Living in a world where gender inequality has become a deeply rooted part of our society and exists almost everywhere, it gives us great pride to talk about a woman who has managed to beat all the odds, to hold the topmost position 2nd largest food and beverage company in the world.
Born on the 28th of October 1955, Indra Nooyi – current acts as the Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo.
With a net worth of $144 million, Indra draws an annual salary of $18.6 million (2014) and is also consistently ranked among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women as well.
In 2014, she was named as the 3rd Most Powerful Woman in Business by Fortune, while currently; she holds the 15th position in the list of World’s 100 most powerful women by Forbes.
She has also been conferred with “Padma Bhushan” (third highest civilian award) by the President of India, and was also appointed to the U.S.-India CEO Forum led by the Obama Administration as well.
Talking about her personal life, she is married to Raj K. Nooyi, who is a management consultant and also has two daughters who are nearly a decade apart in ages. Together, they live in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her elder daughter is currently attending the School of Management at Yale.
How Did She Climb Up The Ladder To Reach PepsiCo?
Let’s start from the very beginning!
Indra was born to conservative and middle-class family in Madras (presently Chennai), and was always known to be a bit of a rule breaker.
This was the time when Indian women were presumed to be the typical introvert housewives, Indra on the other end believed in otherwise.
She was a very ambitious girl and always believed in utilizing her talents to the fullest. She had joined an all-girls’ cricket team, and even played guitar in an all-female rock band, during her days at the Madras Christian College.
She and her sister were groomed by her mother, who always asked them ‘what they wanted to do when they grew up’ and if she liked what she heard, then she would them an award. Motivated by the prize, she would always think really hard for the best answer.
This determination and perseverance of hers got her an entry at IIM Kolkata, from where she completed her PG Diploma in Management in 1976.
After getting done with her studies, she decided to begin her career and joined ‘Tootal’, a British textile company. And after a brief stint with them, she moved on to work with ‘Johnson & Johnson’ and textile firm ‘Mettur Beardsell’ as their Product Manager for roughly 2 years.
While at Johnson & Johnson, she was asked to handle the Stayfree account. Now this was a time when such things were considered to be a taboo, and you couldn’t advertise personal protection in India.
To make it even more difficult, the company had just introduced the line in the market in India, so it barely had any identity amongst its target customers.
Obviously, it was indeed a major challenge for even an experienced marketing executive, yet Indra decided to take up the task, and believe it or not, she successfully turned it around.
Anyway, one day she was strolling through a magazine when she came across an article about the Yale University School of Management, and upon insistence from her friends, she decided to apply for admission.
Now although, she had applied with an intention that she wouldn’t get through, but to her surprise; not only did she get the admission but was also offered financial aid. She also somehow managed to somehow convince her parents to approve of her plans.
Having said that; the next thing she did was, she moved to the US to pursue her Master’s Degree in Public and Private Management, in 1978. She also managed to complete a summer internship with Booz Allen Hamilton as well.
Now, while in the US; since she had moved there with very little money, she also used to work as a ‘Receptionist’ in a night shift.
After completing her Masters, and after a lot of struggles and hardwork, she saved some money to buy a western suit for herself. As much as uncomfortable it was, wearing the same she went for a job interview. But she got rejected.
Demotivated, she walked upto her professor at Yale for advice, who asked her to wear what she felt most comfortable in. Hence, she wore a sari for the next interview, and surprisingly, she got the job!
She had joined the ‘Boston Consulting Group’ to direct International Corporate Strategy projects. From textiles and consumer goods companies, to retailers and various other producers, she used handle a long range of clients.
According to her, this initial phase was quite a difficult one for her, one because she was a woman and had to work more to prove her worth, and two because she was not an American. But then again, she didn’t let it affect her, instead, she used it to her advantage to her grow.
After giving more than six years of her professional life; between 1986 and 1994, Indra went on to work with ‘Motorola’ as VP and Director of Corporate Strategy and Planning, and then ‘Asea Brown Boveri’ (ABB) as Senior VP of Strategy and Strategic Marketing.
During her stint with ABB, Indra had greatly helped the company to find its direction in North America. She was responsible for handling the US business i.e. $10 Billion of the $30 Billion global sales of the company.
With this success, she had become the rising star in management, and since then, was aggressively being hunted by corporate head-hunters. Every packaged-goods company in the nation was trying to sway her, lure her, or trying to offer her the best package possible.
