Annalize Van Der Waal: from classical musician to HR powerhouse at PepsiCo


Annalize has played a pivotal role in major organisational integrations and is now focused on evolving PepsiCo South Africa's culture, becoming a leading foods company, and building a diverse organisation.

Annalize Van Der Waal, the vice president of human resources at PepsiCo South Africa, didn't set out to become a top HR executive. With a background in music and a love for playing the violin and classical guitar, Annalize's path to success was far from conventional.

After a year of backpacking through Europe at the age of 18, Annalize returned to South Africa and opted to study a BCom through Unisa.

“When I returned from Europe, I quickly realised that I had to figure out a way to make a living. Due to a shortage of classical guitar teachers, I was fortunate to leverage years of study in my school years to secure a contract with the Department of Education to teach music at various schools around Pretoria, while also pursuing my undergraduate degree.”

She pursued this dual task for six years teaching and eventually completed her Masters in Industrial Psychology - this time through the University of Pretoria.

“It was very important for me to complete my studies at the same pace as I would if I studied full time. So I completed my BCom, Honours and Masters in record time. Pursuing Industrial psychology was not planned or intentional - it just happened to be my best subject and as a result I majored in it.”

Even during this time she remained unsure about her future career path. Annalize also worked as a PADI Scuba Divemaster when she had free time, between teaching music and reading for her masters. Her journey took a turn when a chance encounter during a scuba diving trip led to her career in HR.

“One of the tourists mentioned that there was a vacancy for a personnel and training manager at a telecommunications company. I recall going for the interview on Monday and started work on Tuesday,” she says heartily.

This was in 1998. Now, 25 years later, Annalize leads the human capital agenda at food and beverage giant Pepsico South Africa - home to much-loved brands like Pepsi, Liqui Fruit, Simba, Bokomo, White Star, Future Life and SASKO.

Making moves

Annalize's experience is predominantly in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and retail industries - these being at Sainsbury's in the United Kingdom; Danone, ABI Bottling and ABInBev (then SABMiller).

It was at SABMiller that she spent the bulk of career. “I joined in May of 2005 and worked there for 12 years. It was an incredible grounding to develop as an HR professional and industrial psychologist. The two biggest positions I held there were as HR director for the South Africa Commercial division between 2013 and 2016, and then as HR director: Supply Chain and Logistics for Africa between 2016 and 2018. This last role included 9 500 employees across 13 countries.”

It was in this period that ABInBev completed the $107 billion merger of SAB, a transaction that Annalize was a key part of, supporting the transition to the ABInBev culture, organisational design and operating model. “The change agenda was significant and accelerated my professional development in many areas. We set up a Shared Services Centre, built new strategic capabilities and managed a massive cost agenda during that time.”

Naturally, this would not be her only major multi-organisational integration. In 2018, Annalize joined PepsiCo, embarking on yet another significant acquisition journey when the company acquired Pioneer Foods for $1.7 billion in March 2020. Then when the global pandemic hit Annalize had to re-design her well-laid plans and was forced to adapt and embrace remote work with virtual integration. Annalize’s leadership, coupled with her team's resilience, proved instrumental in successfully merging two major organisations.

“We had detailed plans of what the first 100 days will look like – starting with a celebratory town hall broadcasted to all sites, followed by a deliberate cultural integration process, which would provide a foundation to the organisational design, operating model and systems integration pieces. And then suddenly, as the approval from the Competition Commission came through, all of South Africa was told to go home. Stage 5 lockdown had started.”

She adds that the initial plan was to not have one leadership team for South Africa. In fact, they were planning to run the companies’ side by side whilst first learning about Pioneer Foods, this with strong involvement from the global organisation. When it was clear that the global pandemic would be indeterminate, a decision was quickly made to select one leadership team that would build one Pepsico for Sub-Saharan Africa at an accelerated pace.

