Evolving Industry:

A no BS podcast about business leaders who are successfully weaving technology into their company DNA to forge a better path forward

CIO War Stories: Mergers, Change Management, and Building a Culture of Owners

George Jagodzinski (00:00):

Today's guest is one of the most dynamic and resilient CIOs I've come across. We explore M&A, growth, and discuss the challenges and opportunities that face the CIO at just about every type of organization you can imagine. I'm joined by Gerry Mecca, who's worked at companies such as Dr. Pepper, Snapple, and then also when it was Keurig Dr. Pepper. He was at Cadbury, he was at Tropicana, the list goes on and on. Gerry was at ground zero when companies went public, when they went private again, when they almost merged and then split, and then they merged and grew. It's dizzying what he's seen and what he's done. We discussed too many topics to count around leadership, technology, adversity, and motivation. Please, welcome Gerry.


Welcome to Evolving Industry, a no-BS podcast about business leaders who are successfully weaving technology into their company's DNA to forge a better path forward. If you're looking to actually move the ball forward rather than spinning around in a tornado of buzzwords, you're in the right place. I'm your host, George Jagodzinsk. Gerry, one of the reasons I was super excited to have you here is that, man, when you talk through your history, which LinkedIn, by the way, does it no justice because you've been at every size of organization on every type of transaction before M&A, after, during. You've been at IPO before, after, public, private. Sorry to my other CIO friends, but you might be one of the most adaptable and resilient CIOs I've heard of. I want to talk about all of that, but I think a fun place to start is it feels like you checked all the boxes. What would your dream job be now, other than retirement?

Gerry Mecca (01:51):

I would say this was my dream job 20 years ago, and it remains my dream job. And at the risk of negotiating away my future salary in this dream job, I wanted to have something to do with professional sports and the analytics and the Moneyball. I was that guy long before it made a movie. I could even remember arguing on-base percentage with a coach when I was in my 20s, and I was an assistant coach in baseball. And he just insisted on, if you weren't hitting bombs or batting in the upper .280s to .320s, it didn't matter that there was a guy on our team who stole bases, walked a lot, got hit a lot, scored a ton of runs, but when it came time to pick the starting lineup, he was rarely in it. So all that to say, if I could be a technology futurist or leader or value creator for any major league sport, and I mean that because I'm also a massive sports fan, so why would that be a dream job? Baseball would be the number one, but I'm not that picky. I do Bundesliga.

George Jagodzinski (03:17):

I love it. Well, there's no shortage of need out there with the amount of data that is just increasing both on the field, in the stadium, around the stadium, at home-

Gerry Mecca (03:29):

Even the experience, I just told you the stats part, but I mean walking into a stadium knowing what you ordered the last time you were there, whether you have your kids with you because you bought four tickets, so we can make an assumption about you and it's just exciting, and I want in. So for all of those major league sports GMs and presidents that are looking for somebody that could, well, let's just say it still has to pay well, I'm up for that. That'd be the dream gig.

George Jagodzinski (04:02):

Well, in case the dream job genies are listening, I'll also put my hat in the ring for Formula One. I'll take that same job at Formula One, please. More Red Bull than Ferrari, unless they get their strategy sorted out.

Gerry Mecca (04:15):

Fair enough. I got a little scared about auto racing. As a kid I loved it, loved it. Just too many accidents. I mean, at the time, I wanted to be. We all do when we're driving around. We built, on the side of our house, we had a big hill, and we built box cars and raced them down the hill and crashed them and smashed them and all made out of old bikes and old wagons and things. It was a fun time. But yeah, I've since liked my feet on the ground and so I'm more of a baseball, soccer, football, and I was a wrestler. So personally, I was a high school wrestler and college wrestler, and that's also another story for another time.

George Jagodzinski (05:08):

That's great. I feel like there's a through line from building those cars to racing forward to building these teams and pushing forward through all these crazy transactions. Let's explore some of them. I'd like to hear some stories from the trenches of whether it's an acquisition transition that you've gone through and what's one of the most interesting ones that comes to you.

Gerry Mecca (05:32):

If I were to pick the number one, it would've been… so in 2005, Dr. Pepper Bottling was merged with Dr. Pepper 7Up, and somebody's going to say, “Wait, what's the difference?” Well, one was the concentrate and brand owner, and the other was the bottler and distributor, and they had been separate for years. And also, they owned Mott's Applesauce and Snapple, and Cadbury was actually the owner of all those brands. And so, Cadbury combined them all, and we became part of Cadbury Schweppes. That was 2005.


