28th October 1955: Indra Nooyi, Indian-American business executive, was born

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PepsiCo, Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, who is frequently ranked among the most powerful women in the world, was born on October 28, 1955.

The company she leads is an American multinational food and beverage corporation whose products are available around the world. Its portfolio includes 22 brands, each generating more than $1 billion in estimated annual retail sales. As of January 2012, PepsiCo Inc. annual net revenues were $43.3 billion.  

Nooyi was born in Chennai (then Madras) in Tamil Nadu, and studied at the Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in 1974 from the Madras Christian College, she secured a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Calcutta’s Indian Institute of Management in 1976. 

In India, she worked in Johnson & Johnson and the textile firm Mettur Beardsell till she secured admission to the Yale School of Management in 1978 — marking the beginning of her journey in the United States.

“Growing up in India, I had a long-distance love affair with America,” Nooyi recalled in a 2010 speech to the Brennan Center for Justice. “I admired everything about this country — its ideals, its commitment to justice, equality and its willingness to break barriers.”

At Yale, she got a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management. After graduating, she joined the Boston Consulting Group, and later held important positions at Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri.

From 1986 to 1990, she was Motorola’s vice-president of corporate strategy, and helped the firm develop automotive and industrial electronics. She became an American citizen in 1990. In 1994, she joined PepsiCo. She rose quickly through the ranks, and by 2001 was chief financial officer, directing the company’s global strategy and internal restructuring. In 2006 she became the CEO of PepsiCo.

Under her watch, PepsiCo acquired Tropicana in 1998. There was also a merger with Quaker Oats and the divesture of YUM! Brands. In 2010, with Nooyi at the helm, PepsiCo completed the $7 billion takeover of the Pepsi Bottling Group and PepsiAmericas. This resulted in the formation of Pepsi Beverages Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary. With Nooyi spearheading the major international acquisition of Wimm-Bill-Dann Foods in 2011, Pepsico became Russia’s top food and beverage provider.

Nooyi has articulated the company’s long-term strategy with the mantra of ‘Performance with Purpose’ that aims to expand business while simultaneously “investing in a healthier future for people and the planet”.

‘Performance with Purpose’ is “not a stand-alone initiative”, she told ‘fellow stakeholders’ in an open letter. “Instead, our sustainability goals, across the four planks—Performance, Human, Environmental and Talent sustainability—are woven into the fabric of our brands, guiding how they do business, while generating significant sourcing, operational and consumer impacts that improve both our top and bottom lines.”

Besides being a member of the PepsiCo board of directors, Nooyi is a member of the boards of the International Rescue Committee, Catalyst and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She is also a Successor Fellow of Yale Corporation and a member of the Board of Trustees of Eisenhower Fellowships.  

Stressing on the importance of work-life balance and having an understanding spouse, during an interaction with Infosys’ Nandan Nilekani, organised by The Economic Times, she said: “People like us get very lonely, because you cannot share too much with other people. So you come home and he [her husband Raj] is there and you can discuss anything with him and he gives you sound advice. Not telling you what to do, he will help you think through all sides of the issue, so that you can make informed decisions. So that way he has been a great support.”

Accolades have come in plenty for the Indian-American CEO.

Nooyi was ranked fourth on the 2008 and 2009 Forbes magazine’s list of ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’. Fortune magazine named her number one on its list of ‘Most Powerful Women in business’ for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. She was named one of ‘America’s Best Leaders’ by U.S. News & World Report in 2008. She has also been elected Chairwoman of the US-India Business Council.  

Nooyi has often spoken about issues such as women’s health and global poverty. “I often think of the women who […] give birth without a trained medical worker, a doting mother, or a loving family member at their side. Who comes to their aid?” she wrote in the The Independent. “For all too many women around the globe, the answer is no one . . . As women, we share a special passion for this issue . . . But [we] need to make men our partners in progress . . . And we need to work together with governments and organisations to build a future where no woman needlessly dies while bringing new life into this world.”

Alongside her personal achievements, Indra Nooyi’s rise to the pinnacle of the global corporate ladder is also seen as another success story for Indian-American businesspersons as well as female leaders. Summing up her ambition for her company, she said in the letter to stakeholders: “The promise of PepsiCo it is not about altruism. It is not about environmentalism. It is, instead, about enlightened self-interest: we believe these are the benchmarks that PepsiCo must meet to succeed in today’s economy while ensuring […] a continuing climate in which PepsiCo can prosper.”

Also on this day:

1867 — Sister Nivedita, social worker, was born

1911 — Piara Singh Gill, nuclear physicist, was born

1958 — Ashok Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was born

2012 — Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital, triggering protests against Ireland’s abortion laws

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