“The sale went through in March and by May the leadership team was announced. It is profound that through sheer focus and determination, we designed and managed that acquisition and integration on Zoom. We designed new teams and built team cohesion and culture over Zoom. Over 12 months, we harmonised policies, graded 9 000 roles, converted pay structures, transitioned to a new payroll and implemented the PepsiCo Way values and culture. The senior leadership team met in person for the first time a year later!”

It is the agility of the human spirit that fascinated Annalize in what she describes as the most complex and biggest project she has ever worked on - while being under such unforeseen conditions.

“PepsiCo South Africa is a $2 billion revenue business. We employ around 13 000 employees and we run 43 factories. Honestly, I think it was just a phenomenal accomplishment. We are very proud of the organisation we have built and the impact it now has in South Africa.”

Faster, stronger and better

Three years later, she says, that the organisation is ready to evolve even further as it is their ambition to become the leading Foods company in South Africa as well as one of the Top 5 employers.

“It was incredible to experience how resilient, adaptable, and agile people are, how quickly people can change how they do things as well as shift the culture of an organisation. I was fascinated with the extent to which one can stretch people under very difficult situations. But what we have also come to appreciate is that the cultural integration is only skin deep when your employees work predominantly from home. To truly influence the psyche of humans, you must bring them back together.”

In September the leadership team announced a 70 percent (three to four days a week) return to the office hybrid model. “Although we embrace flexible working, we also want our employees back in the office to enhance collaboration and build the PepsiCo way culture that is so important to us.”

She describes herself as someone who likes to challenge the norm. “I'm never happy with just doing things the way they are. I think one needs to challenge the norm, test new ways and be willing to experiment and figure out how to do things better, faster and simpler - that is very important to me.

“It is also very important within the HR domain that we create solutions that are intuitive and enables self-service that enhances the employee experience especially for frontline employees and builds trust in the organisation. HR should never add to organisational complexity.

“AI will definitely play a role in the future of HR. But it is early days, and the technology still needs to be tested and become cost efficient. 70% of our employee base are frontliners. Solutions need to enhance the experience at all levels to make sense.”

Talent injection

The PepsiCo/Pioneer food takeover also paved the way for a large empowerment deal, says Annalize. PepsiCo launched a R1.655 billion employee share scheme for its local staff as part of the conditions imposed by the Competition Tribunal. This year the Bašumi Trust paid beneficiaries an annual dividend of R1 908.35 as part of its B-BBEE employee share ownership scheme.

Furthermore, 2023 saw the first cohort of Future Leaders complete their graduate programme under the Kgodiso Development Trust. It is a blended learning programme that aims to develop the functional and leadership abilities of 40 diverse young talents across supply chain, research & development, agronomy, finance and commerce.

Annalize says 97 percent of those candidates have found roles within the business and their next cohort of 40 trainees joined in May this year. “This investment will deliver a massive talent injection into the business every 18 months and will positively contribute to our diversity ambition at managerial levels. This is a true game changer for us.”

The organisation has made significant strides in building a diverse organisation particularly from mid management levels and up. “We are currently sitting at 42 percent female at management levels against our 50/50 ambition for 2025.”

She points out five focus areas for the prospective future of the people agenda. “We are building a future fit organisational design that will enable simplification, agility and fast decision making. At the same time we will enable the fast-paced business agenda through agile change management which sits at the core of what HR business partnering is all about. Tactical talent management strategies are essential to ensure business continuity and all of this is underpinned by building a culture that employees love to be a part of. Finally, we have a large digital agenda as we centralise routine activities that are enabled through modern systems that drive efficiency.

“When I look back on my time here, I hope to see a strong and growing business that every South African would love to work for. And enabling that growth, a team of highly capable HR professionals that continues to challenge the norm”.

Annalize's career is a testament to the unexpected twists and turns life can take. Her passion for music and the outdoors may have led her to HR by chance, but her dedication, adaptability and unwavering commitment has made her an indispensable leader in the industry.


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