Richard Silver, just 27 years old, is the R&D senior engineer for PepsiCo. Among his many tasks, he is in charge of redesigning the company’s packaging to make it more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. With a team of four based in the Hawthorne offices and a $3 million budget (including $1 million from the BIRD Foundation, which gives companies money to collaborate with Israeli-based firms), Silver spearheads the effort to find new materials to package the company’s 22 beverage brands, using a smaller amount of material for each beverage.
The results of his efforts on the project (which should take two to five years to complete) are expected to save the company hundreds of millions of dollars a year and to lessen the impact on the environment.
“Sustainability initiatives that cost more than the status quo are very difficult to convince companies or consumers to go with,” Silver says. His project, though, got the green light at PepsiCo because it is expected to make “business as usual” much cheaper. “Things that that have a savings benefit but are also better for the environment excite me. I think that’s the only way to get things done.”
As an undergraduate at Skidmore College (where he received the prestigious Porter Scholarship in Science and Mathematics) and as a graduate at NYU, where he studied chemistry, Silver realized that he was particularly fascinated by how chemistry could be applied to make the real world a better place. It was also at NYU that he started to gain notice from people outside academia.
So, when a job opened at PepsiCo to create a new research team to study new packaging, Silver, who lives in Manhattan, was immediately sold on the opportunity and went to work for the Purchase company right after graduating. Now he wants to do research and development work forever and is even back at NYU pursuing his MBA so he can become an even more effective manager in the future.
“Pepsi is a really big organization, and getting things accomplished requires a lot of consensus building,” he says. “I’ve managed to build a multi-functional team for this project and, I don’t mean to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but that certainly doesn’t happen very often.”