“I know what it’s like to be an outsider. I’ve experienced it firsthand,” Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. [1] Nooyi is the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, which is one of the global leaders in the consumer food and beverage industry. Born on October 28, 1955, in Chennai (formerly named Madras), south of India, Nooyi is the middle child of Krishnamurthy, an accountant and Shantha, a homemaker. Her older sister Chandrika Tandon and younger brother Narayan Krishnamurthy are both entrepreneurs. She is married to Raj Kishan Nooyi, an engineer and management consultant.

They have two daughters Preetha, 26 and Tara, 17. The family resides in Greenwich, Connecticut. Although Hindu by faith, Nooyi attended Madras Christian College (MCC), a Roman Catholic School, where she broke the rules of convention. She played the guitar and formed an all-female rock band. She was the only female member amongst a group of boys who would run to catch the train to get to the city and solicit funding for the college paper. Nooyi was well rounded into the arts, music, drama and languages. She also joined the all-girls cricket team and has a passion for sports.

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Nooyi’s family belonged to India’s middle class with traditional beliefs and conservative practices. Her mother, Shantha made sure that her daughter was grounded to Indian traditions. She would tell Nooyi, “you’ve got to be a good Indian woman first, but go ahead and dream. And I’ll arrange a marriage for you at 18. ”[2] In 1974, Nooyi completed her bachelor’s degree at MCC majoring in chemistry, physics and mathematics. She went on to pursue a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with concentration in finance and marketing at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).

After earning her MBA in 1976, Nooyi landed her first job at Mettur Beardshell Ltd. , a textile company. She then moved to Johnson and Johnson and worked as product manager. In 1978, Nooyi applied to Yale University’s School of Management (SOM) for a second master’s degree. She got accepted into the program with full scholarship. Nooyi smoothly adapted to life in the United States. The SOM program at Yale was a perfect fit for her intellectual ability and practical approach to business. While in school, Nooyi struggled financially and later opted to work the graveyard hours as a receptionist.

She wore her saris to work since she did not have money to buy a business suit. She was able to save $50 and bought trousers that were too long. She applied for a job wearing her western outfit but was turned down. Nooyi found herself in tears and approached her professor for advice. He simply told her to be herself. In her next interview she wore a sari and was hired immediately. [3] In 1980, Nooyi graduated from Yale University with a master’s degree in public and private management. She was hired by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and worked for six years as director of international corporate strategy projects.

Nooyi moved to Motorola in 1986 and was promoted as vice president and director of corporate strategy two years after. In 1990, she joined Asea Brown Boveri Inc. (ABB), a Swedish company focused on manufacturing industrial equipment and power plants around the world. She served as senior vice president and director of corporate strategy and strategic marketing. Nooyi forged ABB’s corporate division and led developmental programs that gave the company an edge in North America. By 1994, Nooyi’s name made waves in the corporate arena. This led General Electric (GE) CEO, Jack Welch to consider her for a position at GE.

She was about to accept the offer when Wayne Calloway, CEO of PepsiCo and Board Member of GE, appealed to Nooyi and said, “Jack Welch is the best CEO I know, and GE is probably the finest company. But I have a need for someone like you, and I would make PepsiCo a special place for you. ”[4] Nooyi turned down GE’s offer and accepted the post as senior vice president of corporate strategy and development at PepsiCo. Nooyi significantly transformed PepsiCo’s portfolio, which led to her promotion as President, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and was elected to the board of directors in May 2001.

On August 16, 2006, PepsiCo CEO Steve Reinemund announced his early retirement and appointed Nooyi to take his place to become the 1st woman and 5th Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo. With vast experience and desire to promote change in business, Nooyi launched her vision with PepsiCo’s motto of “Performance with Purpose. ” This integral strategy will define Nooyi’s legacy as CEO. With her vision, Nooyi has narrowed down the path that the company will embark in the years to come. [5] Nooyi epitomizes the persona of the CEO we need in today’s changing times. She is an unconventional leader with strong strategic acuity and charismatic appeal.

