Indra Nooyi, a business leader and strategic thinker, is widely regarded as one of the world’s top CEOs for her leadership of global giant Pepsico for 12 years. she was the first woman of color and the first immigrant to lead a fortune 50 company. under her leadership, the company increased its profitability while working to improve the environmental sustainability and wholesomeness of its food offerings. nooyi is also a great philanthropist. Her donation to her alma mater, Yale School of Management, makes her the school’s largest alumni donor and the first woman to ever endow a professorship at a top business school.
indra krisnamurthy was born in madras (now called chennai), india, on october 28, 1955. he grew up in a close-knit family with two brothers, his parents and his grandparents. her father was a bank official and her mother was a housewife. Nooyi’s family was middle-class and, like most of her neighbors, devout and relatively conservative Hindus. nooyi remains close to her family. Her mother has lived with her in the United States and figures prominently in Nooyi’s stories. Ella’s sister Chandrika is also a successful businesswoman and a Grammy-nominated musical artist. A bright student in high school, Nooyi developed interests that were considered unusual for girls at that time and place. In addition to excelling in her studies in physics, chemistry and mathematics, she competed on a cricket team and played guitar in an all-girl rock band at Madras Christian College, from which she graduated in 1974 at the age of 18. She obtained a place at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, where she received her MBA in 1976.
after graduation, nooyi began his career as a business strategist. His first job was at a British textile company. he then went on to a product manager position at johnson & amp; johnson in mumbai she there she was accused of introducing stayfree menstrual sanitary pads into india. This was a challenging task as India has banned direct mail for such products. Ella Nooyi came up with a successful workaround, marketing the products directly to college students.
However, he became convinced that he needed a more global business education and applied to the Yale School of Management after reading about it in a magazine. somewhat to her surprise, since “it was unheard of for a good, conservative, South Indian Brahmin girl” to go abroad alone, her parents supported her decision when they accepted her. Nooyi came to Connecticut in 1978 determined to make it, describing her identity as an immigrant woman as her “main internal driver.”
nooyi worked as a receptionist to make ends meet at yale. after graduating in 1980 at age 24 with a master’s degree in public and private management, she worked at the boston consulting group as a strategy consultant for six years. she married fellow consultant raj k nooyi in 1981. the two remain married with two daughters.
in 1986, nooyi moved to the telecommunications company motorola, where she first worked as an internal consultant on the automotive team before moving into broader corporate planning. in 1990, she changed companies again, this time to the swiss machinery company abb, where she led corporate strategy, including the integration of various product divisions around a coherent overall plan. She developed a reputation as a long-term strategic thinker and skilled communicator, and just 14 years after graduating from Yale, she was simultaneously courted for executive-level positions at two major global companies: PepsiCo and General Electric. She chose Pepsi, supposedly because the CEO there convinced her that she could make a real difference.
in 1994, at age 38, nooyi started working at pepsi, the company she would become famous for leading. Unlike many of her predecessors at the top, she never worked in sales, but focused early on on long-range planning. As she rose through the ranks at Pepsi, she played a critical role in shaping global strategy, including through the acquisition and sale of subsidiary companies. she led the sale of yum! (which includes KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut restaurants) in 1997 and the acquisitions of Tropicana in 1998, Quaker Oats in 2001, and Gatorade, also in 2001. These acquisitions consolidated earnings and reinforced Pepsico’s focus on the core business of drinks and snacks.
in 2001, nooyi was promoted to president and chief financial officer. He lobbied PepsiCo to adjust her business to meet what she saw as changing consumer demand for healthier eating. She also pushed Pepsico to recognize the need to be a good corporate citizen on environmental issues, coining the term “performance with a purpose” as Pepsi’s new mantra. Appointed CEO in 2006, Nooyi led Pepsi for 12 years, during which time the company’s annual net income more than doubled, from $2.7 billion to $6.5 billion. Her strategic direction was largely a success, with Pepsi offering more low-calorie options and reducing the corporate carbon footprint through lighter packaging and the use of renewable energy.
A third pillar of “performance with purpose” focused on retaining talent in the company, including through paid paternity leave for men and women alike. nooyi spoke candidly during her years as CEO of the unrealistic expectations placed on female executives who are also caregivers. She has acknowledged that her own support system included her mother, her husband, and PepsiCo staff. nooyi instructed her staff to give her daughter permission to play a video game when she called the office only after confirming that she had finished her homework and her homework.
in a recently published book, My Entire Life (2021), nooyi focuses on the topic of work-life balance, admitting that there were many times when she felt she fell short as a mother. On Valentine’s Day 2022, she posted a note to her husband, Raj, sharing credit for her success with him: “The truth is, there’s no such thing as a work-family balance. it’s a constant juggling act. And many times, it is the people around us, like our life partners, who make this juggling possible. it is a reminder that family is not feminine. family is family.”
After retiring from Pepsi, Nooyi continues to serve on various corporate and non-profit boards. Her legacy as a brilliant thinker and corporate strategist will likely continue to grow.