PepsiCo: Crea Lavin - Careers case study

Crea Lavin is a Site Leader at PepsiCo

Please provide a description of your job, including what you've studied to begin your journey in food and drink manufacturing
Crea LavinHello, I'm Crea Lavin and I'm the site leader at PepsiCo in Boxford: PepsiCo's only juice manufacturing site in the UK and home to Copella Apple Juice.

I have overall responsibility for the performance on the site – from delivery of products at the right cost and quality to the health and safety of our team.

I studied chemical engineering MNG, at Newcastle and joined the food industry straight after graduating. I wanted to work in an industry that still had lots to be defined – food is natural, it changes, it's challenging, it's consumer led – for me, that was really important.

I did five and a half years at Mars. On the grad schemes I had a variety of roles: I worked in the factory in Italy, in the national logistics team and in sales. I then did a stint in marketing – it was really different but Mars recognised the value engineering people can have in a range of areas within the business.

I then took a sabbatical year – when I came back, I came back into the food industry.
I joined Princes Soft Drinks and later Geest as a manufacturing manager.

I joined PepsiCo in early 2007 as a Technical Manager at our Skelmersdale site – during my time working in the North West I helped build that site up from two lines to five. I then moved into a UK quality role before becoming Site Leader at Boxford in January 2012.

I've not followed a traditional route – but engineering has given me such a range of skills –you have to be able to think of your feet and make decisions fast. It's for this reason we need more chemical engineers in our industry.

Why did you choose engineering?
This was an area I was good at; I was always good at maths and chemistry. The traditional route would have been to go into science and dentistry, but I was part of a generation of women that was approached by WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).

They ran a whole programme of events when I was in sixth form which focused on bringing engineering to life – I spent two days at Imperial College where I met women already working in the industry then took part in a five day residential at Newcastle University. The programme really brought engineering to life for me and inspired me to pursue a career in engineering.

Why did you choose the food and drink-manufacturing sector?
It was the pace for me – it was a completely different world to other industries. It was consumer focused, undefined. I joined the industry nearly 20 years ago, at that point, food manufacturing was still cooking on a big scale. We were able to enter the industry and add science to those processes. We made them more efficient— effective.

What have been your highlights since starting your career
I've been in the industry 20 years now so there have been a few highlights. There are probably two or three I'd highlight.

My first highlight is the range of places my career has taken me -– from an oil refinery in Finland, a pharmaceutical plant outside Melbourne, a pet food factory in Milan – the opportunities are so broad. It's really allowed me to travel and work at the same time.

Secondly, while I was at Mars, I worked in the Pet Foods area of the business. At the site where I was working I took out an entire line by optimising our resources and taking out redundant equipment – this worked and paved the way for future investment in the site. I was also really proud that I was also able to bring my Operations and R&D colleagues on the journey with me.

Another highlight has to be my time at PepsiCo's site in Skelmersdale. I went into a factory that was about 150 people. By the time I left we had five lines and had become one of PepsiCo's biggest manufacturing sites in the whole of the UK. It was a phenomenal roller coaster and a fantastic engineering opportunity!

What advice would you give a woman considering an engineering job in food and drink manufacturing?
I'd say go for it - you have no idea where it can take you; the opportunities are massive; you can shape your own career; it's not limiting in any way and the fact you are a strong engineer in the food and drink industry will mean you can progress anywhere. There are also lots of opportunities to be creative and really put your technical creativity to great use.

Give us one cool fact about your job or company e.g. how many bottles are filled a second
At our Boxford site, we make one million bottles of Copella and Tropicana a week on one line!

Why did you join PepsiCo?
The profile of the company – not only does PepsiCo have an array of really strong brands, but it's passionate about them. PepsiCo are investing in the brands and I really believe and support the company's beliefs and values.

Also, when I joined PepsiCo I was offered a role at Skelmersdale: a site on the cusp of doing something quite incredible – being able to join a team at the start of something so massive – I couldn't turn it down!

What do PepsiCo do to promote opportunities for women in the workplace?
To be honest, PepsiCo put their money where their mouth is!

The thing for me is that, at PepsiCo, it's an equal playing field. I'm not unique here. In other businesses I've worked for, I have been. It's about capacity to do the job here, not gender.

PepsiCo realise that people need flexibility in their work. Whether that's me, or my technical manager, we've both made a decision we drop the kids off one day a week – and PepsiCo support that.

PepsiCo is open to understanding there is a world outside of PepsiCo. And this is a philosophy that managers live and breathe.

What have the barriers been for you, as a woman, in quite a male dominated sector?
Living your values is important. You need to lead by example. You promote on achievement, whether man or a woman – it doesn't matter.

For me, it's about setting that example as I've progressed through business – as well as mentoring other women as you go through.

We need to support each other. The HR and Quality managers from Princes are now two of my closest friends – we supported each other during our time working together – it was informal mentoring and coaching. Having that informal support network in a male dominated business was so important.

Did you find it difficult to land a role as an engineer?
I never found it difficult, no. I'm quite lucky I've got a first class honours degree, five years at Mars, own label experience and now I've been at PepsiCo for seven years. I've spoken to other women that have found it difficult – and it's been challenging. But I believe in finding the right company that is right for you.

What's been the best experience you've had in your current role?
The fact we consistently deliver a million bottles a week is hugely positive for me and the entire team here at Boxford.

I'm also really proud that I've taken a highly capable front line manager, who happens to be a woman, and supported her to work her through the business and she is now my operations manager. She doesn't have a huge amount of qualifications – but she is hugely capable. Seeing her grow and it's been one of the best experiences I've every had in my work life.

Who, if anyone, has been your biggest mentor in your career?
There are two people I'd call out: the first is one of my fellow grads I went through the programme with at Mars – we've supported each other through career decisions, family compromises, having children and striking a balance, those guilty moments when you've been travelling for 24 hours and not seen your kids – we've been supporting each other through 20 years of tough career decisions!

Within work, there is a lady I went to work for – Maria Dunn; she is now a senior director in food safety in our European team at PepsiCo. She just gets the balance – it was fantastic for my career to meet her and I learnt so much – she leads by example, she really helped me think about my career moving forward.

What do your friends and family think about the career path that you have chosen?
I honestly think 50% of my family don't know what I do – one brother is a Head Teacher, another is a doctor. What I do is still a bit of an unknown in my family - my husband and parents are really proud though, and my five year old daughter now wants to grow up and make apple juice!

What one thing would you do to encourage more women to pursue a career in engineering?
Tell them to stop thinking it's a men's only job – its not. It's challenging and it's massively rewarding. It gives you huge opportunities. You just need to take the first step and it will all be worth it.

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Last reviewed: 22 Jun 2014