Read on for insight into the career of Jessica Chen, MHRIR 09, Senior HR Director, West Region, Frito Lay Sales, and LER First Decade Achievement Award Winner, 2019 …

Sometimes it’s helpful to see how the steps of an early career HR professional develop. My name is Jessica Chen and I’d like to share my story to paint a picture of what is possible for the graduates that come after me.  My story starts when I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS in Psychology in 2008.  I always thought I would become a psychologist or counselor of some sort, leveraging my degree.  I realized that Psychology research was not for me, and I enrolled in the School of Labor and Employment Relations quickly after graduating.  In December 2009, I graduated from LER and started a new career in HR.

After Graduation

I was recruited by PepsiCo Frito Lay to join their internship program the summer prior to graduating from LER.   My internship experience was filled with generalist like activities, as well as learning the business as quickly as possible.  It was an immersive, in-person journey, which uprooted me from Illinois to the West Coast, and I absolutely fell in love…with the West Coast, and the culture of PepsiCo Frito Lay.  I was offered a full time position with PepsiCo Frito Lay, and moved from Naperville, Illinois to Rancho Cucamonga, California.  In this first assignment, I reported to a HR Director of a Plant/Operations, and learned so much about the culture of the site, employee relations, total rewards/benefits, and how to run a business in general, for a Fortune 100 Consumer Packaged Goods company. 

Generalist Program

At Frito Lay, the HR learning experience comes from the generalist role, allowing HR professionals to become true business partners, and have a seat at the table, as a “Jack of all Trades, and Expert of Some Things.”  Throughout my career with Frito Lay, I have felt lucky to have learned established people practices, where there is never a need to create something that has already been tested, proven and  empirically validated.  I’m able to use these processes to equip the business to make sound decisions that have a lasting positive impact – to both the individual talent involved and the firm performance as a whole. 

The generalist career path I followed took me from supporting a one-plant location in California, to HQs as a HR Associate Manager of the Sales Center of Excellence for Frito Lay.  In this role, I worked with HRVPs to execute core processes that surrounded talent planning, rewards and recognition, and frontline staffing initiatives that impacted the entire country.  After this role, I moved to Northern California to serve as the HR Manager for a plant in Modesto.  I became a people manager of a small HR team, made up of a HR Rep, and HR coordinator – and I realized, I loved to lead teams.  

After this role, I moved to Chicago to gain critical Union experience, where I served as the HR Director for the frontline sales team.   In this position, I learned labor and negotiation strategy, and the importance of a strong partnership with our local union.  My favorite memory from my time in Chicago was working on a high-impact labor grievance that had  precedent-setting outcomes that supported the business (and ultimately the people) for many years to come.  My time at the School of Labor and Employment Relations prepared me well to seek resolutions with a win-win outcome, while empathetically maintaining the partnership and dignity of traditionally adversarial positions. 

Today, I am the Sr HR Director for the West Region for Frito Lay Sales, and I lead a team of three HR Coordinators and ten HR Generalists. I have the joy of working with incredibly talented HR professionals that are dedicated to improving the work lives of more than 5,000+ employees for a $3BN business on the West Coast. 

What’s Next?

It has been 12 years since my internship with PepsiCo Frito Lay, and I look back feeling tremendously fortunate.  I am lucky to have built the bonds of friendship with my HR peers (having learned the value of team work and collaboration during my time at LER), and have come to appreciate the hard work that has lead me to have a  plethora of memories and experiences.  There was never a moment where I looked at the clock, and waited for the time to pass, eagerly awaiting the day to end.  There is excitement with being a part of a company that values the HR point-of-view, while serving thousands of people, from frontline to senior leadership.  I have felt challenged each step of the way, and have realized that as the years have flown by, I have felt like I’ve made an impact, and enjoyed each experience this career in HR has afforded me.