LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital

Exclusive: PepsiCo Has a New CEO of Latin America—And a New Most Powerful Woman

March 18, 2019, 12:15 PM UTC

When Indra Nooyi stepped down as CEO of PepsiCo last year after a 12-year run, it was a depressing reminder of how few women make it to the highest levels of corporate America. Her departure in October depleted the ranks of female Fortune 500 CEOs to a mere 24.

Nooyi’s exit from the snacking and beverage giant also highlighted the dearth of women among PepsiCo’s senior leadership. Of its six business segments, none are run by women, nor have they been for years.

But this morning Nooyi’s successor, Ramon Laguarta, changed that by promoting Paula Santilli to CEO of PepsiCo’s Latin America operation, a $7.4 billion business, which reports directly to him.

It was a move that Laguarta foreshadowed earlier this month in an internal email sent to employees on International Women’s Day. Part of the message, viewed by Fortune, reads: “As we seek to become Faster, Stronger, and Better in everything we do, we’re thinking about how women can play a greater role in our success, internally and externally. This includes our efforts to become Stronger by elevating more women into senior management roles, along with our efforts to become Better by empowering women to participate in our supply chain.”

Santilli came up through PepsiCo’s Latin America operation and was most recently president of PepsiCo Mexico Foods, a $4 billion business. She came to PepsiCo through its acquisition of Quaker Oats, where she held leadership positions since 1992. She’s a consumer goods industry vet, also having spent time at Campbell Soup and Kellogg.

Santilli is taking over the job from Laxman Narasimhan, who was recently named global chief commercial officer of PepsiCo. Roberto Martinez, currently chief commercial officer for Latin America, is being promoted into Santilli’s old role and will report to her.

Santilli’s promotion comes less than two weeks after Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass was named to PepsiCo’s board.