Medical School dean joins PepsiAmericas

Mike Enright

Last month, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell joined the board of directors of PepsiAmericas, Inc., the second-largest Pepsi-Cola bottler and distributor in the world.

Powell took the job after several months of deliberation, deciding both the University and the company could benefit.

For her services, Powell will be paid $30,000 annually, plus an additional $2,000 for each meeting she attends. She will also receive $60,000 in stock.

“I thought that I could probably learn some things that might benefit me in terms of managing the Medical School,” she said. “And I also thought perhaps it would be valuable for the board to have a different perspective, the perspective of someone who’s spent their whole career in academic medicine.”

It is that different perspective that makes Powell such a good candidate for the company’s board, said Chief Executive Officer Robert Pohlad.

“She brings a diversity of thought, a diversity of experience and a strong character,” he said. “That’s exactly what I was looking for on our PepsiAmericas board.”

Pohlad said Powell’s dual role as Medical School dean and health care professional will doubly help the company to continue to grow as it replaces its current core soft drink products with water, teas and fruit juices.

“(Powell)’s used to thinking strategically in a way that this company needs,” he said. “She’s got a quality of character I aspire to. That’s just a darn good combination in my opinion.”

In 2005, PepsiAmericas took in roughly $3.7 billion in sales, most of which came from Pepsi-brand sodas.

But growth in sales of soft drinks, such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew, have dropped dramatically in recent years as consumers have become more health-conscious and their tastes have shifted, Pohlad said.

And it’s not just PepsiAmericas officials who support Powell.

Public Affairs and Communication Coordinator Janelle Brosche of Midwest Coca-Cola Bottling Company – the local Coke franchise holding the beverage distribution contract with the University – said they have no qualms about the dean working for a rival’s franchise.

That’s because PepsiAmericas isn’t a direct competitor, she said.

Although the Pepsi bottler’s management is based in Minneapolis, Pohlad said, it doesn’t cover sales for this region’s market, nor will it make a bid for the University’s beverage contract, estimated to be worth roughly $28 million.

“I’m sure she’ll do a great job,” Brosche said, referring to Powell’s new position for PepsiAmericas.

Powell’s colleagues shared various opinions on her new position.

Mark Pereira, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology and community health, said he was a bit surprised to hear about Powell’s new job, given her leadership role at the University.

“It sort of flies in the face of what I think one of the major missions of a medical school should be,” he said.

While there are certainly ways in which the Medical School and industry can work together, Pereira said, he is concerned because her position on PepsiAmericas board could be interpreted as a conflict of interest.

“The key here, with these types of relationships that are sort of difficult in terms of some of the ethical issues and potential conflicts of interest, is that they be made public,” Pereira said.

“I think the faculty has a right to know what the agreement is and what the money is being used for,” he said, referring to Powell’s salary as a board member.

Ultimately, he said, he hopes Powell’s new appointment will have a positive impact.

Mary Story, co-director of the University Obesity Prevention Center, also said she is optimistic about the dean’s future with PepsiAmericas and thinks she could have a positive effect on the industry.

“We have to make changes on many different levels, and certainly being on the board of directors puts one in a powerful position to try to impact change,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for Dr. Powell to try to positively impact health of children and all Americans.”