“An important attribute of success is to be yourself. Never hide what makes you, you!”
A glorious woman, who made a stronghold in the corporate world, Indra Nooyi was born in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India on October 28, 1955. An Indian-American Businesswoman, former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo., and one of the most powerful women in Business ranked by Forbes. Currently, she is a member of the board of Amazon and the International Cricket Council.
Always a Rule-breaker
Nooyi was born in a conservative middle-class Indian family. In the era when women were not seen as an ideal image on the playground, Nooyi joined an all-girls cricket team. She completed her schooling at Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in T. Nagar. She pursued her bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry, and mathematics from Madras Christian College of the University of Madras in 1974. In her college, she joined an all-girls, rock-guitar band. Nooyi received her Post Graduate Programme Diploma from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta in 1976. IIM was one of the only two schools in India offering MBAs during that time.
Nooyi started working in India after earning her degree. She worked in a British textile company. Later, she was hired as the brand manager at Johnson & Johnson Mumbai offices. Nooyi received the Stayfree account to handle, which turned out to be a major challenge. The new launch struggled in the Indian markets. She recalled in an interview with the Financial Times’s Sarah Murray that,
“It was a fascinating experience because you couldn’t advertise personal protection in India,”
Nooyi began analyzing the situation and believed herself to be underprepared for the Business world. She decided to study in the United States. Nooyi was admitted to Yale School of Management in 1978, where she completed her Master’s degree in Public and Private Management in 1980.
Struggles That Awaited Her
As Nooyi settled in her new life overseas, various struggles overshadowed. She barely could make the ends meet over the next two years. Although she received a scholarship from Yale, she worked as a receptionist overnight for financial support. “My whole summer job was done in a sari because I had no money to buy clothes,” she said in an interview with Financial Times. Nooyi couldn’t afford a business suit and had to wear a saree to interviews conducted by prestigious Business consulting firms.
In 1981, Indra married Raj K. Nooyi, president of AmSoft Systems. They are blessed with two daughters and reside in Greenwich, Connecticut. She ranked 3rd in Forbes’s “World’s Powerful Moms” list. She has an older sister- Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon who is a businesswoman and Grammy-nominated artist.
After completing her master of public and private management, Nooyi worked at Boston Consulting Group for six years on various corporate strategies. In 1986, she went working for Motorola in the capacity of Vice-president and Director of Corporate Strategy and Planning for 4 years. In 1990, she left Motorola and joined Asea Brown Boveri Inc. as its head of strategy.
Nooyi’s working abilities attracted many companies to hire her. She received two prominent offers. One from Jack Welch, the head of General Electric, and another one from Wayne Calloway- CEO of PepsiCo. Both Welch and Calloway knew each other, but Calloway made a better appeal and pitch by saying “Welch is the best CEO I know… But I need someone like you, and I would make PepsiCo a special place for you,” Nooyi joined PepsiCo in 1994 as chief strategist. In 2006, She became the CEO of PepsiCo, replacing Steven Reinemund. She was the fifth CEO in the history of PepsiCo.
In her decade-long lead in the company, Nooyi has repeatedly redirected the company’s global strategy. She helped in reshaping PepsiCo’s brand identity and assets including the decision to make the companies holding restaurants such as Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell separate identities. She broke major high-end deals. Nooyi also followed up on the successful business strategy of PepsiCo’s rival Coca-Cola, who sold its bottling operations a decade earlier to earn impressive rewards and profitable margins on stocks. Pepsi decided to follow in their footsteps. The IPO of Pepsi bottling operations was valued at $2.3 billion. Nooyi was also the lead in Tropicana’s acquisition and merger with Quaker Oats Company. The Tropicana acquisition wasn’t smooth. It faced some critics from PepsiCo’s board members earlier, however, it proved to give PepsiCo a competitive edge in the market. At that time, Tropicana was capturing 44% chilled orange juice segment which was considerably greater than the competitor Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid which captured less than half of Tropicana’s market share. This move by Nooyi gave Pepsi leverage against Coca-Cola. PepsiCo’s annual net profit rose from $2.7 billion to $6.5 billion.