She is a global thinker who continues to evolve and adapt to change. Nooyi’s monumental rise as an immigrant woman leader in corporate America is pivotal in shaping women’s role in society. Her core as a leader and arguably as a woman is deeply rooted in her diverse background. Thesis Statement: Nooyi’s compelling story serves as an inspiration that goes beyond the corporate sector and transcends across the economic realm. Her massive influence in the business world and her unique leadership style is what we need to walk down the road to economic recovery in hope of a better future.

The Unconventional: Strategic and Humble Leader Nooyi is an unconventional leader of high caliber. She revolutionized and maneuvered PepsiCo’ portfolio, increasing the company’s worth and market value. She is a smart risk-taker and a change agent. Early in her career, she restructured the company by making bold decisions. In 1997, she made a dramatic move to sell PepsiCo’s restaurant business and bottling division. She is a forward-looking leader who saw the change in consumer habits.

She led the acquisition of healthy brands such as Tropicana, Gatorade, Quaker Oats and Naked Juice. 6] Nooyi entered corporate America at a time when strategic acuity was a commodity. She considers her strategic skill an asset and used it to capitalize on the economic downturn. During the recession, PepsiCo continued to reinvest and bought back its previous bottling divisions. By the end of the year, the company is estimated to gain $60 billion in revenues with over 300,000 employees worldwide. [7] Nooyi’s leadership helped improve PepsiCo’s corporate position today. PepsiCo currently ranks number 50 in Fortune 500’s list of top US public corporations and is the second biggest consumer food and beverage firm in the world.

Nooyi successfully combines her unusual leadership style and strong business acumen to translate her vision into reality. We need more leaders like her who can sustain their vision with concrete actions to slowly revive our economic situation. She is undeniably a corporate shape-shifter who constantly strives for effective changes in our system. She brilliantly applies her strategic expertise to move a company towards a new direction. What is remarkable about Nooyi as a leader is her ability to see through the changing tides in our economy and how she prepares the company for the worst time in our economic history.

Not all leaders have what it takes to remain realistically optimistic despite a recession. Although Nooyi may seem to have a strong personality, she is a very charismatic and humble leader. She views her position as a great privilege with extreme responsibility. Her ascent up the corporate ladder is because of her innate ability to understand and care for people. From top management down, Nooyi goes out of her way to be visible to staff and takes the initiative to converse even with security guards at PepsiCo. A good example often mentioned in the media was the time when Nooyi found out that she was going to be CEO.

She immediately thought of Mike White, her contender for the position. She flew out to where he was vacationing to ensure he was okay. [9] She made sure that he sat next to her at meetings and requested the PepsiCo board to increase White’s salary to match hers. The way Nooyi humbled herself and asked White to help her run the company is noteworthy. She is passionate and inspires passion in others. Time Magazine once described Nooyi as “the Iron Woman of PepsiCo”[10] and yet, in reality this seems to be an irony.

She proves that high-powered CEOs can be humane, ensitive and strategic at the same time. This shows how important it is for leaders to level up their IQ with their emotional intelligence or EQ. Nooyi wisely uses her charisma to build her network and to rhetorically increase her ethos. She is a leader who encourages experiential learning and one who leads with empathy. Diverse Global Thinker: The New CEO Nooyi’s cultural diversity makes her a global thinker. She is a champion of corporate diversity at PepsiCo and started several inclusion trainings for all employees, including senior executives. In 2008, she told Diversity Inc.

Magazine that she takes personal ownership of PepsiCo’s HR program by tying 50% of her bonus to the company people's goal of increasing progress in diversity activities. [11] She respects the unique contributions individuals bring to the workplace and strives to create a positive work environment free from discrimination. As a global thinker, Nooyi sees the bigger picture of society’s problems. She understands the responsibility of companies to help solve critical issues in society.

This prompted PepsiCo to partner with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). PepsiCo pledged $2. million and will help lead efforts to fight hunger worldwide. Nooyi aspires for PepsiCo to be a model of a good company that values its consumers, society and its people. She is also aware of the fast-changing trends in business and the importance of constantly reinventing yourself as a leader. She reviews previous NBA championship games of legendary athlete Michael Jordan to help her gain new insight on how teams work and later applies her analysis in the business setting. [12] She firmly believes that a dedicated leader does not stop from learning even if you are already on top of your game.