That is when she got the attention of Jack Welch (former Chairman and CEO of General Electric) and Wayne Calloway (former CEO, PepsiCo). Both placed an offer, but PepsiCo’s offer appealed to her more than the one of GE.
Having said that – Indra took the biggest and career defining leap of her life!
How Did She Become The CEO of PepsiCo?
Indra chose the soft-drink maker, and in 1994 joined them as its Senior VP, Strategic Planning.
She handled that portfolio for almost 2 years, post which, she also served as PepsiCo’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Development from 1996 until 2000 as well.
While at PepsiCo, Indra was widely known to be a lead negotiator on the high-level deals and over the period of time, had also help the company to win some major portfolios as well.
She was the brain behind PepsiCo’s global strategy for more than a decade, which was now coming to view.
At that point, she believed that the core products of the company like the Soft Drinks and Frito-Lay salty fried snacks were facing a drastic drop in their sales. Additionally, she could also see the change of taste taking place, wherein the consumers were moving towards healthier lifestyles. Keeping these in mind, she was the one to bring about the diversification of the company into new products within the field of packaged foods.
She was also the brain behind the formation of a separate brand in 1997 for its restaurants, into ‘Tricon.’ The brand is now known as “Yum! Brands” which made its KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell!
This was followed by the deal-making of two of the most acquisitions of the company, so far.
First, she was an integral part in making the acquisition of ‘Tropicana’ orange-juice brand, for which she also had helped put together the $3.3 billion-dollar-deal for the purchase in 1998, after which she had also help the company to secure the purchase of ‘Quaker Oats’ for $14 billion.
Not only did this deal bring in Gatorade to PepsiCo, but this also turned out to become of the biggest food deals in corporate history then.
Other than that, this was also followed by the largest international acquisition in PepsiCo’s history – the acquisition of ‘Wimm-Bill-Dann,’ and the beverage maker ‘SoBe’.
Looking at such impressive talents of Indra, she was promoted to the post of Chief Financial Officer in 2000, which also made her the highest-ranking Indian-born woman in Corporate America.
In the next year, her longtime colleague Steven S. Reinemund was promoted as the Chairman and CEO, who took her along as well and made her the President of PepsiCo. Her vision for the company as the President and CFO was to bring the company on track and to have a snack in the market for every part of the day.
But after not so long, in 2006; he (Steve) decided to take the retirement route, due to health issues. Hence, without much thought, in October 2006, Indra was made the CEO of the company. Although, she did continue as the President till April 2007, post which, she was also made the Chairman.
The first task that hit her desk, as soon as she became the CEO, was actually a long pending issue that needed immediate attention.
PepsiCo’s water usage, since early 2000, had been at the centre of attention in India. They were suspected to be using a lot of water in a country where water shortages were a recurring issue. They were also being blamed that of diverting water to manufacture a discretionary product.
Hence, to understand the depth of the problem, PepsiCo had launched a country-wide program to achieve a “positive water balance” in India by 2009.
And to solve the issue one-and-for-all, Indra decided to take a trip to India in 2007. She went there to address the water usage practices in the country, and also to show all the critics and government that PepsiCo was seriously doing something about the issue.
In 2009, when the company’s 2009 corporate citizenship report was released (and according to media reports), the company had successfully managed to restock more than Six billion litres of water within India itself. This figure also exceeded the total average intake of PepsiCo within India, which was five billion litres.
Due to this successful program, PepsiCo went on to extend this program to all the countries in which they were operating and which faced water issues, and in a total, the company went on to save more than 12 billion litres of water globally.
As a CEO, Indra has successfully managed to redirect and reclassify the company and its products into three categories i.e. ‘fun for you’, “better for you” and “good for you”.
And if you look at the stats, she has succeeded with flying colours as well. In its combined portfolio of global food and beverages, the company has also grown to 22 brands, some of which include businesses like – Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade, Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola.
Since the time she started as CFO, PepsiCo’s net profit has drastically grown from $2.7 billion to $6.5 billion in 2014.
And lastly, today the company accounts for net revenue of $66 billion, now making it the second largest food and beverage’s company in the world.
- Serves as a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, International Rescue Committee, Catalyst
- Received an ‘Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters’ from the State University of New York at Purchase (2015)
- Named as ‘2009 CEO of the Year’ by Global Supply Chain Leaders Group
- Named as one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report (2008)
- Elected to the Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008)
- Elected as the Chairwoman of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) (2008)