An exclusive group of Australian leaders spent an intimate evening with former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi.
At the end of the day, don’t define me by these labels, define me by the quality of the output I produce.
As Indra Nooyi addressed the crowd, the room was still, focused and listening with intensity. The long anticipated event was as entertaining as it was poignant, with the former CEO of PepsiCo sharing stories of both success and failure, with the wisdom that only comes after a long and high stakes career like the one Nooyi has enjoyed.
Earlier, guests entered The Grand Ballroom at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, overlooking the stunning Sydney Harbour. While canapes and Secret Garden Brut Cuvee were served, guests mingled, as Nooyi prepared for her second night in Australia after a successful evening with Melbourne audiences, held at the iconic Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Whilst in Melbourne, cricket enthusiast Nooyi also toured Australia's famous Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Host Adam Spencer welcomed guests with his unique style of humour, wit and intelligence, facilitating a thought-provoking and fascinating discussion with Nooyi on everything from bilateral trade agreements to balancing a career with a fulfilling family life.
The main dining hall was filled with tables, with each place setting containing a personalised notebook by Sunsuper, one of the event’s Platinum Partners. As the guests slowly entered the space, the room was filled with laughter, engaged conversations and a buzz of excitement for the night ahead. Far from a traditional sit-down dinner, many guests stood and mingled with those around them, taking the opportunity to network, make new friends or reconnecting with old ones.
After an energetic and lively performance by the String Sirens, mains were served before a sponsor presentation by T20 World Cup 2020 CEO, Nick Hockley.
Blazing a trail for women in sports, he asked guests to imagine 90,000 people watching the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup on International Women’s Day. Inda Nooyi, recently appointed as the ICC’s first female Independent Director, grew up a keen cricketer, learning many lessons about leadership, teamwork and cooperation that she would draw on throughout her professional life.
The Immigrant Mentality
In a conversation that covered a myriad of topics, family life, gender and the Immigrant Mentality were focal points, with the latter something she maintains to this day.
I don’t think I’m an exception. Most immigrants...have a fear that things may not work out...interestingly, it’s never gone, even today...40 years later.
She described the fear that things could be taken away at any time, and the embarrassment of having to answer to her failures to those in her birth country. Despite her success, the fear remains.
The Power of Legacy
The conversation moved to CEO succession as a process, both Indra Nooyi’s own move into the role of CEO of PepsiCo, as well as her transition out of the company. Describing the effective system used by PepsiCo, Indra and her team identified 10-15 people of different ages who could ‘go all the way.’ Over the course of up to four years, she created opportunities for the board to see each of them in action, along with extensive documentation on each one.
A comment that surprised many of guests, was not that the process of succession was taken seriously, but the extent to which Nooyi invested in her own:
I was more worried about my legacy than I was about my performance as a CEO.
The big moves made by Nooyi during her 12 year tenure at PepsiCo are widely known, but for her they were never ‘gigantic decisions.’ She advised the audience to do what she did as CEO, which was to identify the mega trends of her industry, and determine what moves had to be made to address them.
This process is not about intuition or experience, but rather about getting all the facts.
You’d be surprised how many of those trends you’re ignoring or not addressing.
She went on to share several anecdotes, though the common theme was clear:
Just because you’re a CEO, doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of getting the details.
The Good and the Bad
Dealing with controversy is nothing new for Nooyi, something she touched on in reference to PepsiCo’s infamous Live for Now advertisement. Although focus groups suggested otherwise, the backlash was both quick and severe. Nooyi ultimately viewed the experience as a learning opportunity:
At the end of the day, we all learn from these sobering experiences.
Gender and Bias
Questions from the audience led to a discussion about balancing family/work life, and the difficulties women and minorities face in the workplace.
Inside many companies, we have to address this issue of conscious and unconscious bias...you strip those people, you slowly strip them of their confidence, and when you strip them of their confidence, you strip away their competence.
She went on to share some inspiring words with the audience, the magnitude of which was felt by the men and women in the room, alike:
...All these labels are what people give you, not necessarily what you are...The fact is, there’s a job to be done, and I believe I’m the best person to do it.
An Evening with Indra Nooyi
After the Q and A dessert was served, a decadent selection which included an affogato station, before a partner address from Dave Woodall, EGM, Corporate and Regional Growth of Sunsuper.
While the food was in abundance and the drinks seemed to flow endlessly, it was hard not to feel stimulated by the animated conversations, rich music and overwhelmingly, the sage words and hard-learned lessons shared by the guest of honour, Indra Nooyi. Her experience is unlike any other, and spending a night in her company was likewise a unique and special occasion for all those who attended.
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