Indra Nooyi, former CEO and Chairman of Pepsi, is an iconic role model and trailblazer. As the first woman of color and immigrant who rose to become the CEO of a Fortune 50 company, her success is extra-ordinary.
I enjoyed every chapter and page in her book, ”My Life in Full, Work, Family and Our Future,” narrated in her distinctive voice. I also attended a virtual fireside chat with her. Her energy was very strong and palpable even in an online setting. Her striking smile, intelligence, and warm personality are evident from her conversations.
Her book is packed with nuggets of wisdom for us to absorb and reflect upon. Her story is sprinkled with gratitude to all who were part of her success. Here are a few themes that stood out to me from her book:
Honor Your Roots
Ms. Nooyi ‘s pride in her roots shines through her life story. I was delighted to read about her childhood in Chennai, which happens to be my hometown as well. Like many of us, she is a product of a multigenerational household. Her role model was her grandfather, and she credits her family for nurturing in her the seeds of hard work, determination, and a desire to excel.
Her higher education was strongly supported by her family. At IIM Calcutta, Indra Nooyi’s 1976 batch had only five girls out of 100. She was already starting to blaze the trail. Years later, she was also amongst the first to wear a saree in a male-dominated global boardroom, honoring her roots and breaking norms yet again.
It’s Okay to Be a Workaholic and a Mom
Ms. Nooyi’s deep-rooted passion for her work, in every one of her roles – whether as consultant, strategist, or CEO – has been one of the strongest drivers of her success. What I loved about her candid disclosure was that even though she cherished her role as a mom, her love for her work was also very strong.
Ms. Nooyi does acknowledge her sense of guilt when work took away time with her daughters, but at the same time, makes no apology for her ambition. Ms. Nooyi spent endless hours, days, and nights working, along with being a mom to two daughters. She truly loved her challenging roles and was a passionate problem-solver. “Hard work is in my DNA”, she says.
Dress for Success
Ms Nooyi said she slowly over time learnt that playing the CEO role also meant dressing the part. From initially being most comfortable in sarees, she developed her style of sporting business suits in her characteristic elegance, acknowledging the help she received in shaping her corporate wardrobe to what it is today.
Value Your Mentors AND Your Helpful Community Circle
Ms Nooyi has acknowledged every one of her supervisors, executive assistant,s and household helpers (who worked behind the scenes) to keep her boat afloat.
She admits that nothing can be accomplished in isolation and is very thankful to her mentors who supported her career growth, including companies who granted her paid maternity leave and paid-time off during difficult times.
She is grateful to her mom for being a strong rock of support and ensuring she left “her crown in the garage” when she walked into the house.
Supportive Role of Men
Ms Nooyi is vocal about male supervisors who broke norms to support her (most certainly recognizing her extraordinary potential). This included a senior executive picking up her daughter from school, the CEO chartering a plane for the team to meet in her office when she was nine months pregnant, and another supervisor offering her six months time-off to tend to her ailing father.
Her husband busted the most common stereotype about Indian husbands. He was her sounding board who encouraged her career growth, making tremendous sacrifices himself and juggling his successful career to support Ms. Nooyi’s.
Giving Back is Key
Ms Nooyi’s compassion is reflected in her desire to keep giving back to meaningful causes. All of her academic institutions in India and the US that she is a proud product of, have benefited from her very generous contributions, which have gone a long way in enhancing the infrastructure for the next generation of learners.
Purpose is Your Life’s Driver
Her strong message of living a life of purpose resonates through her book. “Performance with Purpose” was her mantra for Pepsico’s success and she reiterates that purpose translates not just to work and business, but life itself.
Look for Ways to Shape the Future
“I think the fundamental role of a leader is to look for ways to shape the decades ahead, not just react to the present,” she says. She makes an urgent call to business leaders that we need stronger support structures for families to balance work and home priorities.
To retain strong talent in corporate America, we need more flexibility and support systems that help in balancing priorities, rather than choosing one over the other. She says, the question is, “How we can make it easier for all family builders, not just women, to integrate work and family.” I loved that she says this is not a “feminist” approach but that of an “economist.”
Kudos to the girl from Chennai, India who grew to become a powerful woman of substance and an iconic global leader. Her intelligence, compassion, and wisdom flow through her story, inspiring many more of us to keep soaring high to achieve our dreams.
About the Author
Madhuri Bandla is a CPA, a Senior Lecturer of Accounting and Faculty Advisor at the University of North Texas.