Women of Influence

Joan McDaid Pertak, B.A.’83

Life Lessons

By Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.’96

The most important lessons that Joan McDaid Pertak learned as a University at Albany undergraduate didn’t come from the classroom but from the athletic program. Pertak, who is today senior vice president and chief information officer for PepsiCo Americas Beverages, ran track for four years at UAlbany and also worked in the physical-education department. She had to learn to juggle a job, along with classes and sports.

Under the direction of then-coach Ron White, Pertak learned that she could do all three. “He probably had the most influence on me,” she says. “The message I got was that if you work hard, you will succeed.”

Pertak has drawn on these life lessons throughout her career. Success, she says, comes from setting goals, working hard and “not letting barriers get in your way.”

A psychology major, Pertak minored in computer science and business. Her first job out of college was in retail management. Although she enjoyed retail, she had a desire to get into the technical world, so she began her computer-science career at PepsiCo.

She left PepsiCo after two years for a computer-science consulting position out in California, but in 1989, she came back east and returned to PepsiCo. Pertak “started at the bottom” and climbed steadily up the ranks. Today, she supervises more than 300 employees who deliver the technical capabilities that help PepsiCo grow its business as a food-and-beverages powerhouse. She also heads up PepsiCo’s mentoring program for technology employees, which has more than 400 mentor pairs in 17 countries.

As a mentor, Pertak has found that some women tend to “go for the safest jobs.” In her mentoring, she tries to push women out of their comfort zones. Her advice to young women at UAlbany: “Don’t play defense. Don’t be afraid to take on opportunities that will challenge and stretch you!”