Her strong global perspective and strategic thinking helped PepsiCo slowly increase its market capitalization over longtime rival Coca-Cola. [13] CEOs today need to continuously evolve by adapting creative leadership styles in order to keep up with the global economic changes. Nooyi is a leader who adds new meaning to the roles of CEOs and proves that her position is more than just a job title. She tries to combine traditional and emerging leadership standards and elevates these standards to a whole new level that applies to our current business practices.

She advocates group consensus in management decision-making and promotes equity in the workplace. Her top down approach to leadership and vitality as a leader in the global community is admirable. She is ready to step out of the box to be better and to set as an example for others. Only leaders like Nooyi who are ready to embrace the challenges as a part of life’s learning emerge successful in the long run. The immense recognition and respect Nooyi receives worldwide can be attributed to her strong cultural and religious conviction.

Her ascent as a global leader started from her humble beginnings. She is mostly proud of her rich Indian heritage. Her solid family foundation and support system were instrumental for her to balance both her career and family life. Even though it has been thirty years since she moved to the United States, she strongly values her Indian and spiritual traditions. She is a practicing Hindu and a true advocate of her beliefs and ideologies. She has a puja prayer room where the diya is lit in her home, which serves as her sanctuary whenever she seeks divine assistance during difficult times.

Nooyi also keeps the image of Ganesha in her office at PepsiCo. [14] PepsiCo officials who visited India before were given Ganesha images for good luck and most executives also keep it in their offices. Nooyi makes it a point to visit her native country at least once a year to see her mother. She has a very special relationship and a deep connection with her. She often seeks her mother’s advice when faced with a tough decision. At PepsiCo board meetings and other public events, Nooyi honors her Indian roots by wearing a sari or a smart Indian business suit with a flowing scarf.

She is very comfortable simply being herself and takes pride in her identity. At a young age, Nooyi learned the value of money and the need to work hard for it. She recently earned a spot in Fortune 500’s highest paid women CEO’s in the world with estimated earnings of $15. 8 million by the end of the year. [15] As successful as she has been, Nooyi remains grounded and lives a simple life. She often tells her children to never let their net worth define their self-worth. [16] Hybrid leaders like Nooyi are able to bridge their transcultural leadership style with their high-profile jobs.

Nooyi is a perfect example of a leader who actively integrates her cultural diversity at work and still manages to retain her own sense of individuality. It is a challenge for leaders to remain the same person and not get caught up with their high-octane careers. Woman Leader Besides being an unconventional leader and a global thinker, Nooyi’s success as a woman in corporate America is instrumental in elevating women’s role in society. Like any other woman, she confesses to be a victim of her own gender.

In an interview with Forbes Magazine she said, “being a woman, being foreign-born, you’ve got to be smarter than anyone else. [17] She worked hard to earn the respect of her male counterparts. There came a time when former PepsiCo CEO Steve Reinemund needed someone to remap Frito-Lay’s distribution channel. Nooyi stepped up to the challenge by taking on the difficult assignment. She spent 4 days at the Frito-Lay plant and 3 days in the corporate office. In the end, Nooyi successfully overhauled Frito-Lay’s distribution system and was acknowledged by her male superiors at PepsiCo. [18] The road Nooyi took was not easy. She came to the United States in the late seventies when people’s views were subjective to their limited capacity to comprehend and accept change.

But Nooyi’s determination and ambition took over her fear. She gambled her way in and started landing jobs that would mold her as a formidable leader. She worked for companies where males controlled top management positions. Her exposure in this environment helped Nooyi understand how male executives behave, conduct business and made decisions. She learned from her CEO bosses, especially the ones at PepsiCo who mentored her through the years. Currently, PepsiCo’s board of directors is dominated with male executives. There are only four women directors including Nooyi.

