By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Indra Nooyi was chairman and CEO of one of the biggest corporations in the world. As the leader of PepsiCo, she helped create a strategic redirection for the company, which created long-term growth while leaving a positive impact on society and the environment. The Northwest Asian Weekly interviewed Nooyi ahead of International Women’s Day. She shared with us her upbringing and ascension to the upper echelons of her role as executive in her biography, “My Life in Full.”
In her memoir, she takes a look at her childhood and education in 1960s India and then her time at the Yale School of Management. She recounts her rise from corporate consultant and strategist to the highest ranks of PepsiCo. She became the first woman of color and immigrant to lead a Fortune 50 company. The book includes an inside look at PepsiCo, and her thinking in steering the company toward healthier products and reinventing its environmental profile despite resistance. She also writes about her challenges in managing her demanding job with a growing family.
Nooyi was born in Madras, India and after education in India, she went to Yale in 1978. She earned a master’s degree in Public and Private Management in 1980. After years as a consultant, she joined PepsiCo in 1994 and was named the CEO in 2006. During her time as CEO, she was consistently ranked as one of the world’s most powerful women in business.
Last fall, she was inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honor,” Nooyi told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “I’ve lived a life full of dualities as an Indian who immigrated to the U.S. This felt like a unique and special way to honor that.”
“Asians have accomplished so much in the last few decades, and together, as a cohesive community that includes all of the individual Asian identities, we can go even further.” Nooyi added, “I want to express my gratitude to the Asian Hall of Fame for inducting me.”
Of all of Nooyi’s positions throughout her esteemed career, she notes her current time teaching Army Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy as her most rewarding experience.
“I truly enjoy meeting and teaching these cadets. In our sessions, we discuss responsible leadership and business fundamentals, topics I enjoy discussing.” She noted that she learned from the students as much as she taught them.
During her time at PepsiCo, she attributed the great growth in sales to her “crown jewel” during her tenure: Performance with Purpose.
“With Performance with Purpose, we focused on three core areas: human sustainability, environmental sustainability, and talent sustainability. In short, this meant building out our product portfolio with healthier products, and changing our methods to make production, packaging, and other elements of our process more environmentally sustainable. The last element refers to creating a diverse, inclusive environment that empowered talent at the company.”
Not only did she attribute this business strategy to pure growth in revenue, but growth in business culture.
“I wouldn’t narrow it down to just growth in sales, but also growth for the company and its future,” she said. “Performance with Purpose set forth a plan to ensure the company endured and thrived long-term.”
In addition to her time at PepsiCo, she sits on the Board of the International Cricket Council. Once again, she broke barriers as the first International Female Director.
“In my book, I actually talk about starting the first women’s cricket team at my school in India. We even organized the city of Madras’ first-ever women’s tournament.” As part of the board, she assists in finding ways to grow the sport and finding ways to expand its reach and presence.
Nooyi provided three pieces of insight for those aspiring business people looking to climb the corporate ladder and make it to the upper executive suite.
“One is to always put your hand up for the toughest jobs.” She added, “It will set you apart from the crowd and contribute to your learning.”
“The second is: understand the politics of your organization, but don’t play in them. And the last is: focus on doing your best work in the role you have. If you focus too much on what’s ahead, you get distracted. Be present.”
For more on Nooyi, visit indranooyi.com.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.