Incredible Indra Nooyi

Nooyi's journey from growing up in conservative Madras to helming one of the world's largest food and beverage firms is awe-inspiring. (Reuters File Photo)

Indra K Nooyi, the first woman and first foreign-born CEO of Pepsico, has announced that she will be passing the baton after 12 long years to Ramon Laguarta on October 3. Nooyi's journey from growing up in conservative Madras to helming one of the world's largest food and beverage firms is awe-inspiring.

A look back at her life so far

Nooyi was born on October 28, 1955, in Chennai. Her father, a banker, worked for State Bank of Hyderabad and her mother, a homemaker, was instrumental in shaping the lives of Nooyi and her sister Chandrika Tandon, a Grammy-nominated musician.

Nooyi's mother wanted her daughters to get married when they turned 18 but aspire to become the prime minister. It was her mother who in spite of having a conservative approach when it came to getting her daughters married taught them to dream big.

Nooyi did her schooling in Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in Chennai. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry, and mathematics in 1974 from Madras Christian College. Nooyi then got admission in the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. “Hundreds of thousands of kids wrote the exam. 150 kids went to Ahmedabad and 100 kids went to Calcutta. Very few women were admitted, so I was motivated to break that barrier if nothing else,” she said in an interview.

Nooyi began her career in India. She worked for Johnson & Johnson and textile firm Mettur Beardsell. In 1978, she managed to get a scholarship to attend  Yale School of Management. She had moved to the US with only $500 in her pocket and had to work as a receptionist to make ends meet. In 1980, she earned a master's degree in Public and Private Management.

After graduating, she married Raj Nooyi, now president at AmSoft Systems. They have two daughters Preetha Nooyi and Tara Nooyi.

Prior to joining Pepsico, Nooyi had worked for Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri.

Nooyi's Pepsico journey

Nooyi's 24 year-long career at Pepsico started in 1994. She joined the American food and beverage giant as senior vice-president for strategic planning.

During her illustrious tenure at Pepsico, she led its restructuring by establishing Yum! Brands as a separate entity in 1997.

She was instrumental in the company's acquisition of Tropicana (1998) and Quaker Oats (2000), which helped PepsiCo establish itself in the growing healthy foods segment. These acquisitions helped her in becoming the president and CFO in 2001.

In 2006, Pepsico announced her as the first woman head of the company, founded in 1898.

Amidst consumer and activist concerns regarding rising obesity levels, which pushed soda sales down by 20% in the US between 2007 and 2013, Nooyi steered Pepsico towards launching healthier products. Its snacking business, comprising Lays and Doritos, is loved by people across the world.

Feathers in her hat

Nooyi's achievements make us all proud, after all she is India's daughter. Nooyi has consistently ranked among the world's 100 most powerful women. She was ranked the 13th most powerful woman on the Forbes list in 2014 and at Number 2 on the Fortune list of Most Powerful Women in 2015.

In February 2018, Nooyi was appointed to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Board as its first independent female director.

Nooyi's 5 Cs

1. Competency: Young professionals should become known for a particular skill. Be the go-to person and an expert in the area in which you choose to focus. It’s how you’ll stand out from the pack. It also requires being a life-long student of the subject matter.

2. Courage and Confidence: You can be competent in your role, but you need to build up the courage to speak up. Unless you're willing to speak up for what you believe in, you're never going to be much of a leader. 

3. Communication skills: You cannot over invest in communication skills—written and oral

4. Consistency: You can change your mind, but always do so against a consistent framework.

5. Compass: Integrity must be at the root of everything you do, without character, none of the other four steps will matter. Your personal compass should guide you both in your personal life as well as your professional life.

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Incredible Indra Nooyi

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