The deal closed in '06. And then, in January or February of 2007, right after we had put the teams together, reorganized, started to outsource all of our data centers up to Toronto, the, let's call it the corporate raiders came in and said, "You know what? We don't like this Cadbury deal," and they tried to split us up and we headed off at the pass and decided to take our own action, take Dr. Pepper private and take the juice and the concentrate company, mix it with the soda company and water and tea company, and then let the candy and gum go. And so, a year or two into doing merging, we were de-merging. The British actually call it “demerge,” which I thought basically carving it out. We were going to go private.

George Jagodzinski (07:18):

Like deplaning.

Gerry Mecca (07:19):

Yeah, we were going to go private, and if you remember, 2008 was the bond and market insanity. And so, suddenly, instead of being a private company, we had to raise public money in order to do the deal. And so, a combination of all that business intrigue, but the technical hurdle was massive. Here we are going and shoving all this together, and about the time the surgery and sutures had started to heal, we were going back in and cutting back the brain out and splitting it in half. And so, that's the one that really stands out to me is I remember being in my parents' closet because I didn't want to wake anybody up. It was 4th of July weekend, and I'm talking people through the go, no go.

George Jagodzinski (08:11):

That had to be exciting.

Gerry Mecca (08:13):

It was exciting. And throw out the fact that we also had to choose sides and figure out how much IT we were going to get and how much Cadbury was going to get. So it was a real, to your point, if ambiguity, chaos, change is something you can't handle… I imagine Jack Nicholson, “You can't handle it,” and I thrive on it, always have. Maybe it’s because I have four brothers and three sisters. I don't know.

George Jagodzinski (08:46):

I'm on the same page with you, very much like-minded. What I'd be curious about is you must've had to get a ton of stuff done in a very short amount of time. I mean, I can't tell you how many companies I've been in where they've been trying to consolidate their ERP for who knows how many years, right? People have been hired and fired, and everyone's lost track of what they were trying to do in the first place. I guess two parted question, how do you get it done that quickly? And then also, are there lessons learned on how you can move that quickly even when you don't have a gun to your head?

Gerry Mecca (09:20):

Well, I mean like any other plan, we weren't trying to boil the ocean. So even in the case of putting the two companies together, we also sort of had little agreements about how they'd operate until we were together. So we hadn't really yet put the ERPs together. We had done HR, and so there were certain aspects that were, “Uh oh, we got to stand up our own HR and payroll,” which of course, makes sure people get paid is a pretty big deal. But the only real decisions that we had moved forward were all the infrastructure ones. Call center, service desk, desktop support, network, telecom, all the data centers, those had already come together. And so, in a way, it wasn't like we got it all done.


But now, we had a transition services agreement with Cadbury to be able to stay on those systems for one year. And that meant separate every contract, separate every outsourcing agreement, make sure that the data centers don't talk to each other, and that there isn't a chance that they can see our data and we can see their data even though, a year earlier, we were best buds. And that's kind of the nature of… in a transaction like that, despite the fact that it should have been friendly, at some point, the two sides get their marching orders, and they're not synergistic. They're dissynergies. And so, it's managing all that. I was focused on the infrastructure.


We had to cut the umbilical cord 4th of July weekend, and if we didn't, we were in trouble. And so, from the moment they said, "Gerry, can you take infrastructure?" There were people taking ERP. There were people taking HRIS. There were people taking all our analytics platforms. I only had one chunk of it, so I don't want to make it sound like I was the orchestrator of all, but I was in the same committee, and the project lead was, I was sort of side... You get it how it works. Governance, everybody came together and worked on their own piece while they made sure that nothing I was doing was messing up their life and nothing they were doing was messing up or expecting me to deliver on something sooner than I should have.

George Jagodzinski (11:54):

Evolving Industry is brought to you by Intevity. We bring order to chaos where the people, process, and technology converge. Our culture drives our solutions, and we are solution-obsessed. We see every challenge as an opportunity, every partner as a collaborator, and every project as a chance to share our values and commitment to excellence. Give us a shout. We'd love to hear your challenges and turn them into opportunities. Find out more @intevity.com. Now, back to the show. Anytime we're planning, we're always trying to make sure we're not painting ourselves in the corner, but we also don't want to plan for every possible eventuality because then things just get too complex. Did that teach you to plan for the synergy to become not synergistic? What did it teach you about flexibility versus painting yourself in a corner from a planning perspective?

