Former CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America left the workforce in 1997 to spend time with her family - Returned in 2004 as COO, then CEO of Sara Lee Corporation

NEWTON, Mass., Aug. 5, 2016 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- iRelaunch, experts in return-to-work products and services for professionals returning to work after a career break and employers recruiting from that pool, announced today that Brenda Barnes, former Pepsi-Cola North America CEO and former chairman and CEO of Sara Lee Corporation, will be the first recipient of the iRelaunch Pioneering Relauncher Award. The award will be presented to Ms. Barnes at the iRelaunch Return-to-Work Conference, September 29, 2016 at Columbia University in New York City.

A 23-year veteran of PepsiCo, Ms. Barnes famously left her role as CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America in 1997. The decision to leave was "traumatic," Ms. Barnes noted in Nikhil Deogun's 1997 Wall Street Journal article, "I have struggled with this for a long time," she said. However, after years of family trade-offs in order to reach career success, Ms. Barnes decided it was time to give her family more of her time. Ms. Barnes' three children were ages seven, eight, and 10 at the time.

"There was no pivotal event that led me to this decision," Ms. Barnes told Dottie Enrico of USA Today in 1997,  "It's something I've struggled with for a long time. It was easier when the kids were babies, but now I'm sometimes faced with having only a few minutes a day to spend with each of my children and my husband. The time has come to devote 100 percent of my time to them."

Ms. Barnes did stay involved in business during her time out of the workforce, but with the caveat that she would not compromise her reason for leaving in the first place by being away from home an unreasonable amount. She served on multiple boards including The New York Times, Avon Products, Inc., LucasFilm Ltd., PepsiAmericas, Inc., Sears, Roebuck & Co and Staples, Inc., and as interim president and chief operating officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts from November 1999 to March 2000.

In 2004, Ms. Barnes was an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and at North Central College when she met the corporate recruiter for Sara Lee through an acquaintance. Soon after, she was offered the position of chief operating officer (COO) of the company, and in less than a year she was promoted to President and CEO of Sara Lee. A few months later, she was appointed chairman. Ms. Barnes led a thorough restructuring of the company during her tenure at Sara Lee and was responsible for the global company's turnaround.

Having experienced a career break and return, Ms. Barnes became an advocate for others who left the workforce and were struggling to return. She told Katherine Lewis in an interview, "Women run this society. They're running the schools. They're running the communities. They're running charities. They're doing PTAs. They're doing all kinds of things that keep society going. That should not be undervalued by them or anybody they're going to interview with."

Ms. Barnes launched Returnships@Sara Lee™ in the midst of the recession in 2008, "to provide opportunities for mid-career individuals re-entering the workforce after having been away for a number of years." One of the first of its kind, the paid internship was converted to a permanent position if the candidate's term at the company was successful. The program led to Sara Lee's mandate to give equal consideration to all job applicants, despite any gaps on their resumes.

Ms. Barnes retired from Sara Lee in 2010 when she suffered a stroke. The prior year, she was ranked No. 10 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women in Business list. Ms. Barnes is, she says, "happy and healthy and enjoying retirement."

"Brenda Barnes is one of my personal heroes and an icon to relaunchers worldwide," said iRelaunch CEO Carol Fishman Cohen. "We could not have chosen a more deserving recipient of our first Pioneering Relauncher Award. Brenda Barnes is the top-ranking woman in business to have taken a career break and returned to work. Recognizing the quality of the returning professional pool, her Returnships@SaraLee program literally relaunched careers."

About iRelaunch:

iRelaunch works with companies to create mid-career internship programs for returning professionals. iRelaunch's flagship event, the iRelaunch Return to Conference, is the leading external supplier of successful candidates into the Wall Street mid-career internship programs. iRelaunch originated and co-leads the STEM Reentry Task Force initiative with the Society of Women Engineers, in which seven engineering-based companies, including some of the world's largest, are piloting internship programs for returning engineers. IBM and GM, two of the companies involved that have already completed pilots, are expanding their programs across business lines, domestically and internationally, and will run second cohorts before the end of the calendar year.  Ms. Cohen's TED talk, "How to get back to work after a career break," has been viewed more than 1.2 million times and has been translated into 24 languages.

Media Contact: Carol Fishman Cohen, iRelaunch, 844-473-5286 Ext. 1,

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