Hearing From a Transformative Leader

At Convening Leaders 2022, Indra Nooyi will talk about her experiences as a pioneering female business leader and how we need to focus on family to unleash the economy’s full potential.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi, former CEO and chair of PepsiCo, will wrap up the 2022 Convening Leaders program.

Indra Nooyi, former CEO and chair of PepsiCo, will wrap up the 2022 Convening Leaders program when she takes the Main Stage Jan. 12. Nooyi is the author of the recently published New York Times bestselling book, My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future, and she will share her rich perspective on each aspect of that subtitle with the Convening Leaders audience.

Nooyi, the first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company, spearheaded PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose mission, whose aim was to put environmental goals and customer and employee wellbeing on equal footing with financial goals. As she wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Our social responsibility had to evolve away from corporate philanthropy and toward a deep sense of purpose that would also drive shareholder value. We needed to change the way we made money — not just give away some of the money we earned.”

The Performance with Purpose approach was based on four pillars: financial sustainability (delivering superior financial returns); human sustainability (transforming the product portfolio by reducing sugar, salt, and fat and focusing more on more-nutritious foods and beverages); environmental sustainability (conserving water and reducing the company’s carbon footprint and plastic waste); and talent sustainability (offering new types of support to women and families inside the company and in the communities the company served).

How did PepsiCo perform along these metrics under Nooyi’s tenure (2006-2019) at its helm? The company grew net revenue by more than 80 percent; its portfolio of healthier F&B options grew from about 38 percent of revenue in 2006 to roughly half of its revenues in 2017; it cut one-quarter of its operational water use by 2018; and by that same year, women held nearly four out of 10 senior management roles.

In My Life in Full, Nooyi also shares how she managed the responsibilities of her demanding role while a wife and mother — she has said in interviews that she sees work/life as more of a juggling than a balancing act. She also acknowledges how fortunate she was to have extended family share in childcare responsibilities and how that is not available to many.

She calls on business and government to prioritize the care ecosystem, paid leave, and work flexibility — and makes a convincing argument that improving company and community support for young families will unleash the economy’s full potential.

Here is an excerpt of the introduction from My Life in Full:

We are all balancing, juggling, compromising, doing our best to find our place, move ahead, and managing our relationships and responsibilities. It’s not easy in a society that changes very fast yet sticks to some age-old habits and rules of behavior that feel out of our control.

The twin demands that define me have always been my family and my work. I joined PepsiCo, in 1994, in part because the company’s headquarters were close to my house. I had two daughters, ages ten and one-and-a-half at the time, and a husband whose office was nearby. PepsiCo’s job offer made sense, we thought, because the commute was short. I’d be able to drive to the school or home to the baby in fifteen minutes. Of course, this is not the only reason I chose PepsiCo, an exuberant, optimistic company that I wholeheartedly enjoyed from the moment I walked in. I also felt that PepsiCo was a place that was open to changing with the times.

That was important. I was female, an immigrant, and a person of color entering an executive floor where I was different from everyone else. My career had started when the dynamics between women and men at work were not the same as they are now. In fourteen years as a consultant and corporate strategist, I had never had a woman boss. I had no female mentors. I wasn’t upset when I was excluded from the customs of male power; I was just happy to be included at all. But by the time I got to PepsiCo, waves of educated, ambitious women were pouring into the workforce, and I could sense the atmosphere changing. The competition between men and women was becoming more acute, and, in the subsequent decades, women have altered the game in ways that would have been unthinkable to me early on. As a business leader, I always tried to anticipate and respond to the shifting culture. As a woman and the mother of girls, I wanted to do everything possible to encourage it.

As my career progressed, and my children grew up, I wrestled with the ever-present conflicts of working motherhood. … Over the years, I met thousands of people worried about how to be true to their families, their jobs, and their ambitions to be good citizens. This engagement had a great impact on me; I learned and absorbed the details at a visceral level. I thought about how family is such a powerful source of human strength but realized that creating and nurturing families is a source of stress for so many.

At the same time, I was among a vaunted group of global CEOs regularly invited into rooms with the most influential leaders on the planet. And I came to notice that the painful stories about how people — especially women — struggle to blend their lives and livelihoods were entirely absent in those rooms. The titans of industry, politics, and economics talked about advancing the world through finance, technology, and flying to Mars. Family — the actual messy, delightful, difficult, and treasured core of how must of us live — was fringe.

This disconnect has profound consequences. Our failure to address work and family pressures in the senior reaches of global decision-making restrains hundreds of millions of women every day, not only from rising and leading, but also from blending a satisfying career with a healthy partnership and motherhood. In a prosperous marketplace, we need all women to have the choice to work in paid jobs outside the home and for our social and economic infrastructure to entirely support that choice. Women’s financial independence and security, so central to their equality, are at stake. …

Many young people, worried about how they will manage it all, are choosing not to have children. This could not only have dire economic consequences in the decades to come, but, on a very personal note, I find this detail sad. With everything I have accomplished, my greatest joy was having children, and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the experience if they want it.

I believe that we must address the work and family conundrum by focusing on our infrastructure around “care” with an energy and ingenuity like never before. We should consider this a moonshot, starting with ensuring that every worker has access to paid leave, flexibility, and predictability to help them handle the ebb and flow of work and family life, and then moving fast to develop the most innovative and comprehensive childcare and eldercare solutions that our greatest minds can devise.

This mission will require leadership that we don’t often see. … We need the wisdom of business leaders, policy makers, and all women and men passionate about easing the work and family burden to come together here. With a can-do sense of optimism and a must-do sense of responsibility, we can transform our society.

CL22’s one-of-a-kind Digital Experience will include the highly regarded former chair and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. During an exclusive fireside chat, Nooyi will share her take on what transformative leadership looks like and the importance of making purpose and meaning central to our work. Registration for the Digital Experience starts as low as $295.

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