EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: Technology, Efficiency and Strategy Drive Frito-Lay’s Fleet Sustainability

July 16, 2019

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An ACT News Executive Interview with Mari Roberts, senior director of transportation, Frito-Lay, a company at the forefront of implementing advanced vehicle technologies and fuel efficiencies.

Frito-Lay continues to lead by example with their advanced fleet and demonstrate environmental stewardship across all operations. The Frito-Lay fleet currently operates electric delivery trucks, compressed natural gas tractors and advanced diesel technologies enabling them to drastically reduce diesel fuel use and increase fuel efficiency. These practices ensure Frito-Lay products are transported in the most efficient, environmentally friendly, and safest way possible.

Mari Roberts leads a team of 2,900 employees, and is responsible for the safety, cost, and service performance of 28 Frito-Lay Traffic Centers in the US. Mari has held numerous positions in her 19-year career with Frito-Lay, including field operations and corporate assignments in transportation and logistics.

In April at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, Mari participated on the Women in ACT panel that focused on how a diverse workforce can spur innovation. Women are a critical component of the winning formula needed in today’s advanced clean transportation industry. Mari and others on the panel addressed why, in an era of rapidly shifting technology, demographics, and policy trends, it is imperative that the clean transportation industry have effective leadership to successfully navigate the changing transportation paradigm.

On the panel, Mari shared an instance when she asked her leadership team to provide one thing they were going to do to improve driver retention. “I received wildly different ideas from the men and the women on my management team, and all of the ideas were great,” Mari noted. “I would have missed out on half of them without women in management.”

ACT News caught up with Mari Roberts to learn more about her passion for transportation and logistics, while helping guide the Frito-Lay fleet operations.

ACT News: Frito-Lay has long been committed to making the fleet more efficient, coupled with best driving practices. What are some of the leading initiatives and partnerships Frito-Lay is participating in to promote fleet sustainability?

Mari Roberts: Frito-Lay continues to have one of the most advanced fleet of delivery vehicles in the country. We have one of the largest fleets of Class 6 delivery vehicles powered by electricity and close to 50% of our over-the-road tractor fleet is powered by natural gas. We will continue to make investments in the next generation of advanced vehicles and fuels. By 2020, all of the natural gas consumed by our over-the-road fleet will be obtained from renewable sources (RNG).

Mari Roberts in Truck

Mari Roberts drives the Frito-Lay truck.

We are also working on a transformative project at our manufacturing facility in Modesto, California. This project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities. It aims to replace all diesel-powered freight equipment within one of Frito-Lay’s largest food production, warehouse, and regional distribution facilities, over the course of approximately two years, through early 2021. This will be accomplished via the use of zero emission (ZE) technology wherever feasible, and near-zero emissions (NZE) technology and renewable fuels everywhere else.

ACT News: What is the best part about holding the title of Senior Director of Transportation?

Mari Roberts: The best part of my job is having the honor of being the head coach to the best drivers in the industry. Our drivers are so passionate about safety and our business that it energizes me to remove obstacles and support our traffic teams each and every day.

ACT News: What is the most challenging part?

Mari Roberts: The most challenging part is being able to remain agile and deliver productivity and service expectations with continuing shifts in consumer demands, customer requirements, go-to-market channels, and regulatory changes that impact our industry.

ACT News: What drew you to Frito-Lay originally?

Mari Roberts: I was originally drawn to Frito-Lay’s strong brands and supply chain optimization initiatives.

ACT News: And how has Frito-Lay changed since you first joined the company?

Mari Roberts: While there have been many changes in technology and product innovation, Frito-Lay’s ability to continuously improve while growing our strong brands has not.

ACT News: You recently spoke on the panel Women in ACT, which took place at ACT Expo in late April, in Long Beach. You talked about the mentoring program launched at Frito-Lay, “Leadership Investment for Tomorrow (LIFT).” Please tell us more about this initiative, and how it pairs talented young women with higher level executives, to help ensure women at every level are advancing their career.

Mari Roberts: Like many organizations, we know how important mentors are in the careers of our young women. We’ve also learned that our more junior-level, younger women may not have as much exposure to our higher-level executives, who could act as sponsors for their career development. Our LIFT program is a comprehensive sponsorship program designed to provide critical experiences, coaching, development, visibility, and networking. Our sponsors find that they take away just as many learnings by gaining visibility to gender, generational and cultural differences improving their executive awareness, so it has become a win/win in driving cultural change within the organization.

Just one of many Frito-Lay CNG trucks.

ACT News: What advice would you offer to young professionals interested in pursuing a similar career path?

Mari Roberts: My advice to young professionals is to be intellectually curious and take initiative. There are so many things to learn; keep digging into how things work, why they work or don’t work, and what could be done to continuously improve. These are the characteristics that I look for to differentiate up-and-coming talent.

ACT News: What are your hopes for the clean transportation and energy industry?

Mari Roberts: My hope is that the right fuels and technologies will also positively impact the financial and operational needs of a corporation while supporting sustainability goals and practices. This would lead to a wider deployment of innovative technologies in large and small fleets alike.

ACT News: What other leadership roles do you hold in the community and/or what volunteer efforts do you support?

Mari Roberts: I am currently the Chair of the National Private Truck Council Institute Board of Governors.

ACT News: Do you have a favorite quote, motto, or personal mantra?

Mari Roberts: My two favorites are: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” and “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”