SHE-E-O FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Indra Nooyi

How have female CEO’s risen to the top? What was their journey? Let’s explore…

I’m empowered. I have the skills. I’m ready to take on the world. Now, if I could just figure out tangible steps to get there. This series has two purposes: to celebrate women’s accomplishments in business, and to research their path to success.

Notable things you should know about Indra Nooyi:
1) First female CEO of PepsiCo and increased revenue 80% during her tenure
2) Nooyi served as CEO for 12 years, 7 years longer than the average CEO tenure
3) Nooyi expanded the company’s offerings through acquisitions and expansion of products in 3 categories: Good For You, Better For You, and Fun For You ranging from healthy to indulgence food.
4) Nooyi encountered push back from nay sayers on all sides. She received criticism from activists for the unhealthy products PepsiCo offers, but she responded by letting the world know ‘I’m not here to tell you what to eat’ and kept a balanced portfolio of healthy and indulgent products. She received pressure from within to spin off the company’s snack products into a separate entity, because she was ‘too focused on expanding healthy products’.
5) Nooyi focused on the long term. She was adamant the industry was moving toward healthier products and had to defend her quarterly numbers regularly. Finally in 2016, PepsiCo started reaping the benefits of Nooyi’s long term strategy.

Nooyi was born in Chennai India and received degrees from prestigious universities in India, B.S. in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics from Madras Christian College and M.B.A. from Institute of Management Calcutta.

She then went on to earn another master’s degree in Public and Private Management from Yale School of Management. Fun fact, her mother almost didn’t let her go to Yale because she was 22 and unmarried, but Nooyi was a rebel from a young age breaking the stereotypical norms.

Nooyi joined Boston Consulting Group, then held strategic planning positions at Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri, a robotics company.

Finally she found her long term home at PepsiCo in 1994 at 39 years old as Chief Strategist.

6 years later, she became the CFO, followed by President the following year, and finally named chairman and CEO in 2006 – 12 years after joining the company.

In an interview with LinkedIn, Nooyi shared 3 secrets she believes helped her get to CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

  1. Focus on doing your current job better than anybody has ever done it, don’t focus so heavily on “becoming CEO”
  2. Develop a niche soft skill, or a “hip pocket” skill as she calls it – something you are seen as the expert of
  3. If you really feel strongly about something, have the courage to defend what you’re suggesting and communicate it effectively

My thoughts on Nooyi’s advice – I love advice 2 and 3! It makes sense if you are “the expert” then you have a better chance of becoming the leader of a company. I could not agree more on having the courage to speak up and defend your perspective in a room. Having the ability to persuade a room to adopt your viewpoint is an incredible skill and one I personally continue to actively work on. It seems she is missing number 4 – a strong pedigree of education. I have to imagine that helped her along her journey.

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