P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Amy Chen Of UPSIDE Foods: How I’m Shaping Culture

2004 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Amy Chen is the chief operating officer of UPSIDE Foods, the world’s leading cultivated meat company, which is focused on growing delicious meat directly from animal cells.
As COO, Amy leads the brand's global strategy and commercial functions, including sales and marketing, finance and operations, product development, food safety and public policy. She's also helping scale the company's culture as it enters this next phase, following the US FDA green light for UPSIDE Foods' cultivated meat. Prior to joining UPSIDE Foods, Amy was senior vice president for PepsiCo Beverages North America. She previously served as the chief marketing officer for PepsiCo Snacks in the Greater China Region, in addition to other sales, operations, strategy and innovation roles. Born in Chicago, Amy is the child of Taiwanese immigrants; she has an MBA and a JD from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Harvard.
We asked her how she is shaping culture:
  • Amy Chen

When you were growing up, did you have any big career dreams? Did you know from a young age that you wanted to work with food somehow?

My parents raised me to believe that anything was possible. I grew up with a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings and opportunities I was given and a knowledge that I had the privilege—and obligation—to pay it forward. Over the years, my career “dreams” ranged from being a veterinarian to being President and many things in between, but it wasn’t until I worked in business that I found my calling. Business—in its highest form—is about doing “good” and doing “well” in the world, and I found it to be incredibly creative and fun at the same time. Food was a happy coincidence. I’ve always loved food, and given the central role it plays in our lives, it became a perfect platform for me to have an impact.

You’ve always been committed to using business as a force for good. Can you tell us about your current job at UPSIDE Foods and how the company is pushing the needle? 

I’m currently the Chief Operating Officer at UPSIDE Foods, the world’s first and leading cultivated meat, poultry and seafood company. We grow meat from real animal cells. We believe that people shouldn’t have to choose between the foods they love and a thriving planet, so we’re cultivating meat that doesn’t require us to raise and slaughter billions of animals. We’ve been (quietly) leading a food revolution for the last seven years, and with our historic FDA green light last year and a commercial launch (pending final USDA approval) around the corner, we’re just getting started.

You spent more than a decade at PepsiCo—what is one of the lessons you’re taking from your time at PepsiCo and applying to UPSIDE Foods?

Scale matters. One of the most amazing things about working at a big company is that you can experience what it means to operate at a global scale. Moving things one degree can have a huge impact when it’s multiplied by thousands, millions, or billions! And when you can find ways to orient the engine and momentum of capitalism towards doing good, it is a virtuous and almost unstoppable force.

At PepsiCo you launched a social business incubator and served as one of the first members of their human rights committee. When it comes to shaping culture, what did you learn about the value of shaping culture within a system of power?

Being an “intrapreneur” that works to create change from the inside of big systems, organizations, or infrastructures is not for the faint of heart! It requires an immense level of creativity and problem solving but can also be incredibly rewarding. Not only do you need to identify a solution for a problem that needs fixing or improvement, but you also need to figure out how to solve it in a way that delivers against social or environmental impact and business objectives at the same time. It is hard work—but when done well, creates a level of stickiness and long-term sustainability that is hard to match.

How did you know you were ready to leave PepsiCo? Was that a hard decision? 

I loved my time at PepsiCo and will always owe a debt of gratitude to the people I met and the experiences I had there. My years there literally shaped who I am today, personally and professionally, and I am better for it. Leaving was incredibly hard, because I was so comfortable and happy there. But in retrospect, I can see how everything I learned and did was really preparing me for this new challenge and chapter at UPSIDE. As I was thinking about leaving, it became clear to me that the bigger “risk” was not the risk of joining a start-up in a nascent industry with a lot of unknowns and “still-to-be-dones”... but rather the risk that I would be missing out on an opportunity to start a transformative new adventure with the potential for impact on a grand scale. Like so many things, it was ultimately a leap of faith… and I haven’t looked back!

What advice do you have for MBA students or pre-MBA students who are interested in using business as a force for good in their careers?

Do it! Finding—and building—a career with impact may not always be the easiest or straightest path, but I can say from personal experience that it is worth pursuing. There are so many things about our world that are ripe for reinvention, and we live at a time where the need for change and transformation is urgent. Find a problem that intrigues you, that is big enough to matter, and buckle up!

For those thinking about their careers and what position they might want to be one day, can you share what you love most about being chief operating officer?

I love the variety of my days and the ability to switch between high-level strategy and pull up my sleeves and be in the weeds. On any given day, I might be thinking about the regulatory pathway for a new industry and how to educate and engage consumers, sample some new delicious cultivated meat products, work on our strategy for building a high-performing culture, brainstorm with our scientists on a new breakthrough or challenge they are facing, and interview candidates who are interested in changing the world. I get to play a foundational role in building a team, a company, and an industry all at the same time—and there is literally never a dull moment!

How has being a New American shaped you as a leader? 

I wake up every morning with a sense of gratitude and a keen appreciation of the possibilities that every new day brings. My parents’ story and journey is a constant reminder that our past doesn’t dictate our future, as individuals or as a society. We have the joy—the responsibility—the privilege—of working towards a more just world and future every day. There’s lots of work to do, so we need to get going! ∎

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