Born in Madras, India in 1955, Indra Krishnamurthi Nooyi is one of the top female executives in the United States: she is currently the chairwoman and CEO of the second largest food and beverage business in the world, PepsiCo. Her life story is an inspiration for women around the world, especially for those who live in developing countries, or who live in America as immigrants.
Nooyi was born in a conservative middle-class Indian family, but she was not a typical girl for her culture. She joined an all-girls’ cricket team and she loved to listen to rock music. In fact, she loved music so much that she even decided to play guitar in a female rock band. This happened while she studied at the Madras Christian College. After obtaining her undergraduate diploma in physics, mathematics and chemistry, Nooyi went on to continue her studies at one of the only two schools in her country that offered an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree. This was very unusual for a woman in India, who was expected to stay at home and help her mother with the household chores.Nooyi’s first job after she obtained her master’s degree was at a British textile company (Tootal), which had extensive holdings in India. From here she moved to Johnson & Johnson, where she faced her first major career challenge: she was named the company’s area product manager for Stayfree, the sanitary pads brand. Nooyi herself recalls this experience as a very “fascinating” one, because back then “you couldn’t advertise personal protection in India”. Her solution to the problem was to start advertising directly, by travelling to schools and introducing girls and women to the J&J line.After a while however, the unconventional young woman started to feel that her world was too small, and decided it was time to widen her horizon. She saw an advertisement for Yale University’s School of Management in a magazine and she applied, even though she had little hope of being accepted. When she finally received the letter from Yale, she was very surprised by her parents, who allowed her to go and study in the States, even though in their society this meant that Indra would become an “absolutely unmarriageable commodity after that”.
In 1978, Nooyi began her management courses in America, but soon needed to also get a job, because she had very little money, even with her scholarship. She later recalled how she had to go to her first summer job interview in a sari, because she had no money to buy a suite. Fortunately this did not hold her back and by the time the summer ended, she had raised enough money to buy two suites. After she graduated, Nooyi worked for the Boston Consulting Group for six years. Her next step was strategic planning for Motorola (1986) and later a top managing job at Asea Brown Boveri, an engineering firm in Connecticut(1990).
Her success at ABB caught the attention of two important companies: General Electric and PepsiCo. They both offered Nooyi an opportunity to work for them, but PepsiCo finally won her over after the company’s CEO, Wayne Calloway told her “I have a need for someone like you, and I would make PepsiCo a special place for you”.
History shows that Indra Nooyi was actually the best thing that ever happened to PepsiCo. An excellent strategist and negotiator, Nooyi reshaped the company’s identity and pointed it in the best direction possible. After spending several months analyzing and understanding the economics of the PepsiCo empire, she made a bold suggestion: the company had to sell its restaurant division (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell). In 1997 her advise was finally taken, and soon afterwards Nooyi led Pepsi to buy Tropicana (the juice maker) in 1998 and Quaker Oats (the cereal and snack maker) in 2001.
Her skills and talents brought her the title of chief financial officer in 2000 and then that of president of the company in 2001. This made Nooyi the highest-ranking Indian-born female executive in America. When her colleague, Steven S. Reinemund was promoted to CEO of PepsiCo, he said he would only accept the promotion if Nooyi was his second in command. Six years later, she became the fifth CEO of the company in all its 44-year long history.Time Magazine listed Nooyi among the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2007 and 2008, Forbes Magazine ranked her the world’s 6th most powerful woman in 2010, and Fortune ranked her No.1 most powerful woman in business in 2009 and 2010. These of course are only some of the numerous awards and honors that she earned over the years.
Her brilliant career didn’t consume all of her energy (even though she admitted sometimes working 24/7), but left her enough time to meet someone special and even start a family. Indra Nooyi is currently married to Rajkantilal Nooyi, who is also an Indian, proving that studying abroad does not make an Indian girl an “unmarriageable commodity”. The couple lives together with their two daughters in Greenwich, Connecticut. Indra is a vegetarian and still wears a sari to different events, even though she is perfectly adapted to the dynamic western life that she leads in the States.