A Personal Journey
When I was there, Frito Lay was a 12 billion dollar business — selling chips! So take what I say with a grain of salt.
Tonight, I’ll be telling a series of stories. Why? Because people remember stories. I once met a student from a class I was a TA for years earlier, and the only thing from the class he remembered was a story I told.
About half way through my high school career, a family moved to town and their kids enrolled in the same school I was in. One boy was in my grade; his little sister was in the same advanced math class as me. She was the most chatty kid in the class. Out of frustration, the teacher moved her desk to put her by by the quietest kid in class — me. Which was how I met my wife. It was also the worst grade I got all of high school.
I hadn’t planned to go to college — my parents hadn’t — but her older brother convinced me to apply to UCLA. I got in, and figured out how to pay my way be working carpentry during the summers with my dad, and part time during the year. We got married in school. I planned to propose at Hearst Castle, but that morning as we were going to leave she told me we’d already been there — we hadn’t been to Death Valley. So I proposed there instead, under a yucca tree.
When she was pregnant, I needed to cover those expenses, so I had to get a job and take a leave of absence from grad school. I took a job doing stats for the Department of Justice. I had already taken the courses that I needed for my degree; what I had left before I could graduate was writing papers, which I did during that time. I was almost ready to write my thesis. It was tempting not to go back to school, but my professor and his wife came by for dinner and he convinced me to go back and finish my degree.
After school, I taught a seminar as a favor at a center that specialized in taste and smell… and they wanted to hire me. So for many years, I was doing research, and it seemed like my research might be related to how people formed taste preferences. Food companies were naturally interested in that subject — which meant instead of me writing grant applications, they started to sponsor me. And I ended up eventually teaching seminars at those campuses, and eventually working at one of them. Then in the middle of a snow storm, my wife had just had enough of the East coast weather — she grew up on the West coast in the LA area. So we moved to Texas and I started work at Frito Lay.
I did work designing a way to measure how long a shelf life a product had. The snack foods we made basically last forever when they’re frozen and kept dry/sealed. We froze half of the sample, and let the other half age under normal shelf conditions. Then we had people taste test them, and we kept waiting and repeating that test until people could tell them apart, at which point we could show they we no longer fresh. I moved from basic research into marketing where I tried to ask the bigger questions like what makes the industry as a whole grow. We did a big regression test with one of the statisticians — the big thing was new products. So we started growing the company as a place that would have regular new products, and the biggest of those for me was Sun Chips. My kids call me the father of Sun Chips, which is kind of a silly thing to be known as.
When hiring, I looked for four things: values, accomplishments, work ethics, and joy of the journey.
All work is good. All work is meaningful, even selling chips. Your career is not your reward — it’s a test of how you navigate the journey. Heaven is the destination. You don’t have to be happy at your job every day. You may not think it’s the case, but you have everything you need. Be a proud emissary for your faith.