I grew up in a Hindu household but went to a Roman Catholic school. I grew up with a mother who said, ‘I’ll arrange a marriage for you at 18,’ but she also said that we could achieve anything we put our minds to an encourage us to dream of becoming prime minister or president.” I was born in Madras, India, in 1955, and was a bit of a rule breaker in my conservative, middle-class world in which I grew up. In an era in India where it was considered unseemly for young women to exert themselves, I joined an all-girls’ cricket team. I even played guitar in an all-female rock band while studying at Madras Christian College. After earning my undergraduate degree in chemistry, physics, and math, I went on to enroll in the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta.
“You’re broken down and tired Of living life on a merry go round And you can’t find the fighter But I see it in you so we are going walk it out And move mountains We will walk it out And move mountains” Being in the society I was in, I am grateful for my parents. Even though they didn’t completely trust that I would fight for myself, they supported me. Every time I got criticized for being who I was, forward and a tomboy; I got back up and never let myself down.
I wanted to break the trend of discrimination. I faced it head on. My first job after earning the degree was with Tootal, a British textile company. It had had been founded in Manchester, England, in 1799, but had extensive holdings in India. After that, I was hired as a brand manager at the Bombay offices of Johnson & Johnson, the personal-care products maker.
I was given the Stayfree account, which might have proved a major challenge for even an experienced marketing executive. The line had just been introduced on the market in India, and struggled to create an identity with its target customers. It was a fascinating experience because you couldn’t advertise personal protection in India at that time. “When I talk football with my friends, I don’t talk about Tom Brady’s hair. I talk about how he handles the blitz, or how he runs his offense. I talk as a fan. I don’t want pink jerseys, and I don’t want dumbed-down content. I want to be treated as a real fan - because I am proud to be one.” I was never the type of person who tried to be timid just to be accepted as a woman. Women are timid, emotional and even capable of breaking your bones if provoked. But this wasn’t established at that point in society.
I began to feel that perhaps I was underprepared for the business world. Determined to study in the United States, I applied to and was accepted by Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut. Much to my surprise, my parents agreed to let me move to America. The year was 1978. It was unheard of for a good, conservative, south Indian Brahmin girl to do this. It would make me an absolutely unmarriageable commodity after that! I quickly settled into my new life, but struggled to make ends meet over the next two years. Though I received financial aid from Yale, I also had to work as an overnight receptionist to make ends meet. My whole summer job was done in a sari because I had no money to buy clothes. Even when I went for an interview at the prestigious business-consulting firms that hired business-school students, I wore my sari, since I could not afford a business suit.
The Graduate School of Management required all first-year students to take—and pass—a course in effective communications; it was invaluable for someone who came from a culture where communication wasn’t perhaps the most important aspect of business at least in my time. It was tough because with racism, colourism and what not, I was a girl in the USA without appropriate ‘posh’ clothes. What do you think I faced! But if these were to get me down, I wouldn’t have flown to an entire foreign country knowing what I had to face. I graduated in 1980 from Yale.
I loved studying at Yale. There was more to people than judging them from what they ate, wore and spoke. After getting my degree, I joined the Boston Consulting Group as a director of international corporate strategy projects. In this position, I worked on a variety of strategy projects for the next six years. In 1986, I moved to Motorola as a senior executive in the automotive division development team. I was able to quickly rise through the ranks and was promoted to vice president and director of corporate strategy and planning in 1988.
I changed her job yet again in 1990, this time accepting the post of senior vice president and director of corporate strategy and strategic marketing at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB). This job required for me to integrate a group of around 15 diverse businesses into a cohesive operation. By the mid-1990s I was aggressively being courted by corporate headhunters and was offered lucrative positions in some of the world’s largest companies. In 1994, Jack Welch, the head of General Electric, and Wayne Calloway, PepsiCo CEO, both offered jobs in their respective companies! I joined PepsiCo in 1994 as senior vice president of corporate strategy and development.
Over the next couple of years, I worked closely with the new CEO, Roger Enrico, and worked on shaping the company’s future expansion and growth strategies. PepsiCo at that time owned KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell restaurant chains. I played a pivotal part in getting these restaurants divested in 1997. The divesture resulted in the creation of Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc., now renamed as Yum! Brands Inc., which is today one of the world’s largest fast food restaurant companies. Given the changing food preferences of the consumers, I felt that it was important for PepsiCo to expand into more healthful snack options. In keeping up with this belief, I led PepsiCo’s acquisition of Tropicana and the merger with Quaker Oats Company.
Both of these ventures proved to be highly profitable to the company. In recognition of my hardly earned impressive work with the company, I was promoted to chief financial officer in 2000 and the president in 2001. In 2006, PepsiCo CEO Steve Reinemund retired and I became the fifth CEO in PepsiCo’s 44-year history. I also serve as a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, International Rescue Committee, Catalyst, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. When I was a little girl, running around in the house surrounded by negative comments on women and culture and how we aren’t able to succeed in careers reaching for the impossible; I had a dream.
I believed in myself. I wanted more for myself and to see what this life has to offer me. “When the silence isn’t quiet And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet And move mountains We’ll take it to its feet And move mountains”
Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi
Written by Devuni Goonewardene
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