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Inside the Potato Chip Bag

One of the biggest disappointment people have with potato chip is that the chip bag always has more air than chip. Some even think it should be called air bag instead. However, those people don’t know that the air inside the bag protects the chip from being broken while shipping, so everyone can enjoy it. Why do I bring out the story of the chip bag? The main reason is that the subject of this article is related to Poca – one of the top snack brands in Vietnam. And the story is possibly a metaphor for the issue that will be discussed in the article.

Being an independence company since October last year, Poca has witnessed some significant changes and I had a chance to interview Poca’s brand manager, Mr. Tran Trung Kien, about the recent changes of organizational culture, leadership at Poca.

But first, about Mr. Kien, the brand manager, he is an RMIT alumni who has been working for Poca for more than 4 years and planning to continue working for the snack company for 15 years more. Outside of the office, he is an enthusiastic football player who has years of football training when he was a teenager, and a diehard fan of Manchester United football club.

Photo taken with the help of a Poca employee

Photo taken with the help of a Poca employee

Back to the main issue of the article, as mentioned above, Poca recently has some slight change in organizational culture. However, according to Mr. Kien, the culture of Poca still solely follows the role culture model which has a clear structure and detail job description (4TypesHandy_Bb 2013). In the role culture, every decision is made from top down and the job of lower position in the company is to implement those decisions (4TypesHandy_Bb 2013). Mr. Kien in the interview also added that the culture of Poca is central line which means every report have to go through many levels before reaching the CEO. It seems that with this central line model, the report process takes up quite a lot of time of the company. And it doesn’t stop there, the process repeats itself on a bigger scale, with the local unit (for instance Vietnam) has to reports through two bigger units (region the sector unit) then it can reach the Pepsico Headquarter in New York. Though the process is time consuming, it is still the same in many years, according to Mr. Kien. And it even “takes hell of the time” more, said Mr. Kien, as Poca now operates independently.

Even though I think it is unnecessary to waste a lot of time to report like the case of Poca, I still have to agree with the use of role culture model because it keeps the whole corporation, which includes many units in many countries, to work smoothly. Also, Mr. Kien stated that with the role culture, everybody knows what to do or where to report to because it is really clear in the job description.

In a clear organizational culture, everybody knows what they have to do. (Reproduced from: Boster n.d)

The change in the culture of Poca maybe minor yet the change in leadership style is really significant. It is the change from the foreign leadership style to the local one. For the past 3 years, the CEO of Poca had been an English businessman yet in March 2013, Poca has a new Vietnamese CEO with the leadership style quite different from the previous one. According to Mr. Kien, while the English CEO had a more business-oriented leadership style and focused on the business outcome then the new Vietnamese CEO is more people-oriented and he focuses on the issue that the employee might have as well as the business outcome of the whole company. To determine which CEO is better is a difficult job if we don’t have anything to base on. Luckily, Bolman & Deal (2008 pp.343-344) states characteristics that a good leader needs to have, including purpose-focused, long term vision, emphasizing vision of the company. Furthermore, leaders also can cope with change and can set the direction for the company (Kotter 2001). Base on those characteristics, we can see that both new and old CEO of Poca are good leaders because they both focus on the purposes such as the business outcome of Poca, they also emphasize the vision and mission and value of Poca in particular and of Pepsico International in general. However, it is hard to determine whether they have a long term vision for the company or not, because in case of the former CEO, he only worked for 3 years while the Vietnamese CEO is new and we haven’t seen any mark of his work. The ‘cope with change’ part is also hard to see at the moment for both CEOs. But we can hope that the new CEO can cope with some changes happen within Poca as they are operating independently.

In the interview, Mr. Kien also raised an interesting point the Vietnamese CEO which is he understands the people of Poca better and now people can discuss their issue more than they did before. However, “now [the CEO] understands [the employee’s] issue better, a lot of compromises appear … which it’s not always healthy for the business”, said Mr. Kien.

What Mr. Kien mentioned seems strange but it does make sense, I think. Maybe when the boss is kind of friends with the employees, it is harder to separate work and friendship. But I think if the CEO is the good leader, he needs to draw the line between he and employees in the workplace and this is not a characteristic mentioned in any book.

Maybe this is what you (the leader) get when you are being friend with your employees at work. (Reproduced from: Elvira 2010)

At the beginning, I tell you guy a little story about the chip bag and I think it actually fits with the Poca situation here. I think the air in the bag is like the time consuming culture that Poca practices, it seems unnecessary but it is actually helpful because when you keep all the bag together, like keeping all the business unit of Pepsico together, the air (the culture) keep them from being broken down and still function perfectly. I think that actually makes a lot of sense. What are the odds that a bag of chip is a perfect metaphor for the company that manufactures … chip.

Yes, it has 70% of air. But without it you would have a bag of bird seed instead of chip. Get it? (Reproduced from: espangrish n.d)

Reference list:

4TypesHandy_Bb 2013, course notes for COMM2384 Client Management, RMIT University, South Saigon, viewed 11 May 2013, Blackboard @ RMIT.

Bolman, L & Deal, T 2008, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th edn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Boster, M n.d, ‘Culture’, image, ImpaQ Solutions, viewed 11 May 2013, <http://www.impaq-solutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Culture-Picture-300×212.jpg&gt;.

Elvira, C 2010, ‘Leadership’, image, Corporate Psychology, 14 September, viewed 11 May 2013, <http://cespinosaelvira.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/leadership-nurses.jpg?w=300&h=255&gt;.

espangrish n.d, ‘LAYS Should Be Called LIES, image, Espangrish, viewed 11 May 2013, <http://espangrish.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Lays-Potato-Chips-70-Percent-Air-30-Percent-Chips.jpg&gt;.

Kotter, J 2001, ‘What Leaders Really Do’, Harvard Business Review, pp. 85-96.

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One thought on “Inside the Potato Chip Bag

  1. The ‘air’ metaphor is a great way to start and close your article. Very well thought of. I enjoyed reading about this ‘client.’ But if I may here are some tips to improve your blog:

    -try to find new sources to counter-argue/ re-confirm your interviewee’s/ your ideas and interweave quotes as you tell your story.
    -as your article shifts from one topic to the next, it would be nice to visually see the tips for client managers either highlighted (e.g. change font style) or a re-cap of tips (not necessarily bullets) at the end to help summarize before your fantastic closing paragraph.

    ~Mel C

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