Brittany Polanco ’12 on Culture Fit

“I think it’s important to build a culture where people feel valued as individuals, supported in their values and able to control whatever balance looks like to them.” — Brittany Polanco ‘12

Brittany Polanco ’12, current Marketing Manager at PepsiCo, was interviewed by Women in Business committee member Margaret Anderson ‘21.  She shared her path from Mount St. James to the world of business, holding prominent roles in Frontier Communications, Hilton Worldwide, and PepsiCo.

The Holy Cross PepsiCo community, from left to right: Jessica Vona ’08, Kristen Buonassisi ’12, Robert Santariello ’16, Anne Fink ’85 P17, Alexandra Schiffmann ’15 and Brittany Polanco ’12.

Why did you choose Holy Cross? Going to an all girls, Catholic high school (Mercy High School in Middletown, CT) had a huge impact on my perspective and growth as a female leader.  At my high school, you were popular if you were smart, funny and kind rather than based on looks or social status. We were still teenagers so we had our fair share of drama, but the unique environment allowed me to grow and thrive.  It was a supportive community that cultivated ambition, collaboration and academic achievement. When I visited HC, it was clear that there was something special about the school and that it was a similarly tight-knit, high achieving community.  I immediately felt at home at Holy Cross and knew it would be a place I could build strong relationships while continuing to learn and grow at a new level.

As a psychology major, you are a wonderful example of the Ciocca Center’s motto, “major in anything, succeed in business.” How do you think your degree in psychology has helped you in your work (PepsiCo, Hilton, Frontier, etc.)?  I am a huge proponent of a liberal arts education in the business world.  I chose a major in psychology because I’m passionate about understanding human behavior and the implications of it in our everyday life.  At Holy Cross, I had the opportunity to anchor in that passion point while exploring many other areas of study. I truly took advantage of the diversity of options available, taking classes in dance, chemistry, computer science, digital art and more.  Looking back, I realize that this type of education allowed me to build core skills that were invaluable to me as I stepped into the business world. In many ways, Holy Cross honed my ability to quickly learn new things in addition to synthesizing different information and perspectives.  Outside of the classroom, I was a cheerleader, an orientation leader, a class VP and held various part-time jobs on campus. I learned both in and out of the classroom how to problem solve, communicate, prioritize, and both work with and lead teams. My approach to my career has very much modeled my approach to my education.  I’ve spanned various industries (Telecommunications, Hospitality, Food & Beverage) and functions (HR, Marketing, Innovation). This approach has allowed me to acquire a diverse range of critical experiences. Those experiences have shaped me as an empathetic and adaptable leader, which is very in-demand given the rapidly evolving consumer and business landscape.  

How do you maintain (or try to maintain!) a healthy work-life balance? What about your job/work life are you most passionate about?  I don’t think about a balance between work and life so much as I try to always nurture my physical, mental and spiritual health.  I keep a pretty busy schedule between work, volunteering, working out and spending time with friends/ family. I take time every day to reflect on these key areas to ensure I’m operating at my best for everyone around me.  If I’m feeling overly stressed, unfulfilled or over-extended, that means something is off and I need to take action to recalibrate. That action could be a conversation about current projects at work, a post-work yoga class, or journaling to better understand what the root cause is.  When I’m feeling balanced, prioritization and knowing my values enables me to ensure I can maintain that passion and positive momentum. I clearly communicate my values to my teams and intentionally build-in support systems to make sure I can make trade-offs where needed. I also try to take that approach with the teams I lead.  I think it’s important to build a culture where people feel valued as individuals, supported in their values and able to control whatever balance looks like to them.

How many times have you attended the annual Women in Business conference? What are your biggest takeaways from the event?  I would not be where I am today in my life or career without the incredible passion and support of the Holy Cross community.  I remember attending the WIB conference multiple years as a student and leaving feeling so inspired and energized at the possibilities of life post-grad.  I was a first-generation college student in my family, so there was no roadmap on how to manage the transition from HC to career and what it would take to get there.  While I had a lot to learn about the art of networking, I was truly touched by how willing the alumni were to come share their time, experiences and advice with us. I distinctly remember watching Cara Gontarz Hume ’03 (featured on the Prebusiness blog) on a panel and thinking that I would love to be a leader like her in the future.  I’m honored to say that, six years later, I’ll be sitting next to Cara on a panel about workplace culture at this year’s WIB conference.

What about Holy Cross has compelled you to give back/return to campus? When it comes to my role as a Holy Cross alum, I believe strongly in paying it forward to help increase the odds of success for the generations coming after me.  During my time at PepsiCo, I was so fortunate to have known and worked for Anne Fink ’85 (featured on the Prebusiness blog): a Crusader, member of the Holy Cross Board of Trustees, and one of the most senior female executives at the company.  In 2015, Anne brought together a small group of Holy Cross alumni (myself included) and tasked us with creating an HC community within Pepsi, building a relationship with the College and hiring top talent from campus for internships.  That small group grew year over year as we successfully recruited and retained those interns. Each year we learned and strategized to continuously evolve and elevate our relationship with the school. Anne was there through each phase to provide feedback,  support and to influence within the company to help facilitate those plans. That group quickly became another invaluable, supportive team in my life. We supported each other at work (on-boarding, sharing learnings, mentoring, etc.) and outside (happy hours, celebrating successes, being there for each other during tough times, etc.).  While I’m preparing to leave PepsiCo, it’s so bittersweet to be leaving that team. I have no doubt that we will all stay close and I’ll be looking out to see what they do next. Meanwhile, I’ll be putting that learning agility to the test again while I enter the startup world and explore how I can continue to pay it forward at HC in new ways.

This fall, Brittany will be speaking on a new panel focused on culture fit for the fourteenth annual Women in Business Conference at Holy Cross on November 2, 2019. The idea of culture fit comes from a desire to love the work you do and do the work you love, bringing your personal values to the workplace. Is sustainability of great importance to you? Do you seek to form personal connections with your colleagues? Know what’s important to you and hold on to it – allow it to be present in all areas of your life.

Thanks for reading and see you November 2!

Cassie Gevry, Associate Director of Student Engagement
Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society