Gerry Mecca (12:47):

At the risk of contradicting you, I absolutely thought I planned for everything. I mean, I pulled people in the room. We did everything we possibly could because we knew there would be something we didn't plan for, and it was going to screw up, and we were going to be in trouble. And there are adages and books and stories and all sorts of things about you make a plan because the plans are meant to be broken, and more often than I want to admit, they also don't go according to plan. In fact, we had one, a big one. Every time we simulated cutover, it failed past the sniff test. It truly wasn't what we wanted it to be, but the problem was when we separated the systems, there were hard-coded things on our side that still was looking for Cadbury instances -

George Jagodzinski (13:54):

Oh, I believe that.

Gerry Mecca (13:55):

And vice versa. And so, we had to essentially mock and simulate the conditions that would need to be in place so that when we cut the umbilical cord, the systems would think Cadbury was still there. It was ingenious, but I could hear people telling me… my boss was like, "Gerry, so help me God, if this does not work." And I was like, "I'm telling you, it's the 11th hour, we got to move forward. I'm confident. If it doesn't work, fire me." And she's like, "I don't want to fire you, Gerry. I just wanted to know that you're as confident as you possibly can be." And I said, "I'm as confident as I can be." The Cadbury guys, not so confident. And they were like, "Man, Mecca, we're all going to be in a world of herd if this doesn't work." And, of course, it worked fine.

George Jagodzinski (14:53):

It worked. Oh, I love that. What a great approach to that problem. And this was a while ago. Now something we employ when we're building software is these chaos robots where it forces things to break all over the place, so you help sniff that stuff out.

Gerry Mecca (15:08):

Yeah, imagine in 2008 trying to figure that crap out.

George Jagodzinski (15:11):

No, thank you.

Gerry Mecca (15:15):

But it's what happens when your mind can be clear because you had a plan for all the stuff you didn't want to worry about. So everything else is clicking. We're doing routing tables, and we're updating, we're swapping out gear, and we're doing all this stuff to make ready, and this one hurdle kept coming up. And so, nonetheless, another moment of you got to take some risk. If there was something I could have learned back then that I should have done a better job, and I say this, I don't want to hide things. I have an old boss that says, "Don't surprise me. I hate surprises. Bad news doesn't get better with age.” But even though I was telling the business the bad news, I later was told, “I would've rather you'd not told me that.” It's like if you were that confident at work, just tell me we got it, boss. And I'm like, “Whoa.”

George Jagodzinski (16:19):

It's funny finding that balance. That kind of leads me to the next thing, which is then that's you to the company, but then what about your team? You love risk, or you lean into risk. You love a little bit of the disruptive nature, but that's not everyone, right? How do you keep your team moving forward through all that change?

Gerry Mecca (16:37):

Some of it would be inspiration and just coaching them. Others would just be track record. Of course, you don't have a track record, you don't have one that you can bring to the table, but by this time, 2005, I'd been an IT leader for a long enough time and had a few skins on the wall. I mean, I even talked about the mergers and the buys of all the bottlers prior to the Cadbury acquisition, or when I was in oil and gas, I didn't even intend to get into mergers and acquisitions.


I was on a project, and somebody needed people, and they called me up and said, "Hey, Gerry, we're going to buy Louisiana Land and Exploration,” which was a oil and gas company in Louisiana, “and would you go do the due diligence?" What do you tell them? No? So I jumped on a plane, and I took a team, and we did that, but that was when I cut my teeth on this whole how to do all these things and what's predictable and what's not. Like you said, I wish I had all the bots and tools that I can do to simulate now that I didn't have back then, but that only readies you and gives you an appreciation for what the heck we can do today if we need to.

George Jagodzinski (17:52):

What a great lesson in just saying yes to those new opportunities.

Gerry Mecca (17:56):

That's for sure.

George Jagodzinski (17:56):

I've been at so many clients pre-acquisition, and people get nervous, and I'm like, "Guys, this is probably one of the best opportunities you're going to have in your career. You're going to learn so much from this."

Gerry Mecca (18:05):

So to that end, the inspiration point, I glazed over it, but I said, "Guys, do you realize how much value is going to be on your resume when you do this?" And I reuse that one a lot. That's a little unfair, but going through COVID with a brand new company, having to cut staff 44% and still somehow make the revenue numbers in order to stay afloat through COVID so that when we could come back to work, and in most cases, we didn't even come back, we were still remote. That's the data scan story.

George Jagodzinski (18:52):

Building on the people thing, I kind of want to go in a little bit of a different direction from the M&A, and I'd love to talk because you've also just been steady state or kind of steady state, CIO and you've had long-running initiatives and what I always come up against and what I'm interested in is it can be a real challenge selling the business on the investment in modernization. The ROI can be hard to quantify and then vice versa. It's a two-part question. It's also tough to get the team aligned around that ROI for over a long-running initiative because they can lose sight of it over the years. So I guess, first part of the question, how do you sell the ROI of modernization to the business, and then how do you keep the team aligned?

