Crisp crunching, snack munching

From potato to packet, Tracey is manufacturing director at PepsiCo, working out the best and most efficient ways of getting your crisps from the field to your favourite foil-fresh snack.

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Name: Tracey Foster
Age: 47
Job title: Manufacturing Director 
Company: PepsiCo
Hometown: Leeds
School subjects: A-levels: maths, physics, biology, general studies
University studies: BSC textile engineering (2:1)


Hi Tracey, can you tell us about your job?

As a Manufacturing Director for PepsiCo, I have a hand in manufacturing a range of snack products including Sensations, Walkers Extra Crunchy and Wotsits. I’m based at a site in the North East of England.

On a day-to-day basis, I set out what’s required for the site and work with the relevant teams to develop plans to execute the best possible performance, whilst of course ensuring that our customers get exactly what they want.

Above all things, we are completely focused on ensuring that we do this safely – so no one is hurt on site and the quality of the brand is always protected.

How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?

The products made by PepsiCo are very well known around the UK and are available in most food shops and supermarkets. So if you’re eating a packet of Sensations, Walkers Extra Crunchy or Wotsits, my work may have contributed to getting that packet to you.

What do you like most about engineering or your job?
Working together with like-minded people to reach a common goal is absolutely the most rewarding part of my job.

The second aspect that I really enjoy is recruiting new people for the manufacturing line and helping them develop their careers.

But there are lots of other things I’ve enjoyed about engineering and my job along the way and a couple of achievements really stand out. The first was our work to enable the business to transport raw materials using new trailers – this is the first time PepsiCo had transported anything other than products that were ready to eat.

The loads were heavy and variable and required bespoke trailers to be designed, tested and then built by a third party. In addition, the drivers needed to be trained to be able to drive the big lorries to maintain road and driver safety. The timeline was also very tight - which made it even more interesting – but the team did a fantastic job to get the work done!

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How did you first become interested in engineering?
To be honest I knew that I did not want to follow a pure science or maths degree course, so looked for an alternative that was more practical, and could result in executing real life projects. An engineering degree just seemed to fit the bill – and as I reflect now, it absolutely did!

There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take?
I studied for a degree in engineering at Manchester University - with a specialism in textiles. I was keen on sciences throughout school, but I wanted to undertake a course that was more practical in nature and would be really useful for my future career. The skills I learned while achieving my degree enabled me to get my first role, and to really kick-start my career.

How important was studying maths and science in school for what you do now? Did you enjoy it at school?
I enjoyed studying both maths and sciences at school and they were the foundation of the engineering degree work – without this the course would not have been available to me.

What personal qualities do you think are important for being an engineer?
Being a logical thinker that can take a problem or a project and work through it from start to end in the right sequence. I also think that you need to be someone who can put forward practical solutions to a challenge – as opposed to theoretical ideas that may or may not ever take place.

There are fewer women working in engineering than men. What would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in engineering?
At PepsiCo, we believe it’s really important to get more female engineers onboard. I’ve identified a number of talented females in the organisation and gone on to support, coach and mentor them to allow them to shine and progress within their role.

I’ve also been involved in the UK wide cross-functional ‘Strategies for Success‘ Programme, forming part of the development team to design and deliver a programme for our talented female managers, aimed at accelerating their progression within the organisation – and this has had a part to play in 60% of the class of 2011 having been promoted.

I have some general advice for people considering a career in engineering (both male and female) - go for it! You will enjoy learning about all the different aspects of the discipline and it is a great platform on which to build a career. It’s flexible too - you could be an engineer for all your working life, or like me you might move into a different more generalist role. Whatever path you choose, engineering is a great place to start and gives you a great set of skills.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, I love music of all kinds - from classical to heavy rock! I will happily go to any concert or festival – small or large - and have a great time. I also play a couple of instruments, but not particularly well and certainly not in public!

If you could go back in time and be the inventor of any product, what would you choose?
I would want to be the inventor of the steam engine – it transformed travel and trade for individuals and businesses alike. I love that the legacy and infrastructure of this invention can still be found all around us today.