Ekpedeme “Pamay” Bassey, CLO of The Kraft Heinz Co., has held many different personas, both in her career as a learning and development professional and beyond.
Born in New York, she studied Symbolic Systems with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University. She later earned her master’s in computer science from Northwestern University with the goal of working toward a career in technological development.
At Northwestern, she was selected to be an Andersen Consulting Corporate fellow, which was her introduction to L&D. The program, sponsored by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) focused on applying technology as a tool for the L&D industry. It demonstrated to Bassey how technology could be used in L&D, which ignited a passion in her for individual learning. Although she is a bit more agnostic about the way learning is delivered now — through technology, face-to-face or a blend of both — she’s remained in L&D ever since.
As she progressed down her newfound career path, Bassey launched her own e-learning design and consulting company in 2003 called The Pamay Group. More recently, she was the Global Head of Professional Development and Learning Platform for BlackRock in New York. Now, after coming on board as CLO for Kraft Heinz in Chicago last December, Bassey is reimagining the company’s approach to corporate learning.
“As a learning designer, you should think about what you want when you’re creating learning,” she said. “You don’t want to be sitting in a room, bored to tears because you’re listening to something that’s totally irrelevant to your job. One of the things I love about Kraft Heinz is that it’s a company that is really hungry for learning.”
Bassey is bringing a new energy to the learning space at Kraft Heinz, said Lisa Alteri, the company’s chief people officer for the U.S.
“Kraft Foods and the Heinz Co. were two amazing legacy companies, and together The Kraft Heinz Co. has been really focused here on our agenda internally,” Alteri said. “What she’s done for us in the short amount of time she’s been here is to really bring the outside in.”
Learning Like an Owner
Alteri said Bassey is good at paying attention to mega-trends that are happening across the learning landscape and is apt at tailoring them to Kraft Heinz’s own learning platforms. For example, in February, Bassey decided to commit herself to learning something new and relevant to her job and professional career every day and share it on the company’s internal networking mobile app, the KetchApp. In four months, Bassey’s daily commitments, which she tags using the hashtag #LearnLikeAnOwner on the KetchApp, have become a companywide movement.
“When I travel for work, people recognize me as the lady who’s learning every day and posting to the KetchApp,” Bassey said. “It’s a great conversation starter. I like to reach out to those who are engaged in the movement.”
Bassey also shares a lot on the KetchApp from the company’s own corporate learning platform, Ownerversity, which was launched in 2017 using terminology from Kraft Heinz’s core values, which are ownership and meritocracy. Organized into different academies, Ownerversity has lessons in exercising functional skills, such as sales and marketing, as well as academies on leadership and methodology training for its entire global workforce.
One of Bassey’s areas of focus as the company’s CLO is developing the framework for new academies in Ownerversity. She and Alteri are also bringing their teams together to build out the company’s diversity and inclusion agenda. In the United States, they recently launched new Ownerversity learning sessions on both inclusive leadership and identifying unconscious bias.
Alteri, who worked for Kraft Foods nearly two decades before it merged with Heinz, said Bassey’s “by example” leadership style works well in the company’s fast-paced environment.
“As leaders, of course we’re all time-crunched, but we still need to make time for learning,” Alteri said. “And it starts with the leaders. She’s been doing an amazing job setting the tone with simple reads and courses available on our Ownerversity platform. She shows people how they can incorporate them into their daily commute on the train or [while] sitting in an airport.”
An Unconventional Background
Bassey has used her background in computer science to her advantage. But she is also a trained comedian and improviser through The Second City Conservatory program in Chicago, and she feels strongly that it gives her an advantage at her job. While she doesn’t perform as much anymore, Bassey said she remains close with the people she met through the program and brought many of the lessons she learned during training with her to a professional setting, especially the power of laughter.
“Comedy is my first love. When I was in college, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian,” Bassey said. “I still process things through comedy, and I think laughter is a superpower. That is actually something I bring to my role every day. When you are someone who is constantly at the front of the room for an instructor-led training, or if you’re creating a digital learning experience, being able to make people laugh is always a good thing.”