Gerry Mecca (19:36):

It's too broad. I mean, in some cases, so in the case of Dr. Pepper Bottling, we waited so long to digitally transform that, by the time I was selling it, it was almost like if we don't do it, we're going to die. And that's not uncommon in the, I'll call it, in the distribution and pennies per case or pennies per unit margin companies because they're going to sweat it as long as they can. Now turn around and look at somebody like oil and gas. I mean, my entire budget at Dr. Pepper for IT was less than just the data budget for buying 3D seismic information in the oil and gas business. So in one case, you've got somebody saying, “We've got to digitally transform. Which is the best way to do it?” And you're in there negotiating the best software and the best technology and the best roadmap and how we can stay ahead of the curve and what's going on in the marketplace and pitching them on the investment.


In the case of Tropicana, it's a carve-out from Pepsi. They're getting no IT, they're getting no people. They're getting no anything. So you've got a green field. So you can look at today's market and go to heck with upgrades, to heck with the… I'm going to go out, and I'm going to put it in the cloud from the get-go. I'm going to certainly still do a bake-off on all the different technologies, but they're all going to be cloud-enabled and platforms and software as a service. And man, that was a, I shouldn't say, easy. I still called on people I trusted, said, "Come join me. This is what we're doing." Once I said, this is what we're doing, they were like, "How can you get me in there?" And, of course, it had to be the right deal for them at the same time, so I pinched myself.


I remember actually using that when we stood up in front of the new leadership at Tropicana and said, "Look, this is a total pinch-me moment in the dream job category," except I wasn't necessarily thinking this is what I wanted to do. Every time I'd done a transformation, it had been from something to something. In this case, it was build it from scratch. Don't make any of the mistakes you ever made, if you can. Now, I'm going to go ahead and tell you no lie, there turned out to be things we had to replicate that we didn't want to. Architecture and technology that presented a hurdle that couldn't be updated fast enough, that I mentioned earlier, the transition services agreement. While we were part of Pepsi, we had to pay them and continued, in fact, the Tropicana TSA is still going on till the 1st of January or middle or late of January.


I'm giving information out that I think most people know publicly, so hopefully, I haven't said anything I shouldn't, but net-net, that's money we're paying… “We,” like I'm still there. Tropicana is paying to Pepsi to run their IT whilst we build our own. So you had to go out and sign outsourcing agreements with everybody, shared services agreements with everybody, all those software licensing, SAP, HR systems, carved buildings in half. We had real estate. We were conjoined. We had to turn off this system and move over here and get their stuff out of here. Every one of them is a challenge, so at the risk of making it sound like build it from scratch was easy, it still had pitfalls and still has them. Every once in a while, I get a phone call from one of my former team going, "Dude, I can't believe what you left." I was like, "Sorry, dude, it's the way it is."

George Jagodzinski (23:59):

I'd be curious if you could keep me honest on this one, then validate it a little bit as in some of our clients, they've been leaders in digital since the beginning, and some are more industries that haven't traditionally invested, like manufacturing and in Bev-Alc. And I've had conversations with them where they're looking at some competitors, and they say, "Man, so-and-so are like 10 years ahead of us, how much harder is it going to be for us to catch up?" I was like, "Man, since you're starting from scratch, you're like two years ahead because you get to just do everything from new." You'd think-

Gerry Mecca (24:32):

That's right. I would totally agree with it because in the end, our biggest issues were trying to get master data from the former company that was clean enough to be Tropicana-only data.

George Jagodzinski (24:46):

It's always the data.

Gerry Mecca (24:46):

Yeah, always the data. That was said from the very beginning. I said, "If we don't get our data right, it's going to be miserable." Then the rest is try to find the outliers, the real customizations that could potentially be both an albatross and a moment of transformation because I couldn't believe some of the stuff that we were doing that was really band-aids because the Tropicana business, and this is kind of to the argument of why Tropicana is going to be wildly successful is, in all due respect, Pepsi is a soda and chip company. They tried juice. They did it okay. There's other pressures, but nonetheless, focusing on juice, Tropicana is going to be successful. But there were some unique technologies that were built to bridge the gap between what Pepsi was doing and what Tropicana was doing. And those things, they're hugely important to be done right and the roadmap to getting them where they need to be won't coincide likely with the day the ERP gets turned on for everybody, but it'll be on the heels of it. It's just a bigger transformation than maybe we estimated.

