Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s Gerry Mecca spends a lot of time walking around the office. Here, he explains why you can’t lead sitting down.
By Amanda Sims
As Vice President (VP) of Information Technology (IT), Packaged Beverages and Client Services, at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Gerry Mecca oversees the technology side of one of the leading producers of flavored beverages. He was Chief Information Officer of the Dr Pepper Seven Up Bottling Group before Cadbury acquired it, but no matter his position at Dr Pepper, he remains focused on building strong teams and developing an accessible management style.
Mecca takes a “management-by-walking-around” approach to his leadership. “Work with your teams and develop them in a more collaborative way versus the ‘from-the-mountain, kiss-my-ring’ way,” he joked.
The collaborative nature of the teams under his direct reports and their understanding of common objectives sometimes make the management part of business easier for Mecca. There are rarely questions about priorities or employees lacking direction, he explained.
Team building is a significant part of Mecca’s management style. His athletics background—he played amateur baseball and college football, and wrestled in college and high school—instilled in him that you are only as good as your team. So as to allow everyone to play an essential role, Mecca stresses the importance of hiring people who understand the things that you do not. “When we piece it all together, we have something that could be great,” he said, “and if we all head in the same direction we score.”
But Mecca was not always the cool-headed leader he strives to be now. In the mid-’80s, a confident, 20-something Mecca was VP of a small firm called Applied Creative Technology Inc. (ACT). He was a top performer and received results from his team, yet one might have described his leadership approach then as authoritarian: not a total tyrant, but he had trouble retaining his staff.
“I burned a lot of bridges—left a wake is what I was once told,” Mecca said. “You wouldn’t want to work with me anymore.”
“My training was, hey, if you go to the bathroom and someone didn’t write, ‘Mecca sucks’ on the walls, you really weren’t doing a good job,” he said. “In fact, you’ve arrived, frankly, when someone writes, ‘Mecca sucks’ on the bathroom wall.”
At one point, Mecca soured a deal to sell the company. He came unglued when the potential buyer made what he saw as an insulting, low-ball offer. “I had a multimillion-dollar purchase of a company walk away from the table because I couldn’t keep my mouth under control,” he said.
Mecca said it was at that moment when Tim Wilde, then Chief Executive Officer and President of ACT, pointed out the pitfalls of his leadership approach. Mecca performed well, but he was rough around the edges. Wilde explained that he was willing to invest in Mecca if the young VP was prepared to make the commitment to change.
On Wilde’s recommendation, Mecca took a Dale Carnegie class and read Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Mecca described the class as a pivotal moment in his career, which helped him become more self-aware and understand his blind spots.
A personal journey also affected Mecca’s leadership methods. When he left ACT in December 1995 to work as a Senior Staff Analyst at Burlington Resources, he became involved in corporate social responsibility. Mecca came to realize that those who can help should help. The idea that sometimes people just need more support has stayed with him ever since and impacts his management style on an ongoing basis.
Talking With Talent
Mecca focuses on developing his team members both professionally and personally. The professional side is rather easy, he said. As he moved through various leadership positions, Mecca became a believer in open communication techniques, like regular reviews, 360-degree meetings, one-on-one sessions and quarterly team meetings. When you set professional objectives, he said, there are fewer surprises.
Without asking to know every intimate detail of their lives, Mecca readily welcomes his employees to set and share personal objectives as well. “I’m all for a healthy crossover between what we’re trying to accomplish as a business and how something in your personal life might make you better at doing business,” Mecca said.
To get to know each of his team members, Mecca hosts “skip-level” meetings during which they build personal development plans incorporating basically anything the employee wishes to accomplish in the near or longer term. Skip levels have changed Mecca’s impressions of his staffers.
For example, he had labeled one employee a strict “eight-to-fiver.” Through skip levels, however, Mecca learned that the employee was recently divorced with his ex-spouse living in another state, making every moment spent with his kids all the more precious. Mecca’s initial impression could have impacted the man’s career negatively, but their personal dialogue altered his perspective.
Maximizing Mobile Support
With a grounded leadership approach, Mecca is focused on the parts of his job he loves most, such as expanding and developing the mobile side of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Originally he was brought into the company in 2000 due to a somewhat “lackluster” deployment of a mobile selling solution and SAP implementation.
Mecca improved the mobile selling system in two steps. The mobile application itself was clunky, but there had been some advancements. There was not any more money to significantly increase the app’s functionality, so Mecca performed classic ticket problem management and eliminated errors in the field.
Next, he performed a redeployment of sorts by upgrading the SAP implementation and retraining its users. “We took it from being something that everybody hated to something that they maybe still didn’t love because it’s not the sexiest user interface out there, but now it worked,” he said.
But perhaps most importantly, Mecca found a leadership approach that best serves the strong team he wants to build at Dr Pepper Snapple Group—and recognized he does not need to act as a dictator to succeed.
Amanda Sims is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.