But as Chairman and CEO, she is able to integrate her skills and move the organization towards global change. It is amazing to see how Nooyi leads her male dominated board at PepsiCo. It is evident that her patriarchal upbringing helped her establish a strong relationship with the male board members. Nooyi allows her nurturing ways and womanly qualities to shine through with her ability to work well with her colleagues. Her core competency in strategic management also set her apart. It gave her the edge to position herself in a strong male environment.

Based on Nooyi’s experience, it proves vital for women to have core competencies o help them gain recognition and to quickly step up the corporate ladder. It is unusual for a woman CEO like Nooyi to be able to keep a balance in a competitive work setting and rise to power gracefully. Nooyi’s gender also reflects on her leadership style. She rules with her heart first and confesses this to be a strength and weakness. One thing Nooyi started when she became CEO at PepsiCo is to write thank you letters to the parents of each of her direct reports. She sincerely expresses her appreciation for the contributions of their sons and daughters to the company.

She thought of this activity a few years back when she visited her mother in India. Her mother prepared a small gathering to honor Nooyi and invited friends over. As it turned out, people came to complement her mother for doing a good job of raising a fine daughter. [19] Nooyi realizes that a person’s character is a reflection of his or her upbringing. She admits her weakness is getting emotionally involved with her employees’ personal problems. She invests her time to call on weekends or send an email to staff to check if they are alright. [20] Nooyi is a very caring CEO and a true matriarch of PepsiCo.

Another rare instance where Nooyi’s womanly instincts took over her was the time she went out of her way to call the mother of a PepsiCo applicant. Nooyi appealed to the applicant’s mother to talk to her son and convince him to work at PepsiCo. The next day the applicant reported to the PepsiCo office and accepted the offer. Women have gone a long way since Nooyi’s time. They are slowly climbing up the ranks and recognized for their work. Currently, there are 15 women CEOs who run Fortune 500 companies, which is only 3% of the largest US corporations. [21] Only 2 CEOs are Asian and one of them is Nooyi.

For the last five years, she consistently ranks first in Fortune 500’s list of most powerful women in business. [22] Today’s generation is fortunate because society is more accepting and less judgmental of women’s roles. Nooyi is a woman who never sacrificed her identity to conform to people’s expectations. She took the road less traveled and gave it her best shot. Nooyi’s true essence as a woman and as a leader crosses the global borders, but the fact remains that women are still underrepresented in the C-Suite jobs. Her journey as a woman leader only proves that being a woman is not a liability but an opportunity.

Nooyi is in fact a rarity. She found a way to slowly break the glass ceiling for women. We have a long way to go and a lot of changes still need to happen before we can be on an equal footing with men. Conclusion Nooyi’s success story serves as an inspiration for many people particularly to young aspiring women leaders, myself included. Being a foreign born woman of Asian descent who recently moved here in the United States, I am able to personally relate to her life experiences. I consider myself extremely privileged to have researched the career and life of Nooyi.

This assignment gave me the opportunity to reevaluate my own career path and purpose in life. It also leads me to question what I can do for the greater good and how can I contribute to this country I now call home. Nooyi has set the standard for me on how I can make a difference in society. I consider myself fortunate to have a role model like her. As a young woman, I have my doubts and struggles each time I step out in the corporate world. A multi-cultural country like the United States is a great training ground for new women achievers like myself, to showcase our talents and skills.

Times are tough, but living in this economy that experienced the worst recession in its history is even tougher. There will be more challenges for me during this difficult time in our country, but I will remain positive. I will begin by looking at my career goals through Nooyi’s lenses. Nooyi gives me great hope because of what she has achieved in this downturn and how she emerged as a winner. She is my definition of success. Nooyi has reached great heights in her career and it will be hard to follow in her footsteps.

But her phenomenal story empowers me to be a better leader and a better person for tomorrow. Because whether we know it or not, or whether we realize it or not we are all leaders. As we enter this new era, we have to take on the profound role and responsibility to help effect changes in our system. I am willing to take a chance and be part of the solution towards economic restoration our country badly needs. Now is the perfect time to unleash my full potential as a diverse woman and as a leader of today’s generation. My voice will be heard and Nooyi’s story will guide me through my journey.