George Jagodzinski (26:25):

Interesting. And then, coming back to that second half of the question. On these long-running initiatives, I find sometimes people they're getting bogged down in the issues of the technologies, the day-to-day, and sometimes, I'll step in, and it's like, “Does anyone even remember why we're doing this and what the whole point is?” And I wonder what lessons you've learned there and how you keep them on track.

Gerry Mecca (26:49):

I said a little bit of it there. From day one… that's really not right. I was the first employee in IT and probably one of the first that wasn't an existing Pepsi employee. Our CEO joined a couple of months later, but even before then, with Patrick Kalotis and some of the other team that was there from the Pepsi side, we all got on board with what the opportunity was going to be to, be able to be a juice company, and that's all we cared about. And the more we could push out of people's minds, “Well, when we were with Pepsi, it was this way, or it used to be this way,” and that rallying call and that we can be different and we can be agile, and we can make this happen, built a culture of owners. Tropicana is private, so a good chunk of the leadership, and I mean a really good size group, is an owner.

George Jagodzinski (28:02):

Very simple rallying cry and a culture of owners. I love that.

Gerry Mecca (28:05):

Every time you have something you're doing that doesn't drive value to the ownership and reduce your invested capital and reduce your operating expenses… and I hate it, it is all about the money. But at the end of the day, it's not all about the money. It's looking and seeing that if we just spent the money properly, we would be in all these other outlets, and we'd be able to do all these other things. And that became a pretty easy story to motivate people.

George Jagodzinski (28:38):

Motivate and, I would assume, keep prioritization kind of easy.

Gerry Mecca (28:42):

Sure. Imagine you go into the office, “What am I going to do today?” I know. Everybody knows. There are. certainly. companies that I could remember a story, and I won't even mention the company where a guy had gone to do an audit on them like six years before, and there were people that were just sitting around very much like the Office Space where they just kind of drone through this work and just keeping their head down. And then, going to do an audit again, and the same people are still sitting there. That's mind-boggling.

George Jagodzinski (29:20):

I'm trying to be clear, I wouldn't be able to deal.

Gerry Mecca (29:20):

For sure. Working for a company that put soda in bottles and put caps on and worked in the warehouse myself, wrapping pallets and riding along with truck drivers. I can't imagine just sitting there and say, “Let me keep my head low and hope nobody notices me and I can still get a paycheck.” I mean, that just blows my mind. And it certainly wasn't that way at Tropicana when I left, and I'm sure they've still had struggles because you've got to make the numbers, pure and simple.

George Jagodzinski (29:54):

Man, I am with you. And I could talk with you forever, same as last time. We might need to do a part two sometime in the future because I love it. I really appreciate this, Gerry, and I always like to finish these on a fun note, which is what's the best advice you've ever received? Life, work, anywhere?

Gerry Mecca (30:12):

Wow. Best advice I've ever received. You can't take it with you. I'm not there yet to worry about it, but I certainly kind of aspire to that. I met a gentleman who made a bunch of money working for Xerox and was real practical and saved it all and worked his tail off and looked up at his mid-30s and go, “What have I done? I've stocked all this money. I'm not married. I have no kids. Man, I should have just lived my life.” And so, that's my best advice I ever heard. You can't take it with you.

George Jagodzinski (30:57):

Amen. You talk about a simple rallying cry and prioritizing things, and that one will do it for you, I imagine.

Gerry Mecca (31:04):

Well, I'm a big believer in giving back, so when I say you can't take it with me, I'm not saying give it away but find the charity or the organizations that mean the most to you. Volunteer, of course. But I'm a big United Way guy. I'm a big Scottish Rite Hospital for children, Boy Scouts of America. I think you have to sort of have… you mentioned it early, an ROI. I have an ROI of my philanthropic activities. If I can see groups are taking the money and they're doing something really good with it, I am all in. The thing that drives me nuts, and I say this, not like they're all this way, but the GoFundMe page of the week for some cause that doesn't look like it has any sustainability except it tugs at my heartstrings is not the place I want to put, let's say, big money. And so, like I said, you can't take it with you is guidance for the day, I guess.

George Jagodzinski (32:05):

I love it, Gerry. I love it. It's perfect. Again, thank you so much. Loved having you here. Thanks for listening to Evolving Industry. For more, subscribe and follow us on your favorite podcast platform, and pretty please, drop us a review. We'd really appreciate it. If you're watching or listening on YouTube, hit that subscribe button and smash the bell button for notifications. If you know someone who's pushing the limits to evolve their business, reach out to the show at evolvingindustry@intevity.com. Reach out to me, George Jagodzinsk, on LinkedIn. I love speaking with people getting the hard work done. The business environment's always changing, and you're either keeping up or going extinct. We'll catch you next time and until then, keep evolving.