In the great melting pot of the USA, it seems only fitting that India-born Indra Nooyi, 52, should find herself as the most influential woman behind the red, white and blue logo of the Pepsi company. Indra was named the #1 Most Powerful Woman in Business in 2010 by Fortune Magazine. As Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, she is the highest ranking Woman in corporate America.So just how did Indra go from a student in Chennai, India to President and CEO of PepsiCo in America? Nooyi was born in Madras, India, in 1955, and was a bit of a rule breaker in her conservative, middle-class world as she grew up. In an era in India where it was considered unseemly for young women to exert themselves, she joined an all-girls’ cricket team. She even played guitar in an all-female rock band while studying
She acknowledged that her parents always made her follow the mantra “If you do a job, do it better than anybody else.” When she came to America, Indra had no safety net. If she failed, she failed. Indra said “The end of the month I would have $2 left over and if I had $5 I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had no money, I was dirt poor.” While attending Yale, she worked as a receptionist from midnight to 5 a.m. to earn money. She had no money to buy clothes for job interviews and went to summer jobs wearing a traditional sari.
An important attribute of success is to “be yourself,” she said. In illustrating the rule, she humorously recounted a learning experience when she was a graduate student at Yale University, seeking her first summer job, because she had “no money to live on.” She purchased a $ 50 business suit from the local budget store and attended a job interview looking like “the ultimate country bumpkin” in her ill-fitting clothes and shod in garish orange snow boots, that her appearance elicited “a collective gasp of horror from people there.” When she tearfully consulted her professor, the latter advised her to wear a sari for her next interview, assuring Indra Nooyi that, and “if they can’t accept you in a sari, it’s their loss, not yours.” She recalled that she not only wore a sari for her next interview with the Boston Consulting Group, and clinched the job, but continued to wear them to work all summer and “did just fine”. She insists, “Never hide what makes you.”
The next rule of success, according to Indra Nooyi, is to “never stop learning” regardless of one’s age, and such learning should not be restricted to academic knowledge, but be supplemented with “street smarts” and being aware of matters and issues in the real world. “Keep that natural curiosity,” she advised, as she described her practice, in her present job, of going on “market tours and walking the grocery stores, for at least half-a-day, a week,” to understand the competition.
At PepsiCo, Nooyi has been the chief dealmaker for two of its most important acquisitions: she put together the $3.3 billion-dollar-deal for the purchase of the Tropicana orange-juice brand in 1998, and two years later was part of the team that secured Quaker Oats for $14 billion. That became one of the biggest food deals in corporate history, and added a huge range of cereals and snack-food products to the PepsiCo empire. She also helped acquire the edgy beverage maker SoBe for $337 million, and her deal beat the one submitted by Coca-Cola.
Despite the monumental successes of her career, Indra Nooyi remains a quintessentially Indian woman who has combined the high-octane energy of her job with the calm, collected demeanor required to manage the equally central responsibility of a mother and a wife. Is it tough being a mother and a corporate executive? Nooyi admits it is difficult, “You can walk away from the fact that you’re a corporate executive, but you can’t walk away from the fact that you are a mom. In terms of being a mother and a corporate executive, the role of mom comes first.” She believes that her husband has been a great source of strength for her.
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