Barbara C. Burek '75 majored in Latin American Studies at Union College before earning an M.B.A. in marketing and international business from NYU Graduate School of Business Administration (now NYU Stern School of Business). In 2013, she retired from PepsiCo as vice president for international foodservice. Her career there in marketing, strategy and sales was just short of 31 years. In retirement, Barbara has been indulging the arts side of her life – taking up yoga, refinishing furniture, painting watercolors after a hiatus of 40+ years, studying Italian, traveling and cooking. Since graduating from Union, Barbara has served as a class agent, the first woman president of the Alumni Council and as a member of the Presidential Search Committee. She’s also served on the Board of Trustees and as an alumni admissions volunteer in Westchester County, N.Y. Barbara is married to Mark Toher, Union’s Frank Bailey Professor of Classics.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
The last dozen years at PepsiCo were the best of my professional life. I led an international team that supported our largest global customers. Working across cultures was something I loved – both my undergraduate and graduate school courses fueled my interest and enthusiasm for the global arena, as did my participation in the Union term abroad in Seville, Spain. Understanding the priorities by country and the distinct manners of conducting business in each were challenges, as was managing an indirect, global team. The rewards were more than offsetting. I built the business and the capabilities of our teams around the world, mentored some of our best global talent, and went to countries I would not have had the opportunity to visit otherwise.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
At PepsiCo, I was fortunate to work with two wonderful business leaders (among many) who taught me a great deal – Craig Weatherup and Brenda Barnes. They were both inspirational, ‘servant leadership’ practitioners. On the personal side, my sister, Marcella, passed away recently. She led an enviably happy and “ordinary” life, and she lived it with uncommon generosity and grace. She will always inspire me.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Know what you believe.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
I am not able to point to a singular formative experience, but certainly the friendships established at Union have been a sustaining part of my life. Those friends kept me in school when I contemplated leaving after the first year, and some of them have been with me through the highest and lowest points of my life. Arnold I. Burns ’50, the father of my roommate of three years, Linda Burns ’75, became a dear friend and an early mentor who encouraged my ongoing engagement with the college.