Not utilising 50% of population is loss to country: Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi
Indra Nooyi. File photo: Manorama

Indra Nooyi, the former chief executive officer and chairperson of PepsiCo, has inspired a generation of women and men to walk the extra mile. She has proven time and again that constraints can never challenge your success story if you have the right attitude.

Her autobiography “My Life in Full”, which was released last year, is now available in Malayalam. Translated by P Kishore, the book is published by Manorama Books.

In a virtual interactive session with the Malayala Manorama, the Indian-American business executive talks about women in the workforce, work-life balance, and corporate India.

Women in leadership roles

Nooyi, who is ranked among the top 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, said women could get ahead in their respective fields only by delivering uncompromising quality. “Not utilising 50 per cent of your population is a loss to any country,” she said.

“In the present day, women work extra hard in colleges and universities and get more degrees than men. They are hungry for success and economic freedom. It is the country's loss if it cannot capitalise on this,” she said.

A lot of women leaders work their way into middle management. But to reach the top echelons of management, women have to prove their mettle. “Every company is structured like a pyramid. As you move up, there is attrition. What is your proposition to retain and move up? Prove your mettle,” Nooyi said.

“When one of my superiors at Motorola, Gerhard Schulmeyer quit the company to join ASEA Brown Boveri (ABB) he demanded his recruitment team to find an Indra Nooyi.”

Every company is a pyramid. As you move up, there is attrition. What is your proposition to retain and move up? Prove your mettle

Indra Nooyi

“Your employer should feel that they cannot replace you. I worked really hard to reach that place,” she said.

Nooyi's autobiography talks extensively about how Gerhard helped her as a mentor every step of the way.

A work-life balance & shared responsibilities

Nooyi points out that she had no choice but to work when she reached the US. “We had barely any savings or wealth to start our family. I made the trade-offs and choices I was comfortable with to gain the financial stability our family required,” she added.

Indra Nooyi
Indra Nooyi, Cover of her autobiography 'My Life in Full'

“There are times when I wish I had more time to kiss my daughters when they were younger, but it was a trade-off that had to be made. Your life is full of such decisions,” she added.

When asked how corporate women can maintain a work-life balance, she highlighted the importance of the whole family dividing responsibilities.

“Family is not just female. Family is family,” she said. Nooyi pointed out that a behavioural change is the need of the hour. Men and older women needed to be educated to help a working mother and change years of habit, she added.

“I could raise my daughters and pursue my career because of the immense support o my family,” she said while highlighting the benefits of multi-generational living with inter-generational benefits.

In her book 'My Life in Full', Nooyi talks about her younger days in Madras, her upbringing in a joint family and her paternal grandfather.

Family is not just female. Family is family.

Indra Nooyi

“The single biggest thing in my life was my Thaatha. He was dedicated to our education. My grandfather was a District Judge .he was a short man with great stature. He took it upon himself to educate me and my siblings in every subject. He took it as a personal offense if we scored anything short of extraordinary,” she said.

“I wish my daughters had a 'Thaatha' in their lives,” the former PepsiCo CEO said while sharing how her paternal grandfather helped in molding her into the person she is.

“I did win the lottery of life. I had a great set of people beside me every step of my journey,” she said.

“The important question is how do we provide for those who did not win the lottery,” she added.

Immigrants in American society

The value addition a typical Indian-American immigrant brings to the high table of corporate America may be narrowed down to two things – technical training and fluency in English, Nooyi said.

“The Indian immigrants prove their worth as they go along. Most of them are hardworking with a strong sense of innovation. More than a 'can do' attitude, they harbour a 'must do' attitude. This helps them move forward,” she said while adding that both democracies have a lot to learn from each other.

Indra Nooyi
Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam awards Padma Bhushan to Indra Nooyi. File photo: Manorama

As per the statistics of the Bureau of Immigration, 4.5 lakh Indian students have gone abroad for higher studies in 2021. The majority of those students have started their careers abroad.

According to Nooyi, the seamless movement of talent is beneficial to both economies. “Earlier, I used to think differently about the brain drain. But now I believe seamless integration of talent is necessary for progress. Let Indians get the best education and give back to their home country,” she said.

“It's time to rethink our education. Indian business institutes should focus on Indian stories than highlighting American success stories,” Nooyi said while recollecting her student days at Madras Christian College, IIM-Calcutta, and Yale University.

CEO job, not an easy task

“Becoming a CEO and executing the roles associated with it are not easy tasks. In addition to inflation and other global issues, technological disruptions prove a major hassle for industries. Leaders have to be life-long students if they need to handle these disruptions,” she said.

Nooyi said leaders needed to learn how to handle a demand curve. “Don’t be static. Talk to people. Navigate a path,” she said.

Nooyi also pointed out that the Indian corporate world was very aspirational. “One area of issue for India Inc is the constantly changing regulatory environment. FDI inflow to the country could benefit from consistency in the law,” she pointed out.

Indra Nooyi. File photo: Manorama

On a lighter note, Nooyi said that she still finds rasam, curd rice and 'erissery' as her favourite delicacies to this day.

“My husband and I love to cook. We still cook on weekends when we have no help,” Nooyi says.

“Rasam, prepared with our family recipe, is my soft spot when it comes to food,” the former CEO of the billion-dollar FMCG company said with a twinkle in her eye.



The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.