Chennai-born Indra Nooyi not only broke the glass ceiling in corporate America when she was named CEO of global beverage giant PepsiCo in 2006 but, through her journey, inspired millions of young Indians who dreamed of and aspired to emulate the success the India-born woman achieved in America. PepsiCo today announced that Nooyi will step down on October 3 after 24 years with the company, the last 12 as CEO. PepsiCo’s Board of Directors unanimously elected Ramon Laguarta, 54, to succeed 62-year-old Nooyi.
Nooyi, one of the most powerful and influential business leaders in the world, was regularly featured on the power lists compiled by Forbes and Fortune magazines. She was also among the few female executives to lead global corporate giants. Apart from being a prominent face of women leadership across the world, she was also the epitome of success for the millions of young Indians who aspired to be like her as they watched her journey through the ranks of PepsiCo and eventually leading the global conglomerate.
She was among the first of a handful of India-born executives to helm global corporates. She was appointed as CEO in 2006, becoming PepsiCo’s fifth chief executive in its 41-year history, and the first woman. MasterCard’s President Ajay Banga, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were all named to the top jobs in their companies in the years that followed.
Nooyi was also very vocal about the challenges women faced in trying to find a balance in managing their home and work. She had famously said at an Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado in 2014 that women “cannot have it all.” She had told the Aspen audience that she has died “with guilt” several times in her life as she tried to bring up her two daughters with her husband. She recounted that she felt guilty for not being able to attend several activities at her daughters’ school as she could not take time off from work.
Nooyi said she was disappointed at her mother’s reaction to her “great news.” She said her mother told her “let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk.” She recalled her mother telling her, “let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house. You know I’ve never seen that crown.”
A staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton for president, Nooyi had also expressed her disappointment when Clinton lost the presidential elections in 2016. She had said Clinton’s loss left her daughters and PepsiCo’s employees devastated and there were serious concerns among the company’s workers, especially the non-white employees, about their safety in an America with Donald Trump as its president.
Nooyi is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and Yale University. In January 2016, Yale School of Management announced that Nooyi made a landmark gift to endow the deanship of the school and inaugurate the Fifth Decade Innovation Fund. With this gift, Nooyi became the most generous graduate of Yale School of Management in terms of lifetime giving to the school. She is also the first woman to endow the deanship at a top business school.
Nooyi said leading PepsiCo has been the “honour” of her lifetime, and she is “incredibly proud” of all the company has done over the past 12 years to advance the interests of shareholders and stakeholders. Nooyi had also created history by being among the few India-born females to lead a global giant when she took over the reins at PepsiCo. She was named PepsiCo’s Chief Executive Officer in 2006 and assumed the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2007.
She was elected to PepsiCo’s Board and became President and Chief Financial Officer in 2001, after serving as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer since 2000. Nooyi had also served as PepsiCo’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development from 1996 until 2000, and Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning from 1994 until 1996. P
rior to joining PepsiCo, she served as Senior Vice President of Strategy, Planning and Strategic Marketing for Asea Brown Boveri. She was also Vice President and Director of Corporate Strategy and Planning at Motorola. Nooyi also serves on the boards of the International Cricket Council and several non-profit organizations, including the US-India Business Council, the Consumer Goods Forum, Catalyst, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, the World Economic Forum and the Asia Society.
She got married in 1980 to Raj Nooyi, President of AmSoft Systems. They have two daughters Preetha Nooyi, born in 1984 and Tara Nooyi, born in 1993. Preetha holds an MBA degree from Yale School of Management, the same school where Nooyi studied. Tara studied at New York University and according to her LinkedIn profile, she is currently a resident at global marketing communications firm Omnicom.