“Behind my cool logic lies a very emotional person”
— Indra Nooyi
She played lead guitar in an all-women rock band. She was part of the cricket team in her college. She loves singing karaoke. And she presides over more than 198,000 employees in nearly 200 countries. Indra Nooyi, the 53-year-old Chairman of PepsiCo is definitely a unique, multi-faceted personality, and the word ‘average’ does not exist in her vocabulary.
It all began in Chennai, India where Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi was born. Graduating from Madras Christian College with a degree in chemistry, Nooyi went on to complete her MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata. She then stepped into the workforce, holding product manager positions at Johnson and Johnson and at Mettur Beardsell, Ltd., a textile firm. But Nooyi always had, “this urge, this desire, this passion to settle in the United States,” which led her to seek her MBA from Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in Connecticut. She worked at the university as a dorm receptionist to make ends meet, recalling that her “…whole summer job was done in a sari because I had no money to buy clothes.”
She was soon picked up by Boston Consulting Group, where for six years she worked on various corporate strategy projects before joining Motorola in a senior executive position. Four years later, she moved on to become a senior strategist for Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), a Zurich-based industrials company.
Nooyi joined PepsiCo in 1994 as the chief strategist and was soon instrumental in assisting the company rejuvenate its brand identity and assets through a long string of tactical moves. Seeing a weak future in fast food, she led the company’s drive to divest its restaurant chains KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, which later formed the successful YUM! Brands, Inc. Nooyi then turned her eye toward alternative beverages and packaged foods, engineering the $3 billion takeover of juice giant Tropicana and the $14 billion takeover of Quaker Oats in 2001. Outbidding arch rival Coca Cola, she also helped acquire the beverage maker SoBe for $337 million. Her prescient choices pushed up company earnings along with her stature. These impressive deals promoted Indra Nooyi to the position of Chief Financial Officer and President, and by 2006 she was named CEO. A year later Nooyi assumed the role of Chairman.
But Indra Nooyi is far from being the typical boss. Former CEO Steven Reinemund describes her as, “a deeply caring person.” Her colleagues find her helpful, and always ready to lend an ear to their personal problems. Nooyi maintains that she regards the people at PepsiCo as part of her family and she has good reason. They have become part of her family. So,it wasn’t uncommon to find other executives helping Nooyi’s daughter with her homework when she came to her mother’s office after school.
Nooyi’s outlook towards not just her work but also her life is captured in her mantra ‘performance with purpose.’ Attempting to move beyond the historic trade-off between people and profits, the PepsiCo Chairman has pledged that half of the firm’s U.S. revenue will come from healthful products such as low-cal Gatorade and high-fiber oatmeal by 2010. The company will eschew fossil fuels in favor of wind and solar and will campaign against obesity.
Indra Nooyi recently topped the Financial Times list of top 50 women in world business and was ranked number three on the Forbes list of 100 most powerful women. But despite climbing such heights, Nooyi remains refreshingly grounded. “At the end of the day don’t forget that you’re a person, don’t forget you’re a mother, don’t forget you’re a wife, don’t forget you’re a daughter,” says the mother of two. When your job is done, “what you’re left is family, friends, and faith.”
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