LIVED Leader: Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo)

Published March 3, 2015

“The distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organisation, you have to improve yourself and the organisation gets pulled up with you. This is a big lesson. I cannot just expect the organisation to improve if I don’t improve myself…”

These intriguing and insightful words embody the most fundamental part of a&dc’s LIVED model of leadership: Learning. The current challenge of the contemporary workplace is to deal with the ever present and unpredictable potential for change. For leaders of any organisation, this implies that the ability to adapt to your surroundings and constantly evaluating your successes and failures is highly valuable.

So who said these words? Well, they are the sentiments and characteristics of PepsiCo’s current Chairperson and CEO, Indra Nooyi. Following her MBA graduation from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, Nooyi’s career in business began in several positions as a brand product manager in India. Her passion for strategy drove her to the United States, and her reputation in this area made her a talent target for the likes of Jack Welch, the head of General Electric, at the same time as Wayne Calloway, then CEO of PepsiCo. Choosing to join the soft-drinks and food company placed Nooyi on a path towards becoming one of the world’s most powerful women in modern business.

The most clear elements of the LIVED model that can explain how Nooyi achieved this are Intellect and Drive. For example, she was responsible for PepsiCo spinning off its restaurant division (KFC, Pizza Hut etc.) in to another company. At this point, it became clear that her vision and passion for being in tune with consumers’ needs for healthier snack and drink options transformed Pepsi’s product line into a more profitable concept.

She drove forward the $3.3 billion-dollar-deal for the purchase of the Tropicana orange-juice brand in 1998, and two years later was part of the team that secured Quaker Oats for $14 billion (widely cited as one of the biggest deals in corporate history). Her bold and persuasive negotiation capabilities simply facilitated what was a shrewd analysis of the direction of the organisation, and how it needed to change in order to be successful in the future.

This particular change represents one of the core Values that make Nooyi a successful leader of people today. While the flagship brand, Pepsi, is not exactly the first product that springs to mind when you think of a fit lifestyle, Nooyi’s creative mantra “Performance with Purpose” explains that she aims to “bring together what is good for business with what is good for the world”. In this case, Nooyi sees gradual changes to PepsiCo products as providing the planet what it needs in healthier eating habits, while avoiding subtraction from the bottom line through brand popularity.

Another clear aspect of Nooyi’s successful leadership is her clear value for communication. She maintains a blog at Pepsi where she talks directly to her employees via posts every other week. This demonstrates a strength in utilising her Emotions to motivate and inspire her staff, fostering a mutual respect and greater commitment from employees.

Nooyi has also been known to further build positive relationships with her colleagues and staff by recognising them publicly and privately for their contributions to the company, doing so in some rather unique and creative ways. For example, Nooyi writes letters of gratitude to her employees’ parents, thanking them for nurturing and developing these people into positive contributors to PepsiCo’s success. She explained in a recent interview that, while her own mother was proud of her, she also witnessed family friends congratulate her mother for Nooyi’s career success. She realised this could enable her to “engage people with their hearts”, and has certainly been doing so ever since. It is this focus on the personal details, as well as the strategic, bigger picture, that makes Indra Nooyi an ideal role model for LIVED leaders of the future.

Author: Jordon Jones

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