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BW Businessworld

This Is Not My Book, It Is Our Book: Indra Nooyi

In a conversation with the chairman & editor-in-chief of BW Businessworld, Dr Annurag Batra, Indra Nooyi, the former global chief of Pepsico, speaks about her commitment towards the issue of seeing women as equal contributors to the economy, and how her book ‘My Life In Full’ is a step in that direction

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The power of the human mind is said to be unstoppable. The pandemic year perhaps has become an example of this, where despite unprecedented challenges, many embarked on newer, more meaningful journeys. In the case of Indra Nooyi, the pandemic was a “bittersweet” experience that led to an “unbelievable product” in the form of her first book ‘My Life in Full’. 

Simply put, this book is the autobiography of a global leader, who has many firsts and rare achievements to her credit. She was named the global chief executive of PepsiCo back in 2006, where she more than doubled its revenue and diversified its products in her 25-year (12 years as CEO) tenure. She was only the 11th woman to lead a Fortune 500 company at the time and is among the longest-serving woman CEOs of a company of this scale and size – to give a perspective, as of September 2021, Pepsico has a market cap of $213.12 billion.

However, in her own words, while this book is the story of Indra Nooyi, chronicling the life of a middle-class household girl in Chennai, becoming a young family builder in the United States, and a journey that led right up to the boardroom of a multibillion-dollar company, it is her lessons overtime that is the true purpose of this book.

“I debated whether to write a book or just publish articles. But after much consideration, I was convinced that the book would have more relevance and spur more conversations if I informed my lessons with my life. People were curious about how I got to where I did, how I stayed there, how I kept my marriage going…. I had to include my life with the lessons I wanted to talk about,” explains Nooyi in a candid chat with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-chief of BW Businessworld group.

Continued Contribution  

Nooyi believes that the pandemic and the book came together because the time of crisis laid bare all the problems that many young family builders and women faced in terms of balancing priorities, giving more legs to the core issue raised in the book.

“I hope this book provides an actionable conversation on how we can provide the support system that allows young family builders to have a family, have kids who contribute to the economy, while these young working women continue to contribute as well. I keep saying, ‘this is not my book, it is our book’,” Nooyi says.

Nooyi’s larger message strikes a chord with many, as women, all over the world, face these challenges. Families, that are supposed to be a source of strength, can become a source of stress, she argues, citing that there are many competing priorities and the burden falls “disproportionately on women”. 

“The workplace too is not a stress reliever due to subconscious bias, no pay parity for women, making it important to take up this matter. We need the big voices to speak on this and move towards a call to action,” Nooyi explains, adding, “I think this book is resonating with people, women and business people, giving hope that this might help accelerate progress on these issues.”

The Tough Questions

When Nooyi stepped down as the CEO of PepsiCo, there were several conversations regarding a woman not succeeding in her position. In her book, Nooyi refers to this, explaining that the PepsiCo board went through a deliberate process and looked at many candidates, all of whom were men and picked accordingly. 

“It is interesting they never ask a man why a woman didn’t succeed their position, but that is a subject for a different discussion at a different time,” Nooyi quips.

Delving further on her succession though, she reflects, “It hurt that people asked me this question, and I kept asking myself what could I have done to develop more women in the pipeline to be CEOs. As I looked at this issue, I realised it was not that I gave men the opportunities, but among the women I developed, many left the company because they were given senior roles in smaller companies and they did not want to wait for PepsiCo or there weren’t enough coming up the pipeline. The latter was because early in the pipeline, women were leaving the company as they could not deal with the job pressure and family; the biological clock and career clock were in conflict.”

This is where the big problem resides, and this is also the core issue that her book looks to address.

Structured Solutions

Nooyi reminds that girls are among the top performers in schools and colleges, in many cases comprising 50 per cent of the class in subjects such as STEM. They enter the workforce and then disappear after the first few years. 

“This is a loss for the country. When we cannot deploy the best and the brightest of the country, in service of the country, to grow the economy and contribute to the GDP, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Instead of choosing from only half the population, which may not all be the brightest, it is better to draw from the whole,” Nooyi advises.

She goes on to add, “I want women to be considered equal to men. Let’s draw from the best and the brightest because that is what it would take for companies and countries to do well. But if you want women to contribute to the economy and also have children, you have to provide a support structure; you cannot put so much burden on the women that they just give up.”

So, the big question is how to create this support structure.

Taking her readers through various anecdotes in the book, Nooyi shares the support system she had and the subsequent structures she built over time. “People like me ought to come forth and work together for this. I am committed to figuring how we can, together, mobilise policies, structures and support systems to enable young family builders to have a family and contribute to the economy,” she says. 

The former PepsiCo global chief states that families are fragile but the time has come to think about women and men as equal contributors to the family as equal breadwinners, and as equal talents to contribute to the country.

Her book cites case-by-case examples, quoting her life instances, on the kinds of challenges she faced in a corporate world, in a country as competitive as the US, and how she overcame those to become the global leader that she is. Nooyi’s book attempts to make a very clear case for the need for mindset and structural changes to increase women’s contribution in the workforce, which in turn will serve as a differentiator and an economic vector that when shifts, will make companies and nations future-ready. 

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