5 qualities that took her to the top of Fortune 50 company PepsiCo
A former boss of Indra Nooyi’s once set a herculean mission for an executive recruiter.
“Find me an Indra Nooyi,” Gerhard Schulmeyer pleaded with them. The recruiter had no idea what he meant, and so Gerhard contacted this former valuable employee of his, Indra Nooyi herself, and tasked her with creating a candidate profile.
But it was nigh impossible to replicate this extraordinary woman executive who would, much later, transform PepsiCo during her 12 years as CEO and Chairman.
Indra Nooyi shared more about this story and others in her interview with Growth Faculty on her memoir, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. Here's a short summary.
Qualities to impress the boss
When asked what her qualities were that so impressed her boss, Indra put forward five:
1. I wanted to work very hard and provide an outstanding product. I worked and worked so the boss would say ‘It’s complete, I don’t have to do anything more with it.’
2. I was very reliable. If any of my bosses said they needed it on Friday morning at 10 o’clock, it was on their desk Friday morning at 9 o’clock, or preferably Thursday evening. They can take that to the bank.
3. I built bridges and consensus. If I needed to talk to four or five other people, I made sure they all felt included in what I was doing and I would credit them for their help.
4. I would look at my work through the lens of the boss. If he was going to present it to the board, I wrote messages in the margins, and gave him notes so I wouldn’t need to tag along. (It was always a 'him', she adds). This behaviour describes perfectly Liz Wiseman's 'impact players.'
5. I worked to make the boss’s life easy. I put the company before me, I put my boss way ahead of me, and my work spoke for itself.
How Zoom would so have helped
Indra adds that being such a valuable employee required an extraordinary commitment of time. She says if she was in the same career now, she would do half her work through Zoom.
“The one positive lining of Covid-19 is the fast progression of these remote technologies, and they’re still progressing,” she tells Growth Faculty.
Supportive behaviours of bosses
Indra talks about how executives climbing the ‘women’s ladder’ face many headwinds, but, having experienced many of her own, she says she 'won the lottery' with her progressive and supportive family and fair bosses.
Indra Nooyi shared behaviours of bosses that were ‘tailwinds’ in her career:
· They looked at me as a talent, not as a woman.
· They didn’t speak to the men in a certain way and me in another.
· They threw me the same challenges as the men and gave me the same unreachable goals!
· They held us all to the highest standard. They made us feel like equal leaders.
· They never rolled their eyes at me, and never talked over me.
· They made me feel a valued member of the team.
· They did the ‘human” thing in supporting me as a human being with a family.
Doing the human thing
Indra has good examples of this. When she was at management consulting firm BCG she was offered 6 months paid leave to look after her dying father. When she asked her boss why he did it, he answered it was the “human thing to do.” Both BCG and heavy electrical equipment firm ABB gave her 12 weeks paid maternity leave.
“They viewed me as a person who can contribute to the company, as opposed to a woman who is a liability because she’s going to go off and have kids,” she remembers. “So, my loyalty, as result, was very high.”
Indra says the moment she was publicly announced as CEO of PepsiCo was a scary moment.
“No longer can you say, ‘I’m number 2’. No, you are 'it',” she says. “The media looked at me as fresh meat. For some reason they made me out as this exotic Indian being, that I would be coming to the board singing songs…I had to withstand all of that.”
“People think becoming CEO is a fantastic opportunity, it is,” Indra says. “But, if you don’t come to work every day with a fear in the pit of your stomach, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’ve got to feel the weight of the job in you, all of the time.”
When Indra took over as CEO she asked herself how she could future-proof the company.
“You can either future-proof the company or de-risk it. I started with a look at the megatrends that would impact the consumer products industry. I wrote down the 10 megatrends, then went and talked about what we needed to do differently to continue to be a major player in this changing world, with these megatrends coming upon us.”
The result was Performance with Purpose:
· Transforming the portfolio to include healthier products
· Having a major focus on environmental issues
· Creating a different environment in the company to bring the best and brightest talent in.
“Taken together, the purpose reinforced performance, and performance funded purpose,” she told Growth Faculty. “It was a different way to make money, rather than giving away the money we made.”
Family at the centre of business
Indra says that coming out of the pandemic there is an incredible moment of stillness.
“We are a better humanity, and should put families at the centre of this because families are the core of society. If we have thriving families, we will have a society that replaces itself, we will have well-adjusted people.”
Her framework for families to thrive includes:
· Paid leave for both men and women to care, whether that be for ageing parents, sick parents, sick children, as well as for the birth of children.
· There should be flexible work hours, and predictability of schedules for shift workers.
· Childcare infrastructure. It is critically important to think about 0-5.
Men need to come to the table
Men are predominately the ones in charge. So, Indra makes a plea to them to come to the table on gender equality.
“If talent is what is going to differentiate the great companies from an average one, a great country from an average one, a great society from an average one, why don’t you look at the entire population base as talent and draw from the best of that, as opposed to saying I’m only going to draw from 50% of the population (which is men) and single women with no families,” she says.
A dual citizen
Indra Nooyi says her life has been a bunch of dualities.
· I grew up with one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. The men were saying “dream big” and there’s my mother was saying “Hey, I’ve got to get you married, in an arranged marriage, at age 18.”
· The second duality was power and humility. Don’t ever think you’re a big shot.
· Third, I’m a product of the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy. I am the story of the American dream.
· Fourth, performance in purpose. I was all about performance but I’m very driven about what is good for society.
· Fifth, I look at the short term and the long term. I look at things with a telescope and a microscope. I was constantly zooming in and zooming out.
“These were the lessons I learned at the feet of my grandfather,” Indra Nooyi remembers. “He might have meant it at a smaller scale, I brought it to life on a global scale.”
For more quotes from Indra Nooyi read our blog: COMPELLING QUOTES FROM A WOMAN CEO: INDRA NOOYI, FORMER HEAD OF PEPSICO
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