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Indira Nooyi – First Female CEO of PepsiCo

Indira Nooyi is the current Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food & beverage manufacturer based on revenue. She is PepsiCo’s first female CEO.

Nooyi has been consistently included in Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

A Short Biography

Indira Nooyi was born in Chennai, India on 28 October 1955. After graduating with an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta in 1976, she worked as a product manager at Johnson & Johnson and Mettur Beardsell, a textile firm.

Nooyi won a scholarship to the Yale School of Management and moved to the United States to earn a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management. She went on to work at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri.

In 1994, Nooyi joined PepsiCo as senior vice-president of strategic planning. Over the years, she worked her way up the ranks; in 2001, she became President and Chief Financial Officer. Five years later, she became the first female CEO of PepsiCo.

Since stepping up as CEO, Nooyi has introduced innovations related to environmental sustainability, accelerated the globalization of the company and shifted their product portfolio — moves that have led to a financial recovery for PepsiCo. In 2015, PepsiCo’s annual net revenue was $63 million compared to $35 million in 2006.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Communication is key

Nooyi believes in the Five Cs of leadership: competence, courage, confidence, (moral) compass and communication. According to her, communication is arguably the most important ‘C’ for a leader to have as without effective communication skills; one would be unable to influence others or articulate what’s needed to achieve team or organizational goals.

Her commitment to communication is evident in her blog; wherein she posts weekly to better communicate with PepsiCo employees of all levels.

Are you an effective communicator? What can you do better when sharing your goals, ideas or strategies? Improving the quality of communication between you and your team can lead to better engagement, more innovation, and higher performance.

  1. Set a standard for excellence

Nooyi is known for being a perfectionist and is a stickler for getting the details right. To her, attention to detail is what sets PepsiCo apart from its competitors. Whether it’s a misaligned logo or misplacement of products in supermarket aisles, Nooyi has a keen eye for the little things.

She is known as a tough boss with exacting standards. Her vision for PepsiCo, “Performance with Purpose,” clearly exemplifies her goal of excellence: not only does she aim for PepsiCo to innovate and lead the food & beverage market, but she also wants to minimize the company’s environmental impact and tackle the obesity issue by providing healthier options in the marketplace.

In all things, set a high standard of performance for yourself and your team. As a leader, it’s tempting only to care about the big picture but don’t forget the small stuff too! Attention to detail breeds an attitude of excellence, so motivate your team to care about doing the little things right, and the results will follow.

  1. Stay abreast of trends

When Nooyi became CEO, she made the bold strategy decision to redirect some of the company’s focus on healthier food and beverage items. For a company that built its revenue and reputation on soda and chips, it seemed like a crazy decision. But Nooyi saw the demand for healthier options from the younger generation and knew that the company had to pivot to meet changing customer preferences. She doubled funding for PepsiCo’s Research & Development team, with the aim of making the company’s existing offerings healthier and creating new healthy drinks and snacks for the brand.

Nooyi was right; unlike its competitor Coca-Cola, which didn’t deviate from their product offerings, PepsiCo’s healthier snacks found a large audience and helped the company close the revenue gap with Coca-Cola. In 2009, 18% of PepsiCo’s total revenue came from its healthier-option brands.

It’s important for leaders to stay abreast of the trends and happenings in their industry, and react or change accordingly. Keeping up with trends allows a leader to map out patterns and developments and assess how their organization can better meet the needs of their customers.

Quotes from Indira Nooyi

“We ought to keep pushing the boundaries to get to flawless execution. Flawless is the ultimate goal.”

“I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

“I pick up the details that drive the organization insane. But sweating the details is more important than anything else.”

“Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.”

“I’m very honest – brutally honest. I always look at things from their point of view as well as mine. And I know when to walk away.”

“The distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself, and the organization gets pulled up with you. That is a big lesson. I cannot just expect the organization to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organization because that distance is a constant.”