Sumi (Paek) DeBenedittis '97 was a Growth and Structure of Cities major and history minor at Bryn Mawr and now works as director of foodservice development and communications at PepsiCo. Sumi has been part of PepsiCo’s foodservice division for more than 20 years and is currently part of the national foodservice team, managing sales and industry communications.
On top of her role as director, she is also the current Diversity and Inclusion Council chair for the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management and has previously served on its board of directors. Sumi has volunteered for committees with organization's such as Women’s Foodservice Forum, Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, and the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association. She has received many recognitions, including two PepsiCo Chairman’s Awards and the SHFM Leadership Award.
Sumi is returning to campus as part of the Career & Civic Engagement Office’s Alumnae/i in Residence program on Sept. 24, at 4 p.m. via Zoom. The chat will include other Cities alums from A.N.M & Company and The Food Trust. Students can learn more and register via Handshake.
In the below Q&A, Sumi talks about finding her career passion, the value of attending a women's college, and more.
How did you get involved in your current field?
After Bryn Mawr, I worked for four years in advertising at an agency in New York City and at a "dot com," then came to PepsiCo to work in marketing. I am still in the PepsiCo Foodservice division doing sales and communications 20 years later! When I was a junior, I thought I wanted to go into architecture but, long story short—my architecture portfolio was thrown out by mistake and I questioned what I really wanted to do. I decided on advertising because I enjoyed the creative process, solving problems, and driving results. Today I am greatly enjoying my work, helping our PepsiCo partners in the foodservice industry grow, supporting my colleagues and our veteran and Asian employee resource groups, and working on programs centered around racial equality and sustainability.
What part of your Bryn Mawr experience has been most important to your professional development?
For me, there are two aspects to my experience. The first is the academic. The rigor of thinking through issues and different perspectives that I gained from my Cities classes was invaluable. I fondly remember some of the classes I took with Gary McDonough and the group discussions we had. Then, the leadership experience through activities. Serving as a resident hall advisor, senior class president, and president of the Asian Students Association in particular taught me the importance of listening, connecting with others, taking on challenges, and knowing when to take action. Understanding your audience and how you can make a positive impact has helped me tremendously at PepsiCo.
What career advice do you have for current Bryn Mawr students?
If you want to pursue an industry that does not typically recruit from Bryn Mawr, you need to be proactive and resourceful. When I was a senior the "world-wide web" was just starting and I was looking up alums who worked in advertising and marketing in a printed directory from the career development office…but these days you have LinkedIn! One piece of advice transcends time—leverage your network and continue to build it! Having informational connects with Bryn Mawr and Haverford alums while I was an undergrad was critical for me, and today I continue to do this with my network at PepsiCo and beyond. Learn the industry lingo and sell what you uniquely bring to the table. Make sure you follow-up and thank people for their time. Try to do internships the summer before and during your senior year if you can swing it to get experience, expand your network, and get your foot in the door.
What made you choose to attend Bryn Mawr?
In high school, I wanted to pursue physics with photography as another interest area. Bryn Mawr has an outstanding physics program and Haverford had photography so that sold me along with the beautiful campus and the professors and students I met during a prospective student event. While I ultimately majored in Cities, I always felt a special connection to the physics professors and majors. Also, the student academic requirements may seem scary, but I am so grateful as I would not have found my dream major (I took an intro Cities class with Gary McDonough the first semester of my freshman year and loved it) or received such a solid foundational education. Learning is a lifelong journey and Bryn Mawr turned out to be the right place for me to explore, discover and develop my passions and make awesome, lifelong friendships.