As the Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer for PepsiCo, Athina Kanioura’s role is multifaceted. She leads company-wide transformation and oversees data products, platforms, and talent. She’s also the mother of two boys, ages 7 and 10. And while it’s high time we lay to rest the notion that women can have it all — at the same time, anyway — when it comes to transforming that illusive ideal and creating a richly layered and evolving life that includes both family and career, we could take notes from the Fortune 500 C-suite executive who literally has the word “transformation” in her job title.
Kanioura’s career path is a winding one; she started her career in academia, earning a Ph.D. and working as a professor of applied mathematics, statistics, and economics before moving into consulting roles at Accenture and Accenture Digital, where she rose to the role of Chief Analytics Officer and spent 15 years consulting in New York, Paris, and London.
“I thought academia was exceptional,” she says. “I loved teaching. I loved being with students. I loved doing research. [But] I decided for personal reasons to take a sabbatical from the university.” Consulting was an “amazing experience” as well. “From the data to the business transformation, it was extremely rewarding personally but also a great learning experience to go from the theoretical, the theory of solving problems in academia, to the practical problem-solving with consulting very close to the clients.”
Then, in 2020, PepsiCo came calling with the task of taking up a newly founded function: strategy and transformation. “My role now in PepsiCo is driving end-to-end strategy so I have corporate strategy and all the strategy functions in the company; then [I’m] responsible for transformation — both within-the-year transformation and long-term transformational initiatives,” she explains. “Think everything from portfolio, functional transformation, agriculture, sourcing supply chain, end-to-end. Third is digital — standardizing all our processes, and driving the digitalization of consumer, commercial, supply chain, and employee experience. And lastly, data analytics and AI… to be able to make this company an intelligent company.”
If you’re noticing a pattern — learning, growing, problem-solving, changing; learning, growing, problem-solving, changing again — and thinking it looks a lot like motherhood, you’re not wrong, and Kanioura’s approach to transformation, both in her career trajectory and her actual current job, applies to her role as a mom, as well. So what does transformation look like for her?
“I’m a working mom with two boys,” she says. “So transformation in my life is ensuring that I use all the means possible to have work-life balance.” For Kanioura, that means having “a programmatic way” of managing her tasks at home — and ensuring that she spends quality time with her boys so that they don’t feel like they come second to her work — and at the same time giving maximum energy to her job.
If that sounds impossible, let her explain: “I’ve always believed that, especially because I was always working, that for a working mom, there shouldn’t be a dilemma,” she says. “Family versus work, I’ll start with that. You can have it all, but you need to have a system of support — whether it’s your family support or external support, and of course, your partner’s support if you have a partner — to ensure that you balance the two pillars of your life.”
That’s not to say there’s not a push-and-pull. Kanioura is the first to admit that there were times when she had to say, “‘You know what? This is where the family will get the 60 percent and the work will get the 40 percent’ and there are others that it was the reverse,” she explains. “So you need agility. And you need to accept that there will be moments that you cannot be equally successful in both [areas]. There will be moments that you will have to rely on someone else. If you micromanage in either case, it’s impossible. So you need to be able to have agile ways of working, and you need to trust both your teams at home and your teams at work that they know what they’re doing.”
Kanioura realized, for example, that she had to trust her children from a very young age, and trust that they would understand the value of having both a mom and a dad who work outside the home. “That was a big transformation for them,” she says.
A Transformative Tip
Laying that foundation of trust has also had an enviable personal payoff for Kanioura when it comes to her “me time” in that it allows her to prioritize hobbies like playing piano and tennis.
“My life revolves around the boys and my husband, work, and me,” she says. “The me component is equally important.” Kanioura rises before the rest of her family so she can enjoy a quiet cup of coffee; after work, she exercises. “That’s religion,” she says. “The boys know this is Mommy’s time, and they don’t bother me.” It’s something she worked to establish from day one. “When you have young children, they can take up 100 percent of your time. When you’re at work, your other children, your work children, can take 100 percent. That means there is zero time for you. And for me to be mentally happy, I need the Athina time.” she says.
Here, Kanioura shares the one must-borrow tip that helps her make it all happen: Everything goes in her calendar, whether it’s playing tennis, playing piano, or going for drinks with her girlfriends. “I plan it,” she says. “Nothing isn’t planned. If you look at my calendar, [it] is currently fully planned for the ‘me time,’ the ‘Athina time,’ till summer.” Time blocked out. Non-negotiable. Mind blown. Even holidays are planned 12-18 months in advance. “This year I’m really looking forward to Christmas,” she says. “it’s a me-time and family holiday that I always cherish.”
Implementing strategic processes that make it possible to balance work life and personal life is definitely an executive-level skill, but Kanioura recognizes the role motherhood plays in her professional success, too.
“My kids have taught me to be a better listener,” she says. “They’ve also inspired me to ask myself, ‘Why not?’ in my career. Sometimes, we overcomplicate things and simply asking [ourselves] ‘why not?’ can open us up to new possibilities. This phrase reminds me to stay open-minded and have fun with what I do.”
As proof: Kanioura is set to transform once again — by returning to academia and teaching in the coming year while remaining in her role at PepsiCo. It’ll certainly be a challenge, but there’s no doubt that she’s is up to it.
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