Book extract | Indra Nooyi on leading a white male-dominated PepsiCo and also being a mother, wife and daughter

In November 2009, the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, found herself standing between U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Mr. Obama began the introductions. When he got to her, Dr. Singh exclaimed, “Oh! But she is one of us!” Without missing a beat Mr. Obama responded, “Ah, but she is one of us, too!” In her new book, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and our Future, Ms. Nooyi says she belongs in both worlds. She writes: “I am still the girl who grew up in a close family in Madras... I am also the woman who arrived in the U.S. at age twenty-three to study and work, and somehow, rose to lead an iconic company, a journey that I believe is possible only in America.” An excerpt from the book:

The phone rang again. This time, it was a recruiter asking if I’d interview for the position of senior vice president of corporate strategy and planning at PepsiCo, the beverage, snack, and restaurant company. The role included overseeing fifty high-potential executives, new hires who came into the planning department for eighteen months or so and were then rolled into management jobs throughout the company. Mentoring and training were to be a big part of the job.

I thought twice about going into a consumer business. Much as I knew I could learn anything, after eight years at Motorola and ABB, I was steeped in engineering, technology, and massive infrastructure projects. When I heard that PepsiCo also owned KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, I wondered if the job was really for me. I don’t eat meat. How could I relate to these restaurants?

Shortly, both GE and PepsiCo were pressing me with attractive job offers. I was weighing my options with Raj [Nooyi] and my friend Orit Gadiesh, the chairman of Bain and Company, as my sounding boards. Preetha and Tara were rooting for PepsiCo after we received a large gift basket of goodies and T-shirts. Ronnie Miller Hasday, the head of corporate hiring, knew exactly how to capture the family’s interest.

An outsider

I pulled up to PepsiCo to begin my new job on March 30, 1994. White American men held fifteen of the top fifteen jobs at PepsiCo when I walked in. Almost all wore blue or grey suits with white shirts and silk ties and had short hair or no hair. They drank Pepsi, mixed drinks, and liqueurs. Most of them golfed, fished, played tennis, hiked and jogged. Some hunted for quail together. Many were married with children. I don’t believe any of their wives worked in paid jobs outside their homes.

I am not detailing these characteristics to focus on these particular men. My colleagues were smart, creative, dedicated people and shouldered tremendous responsibility and stress. They built a beloved enterprise. The fact is that PepsiCo’s leadership mirrored almost every senior-executive suite in corporate America in 1994. Even the most accomplished women were still milling around in middle management. The number of female CEOs among the five hundred biggest companies that year was zero.

Book extract | Indra Nooyi on leading a white male-dominated PepsiCo and also being a mother, wife and daughter

On the CEO floor of PepsiCo when I arrived, no one was expected to be a deeply engaged parent, let alone a great mother and wife. Dealing with teachers, doctors, dentists, groceries, clothing, cooking, cleaning, laundry, home décor, gardening, houseguests, birthdays, holidays, and vacations was just not their area. Maybe they were engaged – just a bit – in the emotional health, academic success, and general good behaviour of their children.

Even if they were interested in any of these things, these guys just didn’t have time.

Importantly, the men I worked with didn’t judge one another on how their work and family lives came together. They were plenty competitive but also caring and supportive of one another through crises, including divorce, illness, or troubles with their kids.

None of this crossed my mind when I met them. I was well aware that I was an outsider: I was still the eighteen-year-old girl at IIM Calcutta; the Indian immigrant in the polyester suit at Yale; the vegetarian, expectant mother in La Crosse, Wisconsin. At BCG, I had been inside many industries, but I’d never encountered a female client.

From 1994 to 1999, I worked and worked and worked. Whatever toll my work life took on my role at home, I still had the lifeboat of Raj. He was now a partner at a consulting firm, working and travelling like crazy, yet a steady source of support. We also had a housekeeper, who drove and cooked for us, and a nanny, and they kept the house running and the children safe. My mother was spending more time with my sister’s and brother’s families in New York in these years, although she was always available to step in to help when needed. Raj’s parents also helped out whenever we asked them to.

Preetha missed me a lot in these years. She was an adolescent, and much of what she saw was a busy, stressed-out mother. I was loving and present during difficult times but not really there day-to-day. Her angst was expressed by verbal outbursts, and I struggled to cope with them.

Tara was a calmer, quieter child, who once wrote me a note, which I still keep in my desk drawer, that lays bare the emotions of these years. On a big sheet of construction paper, decorated with flowers and butterflies, she begs me to come home. “I will love you again if you would please come home,” the note says. In her sweet, crooked printing, the word please is spelled out seven times.

‘The news can wait…’

I was in my office late on Friday on December 1 [2000], when Steve [Reinemund, then CEO of PepsiCo] called me from Dallas to share the news that I would be named president of PepsiCo and join the board. I was over the moon. I packed up at work immediately.

Book extract | Indra Nooyi on leading a white male-dominated PepsiCo and also being a mother, wife and daughter

I drove home. It was about 10 p.m., and the wintery roads were peaceful and dark. I entered our house through the kitchen door and dropped my keys and bag on the counter. I was bursting with excitement – so eager to tell everyone. Then my mother appeared. “I have the most incredible news!” I exclaimed.

“The news can wait,” she said. “I need you to go out and get milk.” I picked up my keys, went back to the car, drove to the Stop & Shop a mile away, and bought a gallon of whole milk. When I walked into the kitchen again, I was hopping mad. I slammed the plastic bottle on the counter.

“I’ve just become president of PepsiCo, and you couldn’t just stop and listen to my news,” I said loudly. “Listen to me,” my mother replied. “You may be the president or whatever of PepsiCo, but when you come home, you are a wife and a mother and a daughter. Nobody can take your place. So you leave that crown in the garage.”

Excerpted with permission from Hachette India

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 1:29:05 PM |

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