For most of the last quarter of a century, the branding of the sports drink of choice for hulking linebackers and towering centers has been handled by women.
In 1985, Sue Wellington became Gatorade's brand manager. She eventually went on to serve as president, from 1998 to 2002, blazing a trail for leaders like Cindy Alston, the brand's first CMO; Sarah Robb O'Hagan, also a president; Morgan Flatley, VP-marketing; and Andrea Fairchild, VP-global sports nutrition group. Today, 10 of the key leaders for the PepsiCo brand are women, with their responsibilities ranging from sales and communications to finance and research and development.
The fact that women run Gatorade -- a sports brand closely linked to the National Football League and male athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan -- is unusual. Just 4% of Fortune 500 companies' CEOs are female, the White House Project reports, and scant female leadership exists in sports. After the passage of Title IX, female participation in sports exploded, but women's leadership in the industry still lags.
Fewer female collegiate coaches exist today than in the "70s, and women make up just under one-quarter of the nation's athletic directors. In professional sports, women executives are also scarce, with just 11% of all executives at the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL being female. Just three of the 15-member executive board of the International Olympic Committee are women.
While the sports industry is dominated by men, Gatorade has done its part to raise the profile of women athletes, Ms. Fairchild said. In 1999, an ad showed Mia Hamm competing against Michael Jordan in several sports, to the soundtrack "Anything you can do."
One of the brand's current spokeswomen, professional soccer player Abby Wambach and two-time Olympic gold medalist, said Gatorade's female execs serve as role models for her. "It's been really exciting for me as an athlete, not to mention a female athlete, to be part of a brand that 's run by so many females," Ms. Wambach said. "Seeing these women with families in big-time positions, making big-time decisions ... gives me something to aspire to be when I'm done playing."
"Sport is an incredible motivator for women," Gatorade's Ms. Fairchild said. "Everything I've learned about being a leader I've learned from sport. That's why it's so important for us as a brand."
And this dynamic has aided with Gatorade's new direction. In 2009, with sales eroding, the brand embarked on an overhaul, redesigning packaging and positioning itself as a brand for sports innovation and nutrition rather than just as a sports drink. In the first half of this year, Gatorade's sales volume rose 2.4%, according to Beverage Digest.
"Women tend to lead differently than men," Ms. Flatley said. "They bring a more inclusive and consensus-building style, which has worked really well for this brand. ... And women tend to bring creative problem solving in how they approach business issues."
At Gatorade's Chicago offices, it's clear the women there are fierce competitors, dedicated athletes and savvy executives. But there's also a sense of camaraderie and family -- something the White House Project's VP-communications, Kirsten Henning, said is more often found in work environments that are diverse. Where women lead, often a better work-life balance and greater collaboration prevail, she added.
Signs with the phrase "Win from within" -- a nod to the brand's tagline -- and a handwritten fitness goal adorn Gatorade work spaces. It's not unusual for staffers to begin a meeting by asking one another about their fitness goals, and everyone's progress and successes are publicly reported. Both Ms. Flatley and Ms. Fairchild aim to complete a half marathon this year.
"The Gatorade executive team has created an extraordinarily dynamic, fast-moving and innovative culture," said Nick Drake, worldwide managing director at Gatorade's agency TBWA/ Chiat/Day. "It's a culture that empowers individuals, values its partners and encourages an integrated structure where everyone rolls up their sleeves to tackle tasks."