Few people in the corporate world command the respect that Indra Nooyi receives. Consistently listed as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, she is praised largely as a forward-thinking leader. Her adaptive response during her 12-year tenure as CEO of PepsiCo helped revenues grow from US$35 billion to US$63.5 billion while at the helm.
Beyond aiming for financial success, Nooyi was also the chief architect of Performance with Purpose. This saw PepsiCo step up their growth efforts while making a positive impact on the environment and society.
Nooyi has accumulated a treasure trove of leadership lessons. Here we share just seven gems from this business powerhouse:
1. THANK PEOPLE
One of the most unusual things Nooyi did as CEO of PepsiCo was to write more than 400 letters each year to the parents of her senior executives. She was inspired after a family visit to India. She watched her mother bathing in praise from visitors who congratulated her for her daughter’s stellar career. Moved, Nooyi went back to PepsiCo and penned the letters to the executives’ parents. “I wrote a paragraph about what their child was doing at PepsiCo,” she told CNBC. “I said, ‘Thank you for the gift of your child to our company.’”
2. KEEP LEARNING
As CEO, Nooyi made the tough decision to overhaul PepsiCo’s IT system. To understand the technologies required, CNBC reports she read 10 textbooks cover to cover and had professors on call to answer her questions. This legwork didn’t just inform her and help her clearly identify the right solution, it also empowered her to face sceptics hesitant to make a change.
3. LEAD BY PRINCIPLE
Indra’s legacy is evident in PepsiCo’s guiding principles. These inform every action and message from the global giant. These six principles are:
- Care for our customers and the world we live in.
- Speak with truth and candour at all times.
- Respect others and succeed together.
- Sell only products we can be proud of.
- Win with diversity and engagement.
- Balance short term and long term.
4. STAY TRUE
Never one to imply a veneer of perfection, Nooyi is refreshingly honest. She is candid about the relentless hours required to be an effective CEO, and the toll that takes on her personal time as a result. Nooyi was known to work as many as 20 hours a day, often seven days a week. When asked if that made her a good role model, she answered, “Probably not.”
5. BRAVE CHANGE
Nooyi recognised the need to accept change as part of the course large companies take. She started putting key elements in place at PepsiCo that are now considered normal by most companies. Today, PepsiCo is no longer just synonymous with soft drink, but now has a new strong ethos of healthy product choices and a socially responsible mission.
6. FOLLOW YOUR MORAL COMPASS
In the 12 years with Nooyi as CEO, the beverage giant continued to be guided by Performance with Purpose. As a result, PepsiCo made the Ethisphere’s list of the world’s most ethical companies during each of those years. ey also made a commitment to improving access to clean water in developing communities, winning PepsiCo the Stockholm Industry Water Award.
7. ENCOURAGE INNOVATION
Not one to leave her company standing still, Nooyi believed in innovation. She gave her management team cameras and photo albums to visit retailers and discover innovative opportunities. Additionally, Nooyi brought in an innovation expert from 3M to spark creativity within PepsiCo. The company also runs the Nutrition Greenhouse, a collaborative accelerator of emerging and innovative businesses using healthy ingredients, or waste from the food industry.
This list only just scratches the surface of leadership lessons from Indra Nooyi. She’s a leader like no other who excels in everything from financial literacy, employee empathy, having a strong vision, moral leadership, embracing change and remaining true to herself. Her example can help any leader become someone people want to follow.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 print edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s quarterly magazine. For editorial suggestions and advertising enquiries, please contact Karyl.Estrella@managersandleaders.com.au.