Nooyi became the co-director of the newly created Connecticut Economic Resource Center which is a public-private partnership with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, in 2019. She will play a role in drafting the state’s new economic development strategy. Nooyi is also a resident of Connecticut.
It was announced in 2020 that Nooyi along with Yale epidemiologist Dr. Albert Ko will help in the careful easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Connecticut on the six-state working group planning. Both Nooyi and Ko will also co-chair the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.
Performance with purpose
Nooyi’s redirection was a performance with purpose. She successfully cultivated a culture of long-term growth with a positive impact on the environment and society. She categorized PepsiCo’s products in three categories: “
- fun for you” (such as potato chips and regular soda),
- “better for you” (diet or low-fat versions of snacks and sodas),
- “good for you” (items such as oatmeal).
She helped to move corporate spending away from junk food to healthier alternatives, to create a fitter society. She removed aspartame from Diet Pepsi.
She also focused on environmental safety and sustainability. The company redesigned the packaging to reduce waste and switched to renewable sources of energy and recycling to save water. By 2020, the U.S.-based company operations were running on 100% renewable electricity. Nooyi was also known to create a bond with her company workers. She visited the homes of her leadership team to maintain a personal connection.
Nooyi expressed an interest in developing an exclusive line of snacks for women. She said in a radio interview that PepsiCo is getting ready to launch products designed and packaged as per women’s preferences, and based on behavioral differences in the way men and women consume snacks.
Nooyi stepped down from the post of CEO on August 6, 2018, after completing 12 years of her tenure, which is 7 years longer than the average Ceo tenure as per a study conducted by Equilar. Ramon Laguarta, a 22-year veteran of PepsiCo replaced her, though she remained as chairman of the company until early 2019. During her tenure, the sales of PepsiCo grew by 80%.
Current Net Worth
The current net worth of Indra Nooyi is $80 million.
Awards and Milestones
- Forbes magazine ranked Nooyi in The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women from 2008-2017.
- Nooyi was named on Wall Street Journal’s list of 50 women to watch in 2007 and 2008.
- Listed among Time’s 100 Most Influential People in The World in 2007 and 2008.
- Fortune magazine ranked Nooyi number one on its list of Most Powerful Women in business for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
- In 2008, Nooyi was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report.
- In 2008, she was elected to the Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- In January 2008, Nooyi was elected chairwoman of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC).
- Nooyi has been named 2009 CEO of the Year by Global Supply Chain Leaders Group.
- In 2009, Nooyi was considered one of “The TopGun CEOs” by Brendan Wood International, an advisory agency.
- In 2013, Nooyi was named one of the “25 Greatest Global Living Legends” by NDTV.
- On 14 December 2013, she was awarded Padma Bhushan by the President of India Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
- Nooyi was named to Institutional Investor’s Best CEOs list in the All-America Executive Team Survey from 2008 to 2011.
- In 2018, “Best CEOs In The World” by the CEOWORLD magazine.
- Nooyi was selected as one of the 2019 American Portrait Gala honorees by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
- In 2019 Nooyi received the Bower Award for Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute Awards Program.
- In February 2020, Nooyi was honored with the Outstanding Woman in Business award by the League of Women Voters of Connecticut.
- In 2021, Nooyi was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
- Nooyi donated an undisclosed amount to her alma mater, The Yale School of Management in 2016. She was the first alumni in history to donate the biggest amount.
- Nooyi was endowed with a deanship at a top business school.
- Nooyi, along with her husband, donated 187,000 scholastic books as part of the Partnership for Connecticut during the COVID-19 crisis to Connecticut’s alliance school districts.
Indra is an idol for many women who aim to achieve great success in their lives. A picture of strength, humbleness, and growth, Indra’s story will keep inspiring in years to come.