Bassey also has her own passion project surrounding cultural and interfaith diversity, which she based off a year of traveling to different places of worship in North America, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom in 2010 after experiencing a series of personal losses in 2009. Bassey called the project “My 52 Weeks of Worship” and released a book about the experience. In 2018, she was invited to give a TED Talk about her journey.
“It’s amazing to me how relevant it is [to my life] even though initially you might not think it is,” Bassey said. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving, even nearly 10 years later.”
Selena Cuffe, an entrepreneur, co-founder of Heritage Link Brands and strategic developer for Oh My Green, met Bassey in 1997 through their sorority at Stanford, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., when Cuffe was finishing up her last year of undergrad.
A year or two later, when they both ended up in Chicago for their jobs, the two women shared a peer-to-peer mentorship and became close friends.
“While we never worked together, we did develop a mutual mentorship where she would mentor me at my job at United, and vice versa for her at Curious Networks,” Cuffe said, referring to Bassey’s then position as vice president of experience management at the software company. “We became compadres really in trying to navigate the space of being the only woman, and the only black person, all at the same time in our work environments.”
Bassey’s 52 Weeks of Worship project and subsequent book left a lasting impression on Cuffe, who was experiencing loss in her personal life at the time. Cuffe found lessons from it useful in a professional setting, as well.
“I’ve always felt, as a professional, that the beauty of teamwork is being able to rely upon others who have strengths where you have weaknesses,” Cuffe said. “And so I think that [Bassey’s project] tells that same story, but in a way that is actually hilarious and feels good.”
Teaching Others to Teach Themselves
Bassey is looking forward to leading by example and showing what it means to be a lifelong learner at Kraft Heinz. Her role gives her the opportunity to do something she really loves: empower others and be an advocate.
A lot of the focus in L&D right now at Kraft Heinz targets the company’s managers and leaders. Bassey said this is a business imperative for the company because a leader can make or break employee excitement and engagement.
As a learning leader, she said she is also doing her part to provide employees at Kraft Heinz with what they need following the company’s tumultuous couple of years in the stock market — shares dropped by 60 percent in the past two years, according to published reports — and a recent investigation into employee misconduct that resulted in Kraft Heinz announcing a restatement of its financial reports for 2016, 2017 and the first 9 months of 2018, according to Reuters.
Bassey said her department is working closely with Kraft Heinz’s new CEO, Miguel Patricio, in aligning the company’s business strategy with the training and learning opportunities they currently have or want to provide. She added that together they are also evaluating their L&D mission, vision and value proposition to see where it works and what adjustments they need to make.
“An effective approach, from a learning and development perspective, is to invest in our people and provide them high-impact opportunities to learn, grow and develop personally and professionally,” Bassey said.
A Perfect Match
When Bassey joined Kraft Heinz, the company had just started tracking the impact of its L&D initiatives using satisfaction surveys and skill growth assessment.
“From the launch of Ownerversity through the end of 2018, when I joined Kraft Heinz, our measurement of learner impact primarily fell under Kirkpatrick level 1 — reaction,” Bassey said. “Through surveys, we measured satisfaction with courses. We are now moving into Kirkpatrick levels 2 and 3 — measuring learning (skill development) and behavioral change. We are also asking questions that give us an indicator of level 4 (organization performance) results, both predictively post-event and later via follow-up survey for our key programs. This expansion beyond level 1 is part of the upgrade to our measurement approach that is happening this year.”
She’s already seen in a span of less than a year how much employees at Kraft Heinz value learning opportunities. With the data, Bassey said they can ensure employees are learning in ways that are both engaging and that will advance them professionally.
“If you are a proactive learner, and you seek out learning, what impact does that have on your success at the company, or professionally?” she said. “That’s a fun thing we’re trying to create a business case for.”
Bassey said the growth measurement project has been a resurgence of her self-proclaimed “nerdy” core nature. After leaving AI, she didn’t think she would return to the space, but so far her role at Kraft Heinz is proving to be a professional step that culminates everything she has learned from her past roles, including her travels for her 52 Weeks of Worship project.
“When I took this job, I was really giddy at the fact that there was so much potential for impact at a company that has such amazing history, amazing brands and really motivated people,” Bassey said.