by Zohra KhanSep 17, 2021
“I talk about love in boardrooms, in business meetings, on a stage of a major business conference. I link love to innovation, to productivity, to changing the world for the good.”
- Mauro Porcini
For Mauro Porcini, the most underrated design secret is kindness and the most unexpected use of a word in his vocabulary is love. Spirited and unapologetically optimistic, the 46-year-old East Hampton-based design maverick is the Senior Vice President and the first ever Chief Design Officer of PepsiCo - the US-based world’s second largest food and beverage company. In this episode of UNSCRIPTED, he opens up about the tension of experiencing two different worlds in his childhood, the consequences of being bilingual, the obsolescence of regrets in his life and his fascination for unicorns.
As Porcini grew up in the Northern Italian village of Gallarate for the first five years of his life, following which he moved to the city of Varese (an hour drive from Milan) while his parents lived in the country’s southern region, he describes these years as ‘living in a suspension’. His family life, he recalls, was much simple and immensely protected from the outside world. “My parents,” Porcini reminisces, “somehow protected me from the many truths of the world, many things that other kids are exposed to from the very beginning. They never talked about the idea of wealth or success, even when they were young, so I grew up with this naivety to the extreme thinking that the two most important things in life that my parents were telling me were culture and to be a good person.”
Porcini joined PepsiCo in 2012, post serving as the Chief Design Officer at the St.Paul-based material-science conglomerate, 3M. His current role encompasses the infusion of design thinking into PepsiCo’s organisational culture and driving innovation by design to empower the company’s product platforms and brands which include Pepsi, Lay’s, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sodastream, Tropicana, Doritos, Lifewtr, and Kwaker, to name a few. Though his focus extends from physical to virtual expression of the brands, including packaging, advertising, architecture, retail activation and digital media, the trickiest part about being in his shoes, he tells us, is the inability to be labelled. “Everyday I fight to position myself, position my teams, position design inside this world which is not used to it,” says Porcini, whose teams are based in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, London, Dublin, Moscow, Cairo, New Delhi, Shanghai, and Johannesburg among others.
Speaking of his fascination for unicorns, PepsiCo’s design chief contemplates that his understanding of this single-horned magical creature is “what Plato would define in the world of ideas”. For him, the iconography of a unicorn – one that combines rarities of humbleness and confidence, and optimism and resilience - is an inspiration that ‘one tends to’ to better oneself every single day. In times of a creative block, he shares that he goes about clearing his mind by immersing himself in nature: “one day it’s a bike ride in a forest and another day it’s working on a beach.”
Leading the way with an ideology that the strongest design teams are rooted in love, and the best design solutions are found on the crossroads of emotions and rationality, Porcini has to his credit over 1,200 design and innovation awards. In 2018, he was recognised with the Knighthood (Cavaliere) by the President of the Italian Republic and has also been granted 47 patents on his name. He has been cited as “one of the 10 Italians that will change the world”, “the renaissance man who transcended his last name” and “the man who put 3M on the design map.” While the recognitions are nothing but sincere fruits of his hard work over the years, he expresses on UNSCRIPTED that he is often looked down upon as a successful Italian white man who drives nice cars, has fancy boats and a dreamlike home.
Beyond seeking nuggets on innovation, love and unicorns, we ask him what comes after the age of excellence (referring to his latest book – photographed above), to which he replies: “We need to reach it first, and then if we do, we arrive in the age of happiness.” In another of our 30 rapid fire questions, we put forward a hypothetical dinner plan (of which Porcini himself is the host) and we enquire who he would like to invite from the world of architecture, product design, films, media, philosophy and literature, and art, to share the table with, and who he would like to give the design reins to for food and décor. Tap on the cover video to find out what he says.
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.
All photographs © PepsiCo and Mauro Porcini. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial, or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.