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Leadership - The Indra Nooyi Way

Ranjani Saigal

Indra Nooyi, President and CFO Pepsico presented what she called her “Seven-Point leadership plan” which could people succeed as they move up the ladder in corporate America. She addressed over 200 people at an event organized by the TIE women’s initiative at Burlington, Marriot on Monday, October 4, 2004.

Nooyi holds a BS from Madras Christian College in Madras, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and a Master of Public and Private Management from Yale University.Before joining PepsiCo in 1994, Nooyi spent four years as Senior Vice President of Strategy, and Strategic Marketing for Asea Brown Boveri. Between 1986 and 1990, Nooyi was at Motorola where she was Vice President and Director of Corporate Strategy and Planning, having joined the company in 1986 as the business development executive for its automotive and industrial electronic group. Prior to Motorola, she spent six years directing international corporate strategy projects at the Boston Consulting Group. Nooyi began her career in India, where she held product manager positions at Johnson & Johnson and at Mettur Beardsell, Ltd., a textile firm.

Nooyi was introduced by Shikar Ghosh, CEO of Verilytics, who was her colleague from her days at the Boston Consulting Group. Nooyi regaled the audience with some personal experiences that was typical of a “Tamil Brahmin (Tambram)” background before proceeding to speak about leadership. “One of the most important things for a leader is to identify their own core competency. In my case my core competency is my ability to be able to demystify any complicated problem. Continuously strive to enhance that core competency” said Nooyi as she presented her seven-point plan for succeeding in corporate America. “A leader must also have the courage and confidence to stand up and defend their ideas.”

Nooyi stressed the importance of always “being yourself”. Nooyi talked about wearing a saree to an important first interview and getting the job despite her being dressed differently as an example to illustrate her point. “Effective communication is key for success. Clarity and conciseness are critical for effective communications. I urge you to read speeches of great leaders like Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy to see how they were able inspire people” said Nooyi. “Consistency is another important aspect of leadership since it helps build trust in those that follow you.”

While talking about compassion as an essential quality in a leader she urged people to work both on empathy and sympathy. She also stressed the value of an inner compass – call it faith, conscience to help make difficult decisions while addressing personal conflict. “Coaches or mentors are very important. They could be anyone – your husband, other family members or your boss. But you cannot pick them. They will pick you” she said. She concluded on a political note asking everyone to evaluate the presidential candidates based on these seven-points and to decide which one might make the better leader for the next four years.

In the question answer session, she addressed a range of questions, presenting well thought out answers that very often touched upon her personal life. “I am not sure I have been the best at doing the work family balance. I think there are no right answers to that question. It is a constant struggle. I am very fortunate to have support from both sides of my family. My husband has been incredibly supportive” said Nooyi. What was the biggest challenge she has faced as President of Pepsico?” There are many. Getting this job was much easier that keeping it. But we work through it. On the personal front, I have struggled with myself to find time for my children. Often I wonder if my children may do better in some exam if I spent more time with them. More recently I have made it very clear that phone calls from my children take priority “said Nooyi. Is there a glass ceiling for women? “If there is remember it is made of glass and it can be easily broken. All you have to do is try.” said Nooyi. Would she attribute success to being at the right time at the right place? “I think we make the right time. The right place is the company you are in. I made the presidency of Pepsico happen for me. Nothing ever is handed to you on a silver platter” said Nooyi. From the audience response it was clear that Nooyi had succeeded in inspiring many to do more – a testimony to her leadership abilities.

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Indra Nooyi

Shikar Ghosh, CEO Verilytics

Anurada Chitrapu, TIEWIN

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