elisa worked as a designer for Gucci.
As for the lion statue he painted pink and put in his front yard in Minneapolis, a curiosity that people stop and photograph, it’s coming with him. "I don’t know where to put it in Manhattan," says Porcini, "but that lion is me. I cannot leave it behind."