Indra Nooyi’s career at Pepsico began in 1994 as senior vice-president of Corporate Strategy and Development and she has been credited with shaping Pepsico’s current focus on the convenient foods and beverages business, influencing the company’s $ 3.3 billion acquisition of Tropicana, the juice company, in 1998, among other achievements.
From her roots in Chennai, where she grew up, Indra Nooyi hitched her career aspirations to a star and has emerged as one of the most recognised icons of corporate success to originate from India, being cited among rankings of global corporate achievers for the past few years.
At the banquet hosted by the Indian organisation, Indra Nooyi was invited to impart her formula for success, where she elucidated five principals that she has adhered to. Sounding neither pompous nor platitudinous, she expounded her ‘panch sheel’ before a rapt and admiring audience, illustrating her counsel with recollections from her life, often mixed with wit and humour, at times self-deprecating, yet delivered with aplomb.
She began her discourse with the exhortation that “there are no limits to what you can do”, but cautioned the audience not to let others define the concept of success for them, adding, “not even me.” In Indra Nooyi’s regard, success “ isn’t money, prestige, or power because net worth can never define self worth. True success is being happy with yourself, is being fulfilled. And that comes from devoting your time, your life, to doing what you love the most”.
The core of the concept of success lies in knowing “what you want to do in life” and those who have triumphed at “figuring out” that issue should consider themselves “tremendously blessed”, she explained. Such advice does not seem simplistic, coming from a business leader with verve, like Indra Nooyi, who reportedly balances and blends her corporate role with her other talents that include playing the guitar and singing, skills that she presumably developed as part of an all-girl rock band while attending college in India.
Indra Nooyi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry from Madras Christian College in 1976, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, in 1978, and a master’s degree from Yale University in Public and Private Management in 1980.
Her corporate experiences include positions at Motorola that began in 1986 and led to her becoming vice-president of Corporate Strategy and Planning in that company between 1988-90 and at Asea Brown Boveri, as senior vice-pPresident and director of Corporate Strategy and Strategic Marketing between 1990-94.
In elucidating the attributes of success, Indra Nooyi commenced with the advice, “Aim high and put your heart into it,” recalling that while growing up with her sister, her mother who is one of her “greatest role models”, would have them deliver a post prandial speech every night, on what they wanted to be, “whether it was the president of India, prime minister … or chief minister of a state,” following which, she would cast her vote for the winner, the reward being a small piece of chocolate. On hindsight, Indra Nooyi believed it was formative in instilling confidence and ambition in them. “What’s important is trying to be the best and working to get there. And that’s how you fulfil your potential,” she averred.
The next rule of success, according to Indra Nooyi, is to “never stop learning” regardless of one’s age, and such learning should not be restricted to academic knowledge, but be supplemented with “street smarts” and being aware of matters and issues in the real world. “Keep that natural curiosity,” she advised, as she described her practice, in her present job, of going on “market tours and walking the grocery stores, for at least half-a-day, a week,” to understand the competition.
Another corollary to success, is to “keep an open mind,” said Indra Nooyi, in addressing the Indian-American community. “It’s a multi cultural world out there and we all have to interact with people who are different…Success comes with reaching out and integrating with the community…and giving back to the communities and neighbourhoods, more than what you took out of them,” she implored.
An important attribute of success is to “be yourself,” according to the Pepsico president. In illustrating the rule, she humourously recounted a learning experience when she was a graduate student at Yale University, seeking her first summer job, because she had “no money to live on.” She purchased a $ 50 business suit from the local budget store and attended a job interview looking like “the ultimate country bumpkin” in her ill-fitting clothes and shod in garish orange snow boots, that her appearance elicited “a collective gasp(of horror) from people there.” When she tearfully consulted her Career Development Counselor about her sartorial snafu, the latter advised her to wear a sari for her next interview, assuring Indra Nooyi that, “if they can’t accept you in a sari, it’s their loss, not yours.” She recalled that she not only wore a sari for her next interview with a very prestigious management consulting firm and clinched the job, but continued to wear them to work all summer and “did just fine”. She insists, “Never hide what makes you.”
The central pillar of success rests on three important factors, which Indra Nooyi cites as, “family, friends and faith”. Prosperity and comforts notwithstanding, “when things look bleak and uncertain, it’s your family, friends and faith that pull you through….And when I’m wrestling with change in my life, good or bad, the first place I turn to, is my religion. I tell you, it really helps,” she averred.
Invoking the image of the “kalpa taru”, or the wish-fulfilling tree in Hindu mythology, Indra Nooyi expressed the opinion that the Indian-American community is already living that dream and that “now it’s up to us to make the best of what we’ve been given.”
Pepsico’s president summed up success with simple ideals, perspicacity and conviction.
Inspiring Video about Indira Nooyi’s Life
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