Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The Dynamic Duo: Indra Nooyi and Padmasree Warrior Have Much in Common

PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior have demonstrated how women can succeed at the highest level without sacrificing their personalities

Published: Jun 24, 2013 06:49:45 AM IST
Updated: Jun 27, 2013 04:58:29 PM IST
The Dynamic Duo: Indra Nooyi and Padmasree Warrior Have Much in Common
Image: Mike Segar / Reuters

Indra Nooyi
Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo
Age: 57
Earned her Bachelors in physics, chemistry and mathematics from Madras Christian College in 1974. MBA, IIM-Calcutta, 1976. Master of Public and Private Management, Yale University, 1980
Married to Raj Nooyi; has two daughters, Preetha and Tara Earned $12.6 million last year


President Obama invited her for a discussion on the economic crisis facing the US in November 2012. In 2010, there was a strong buzz that she was being considered a successor to Ratan Tata. She declined saying she was having “too much fun at PepsiCo”.

In an interview with CNBC’s Off-the-Cuff programme, she said she likes watching the New York Yankees play, but puts the TV on mute so she can continue working. When she “really wants to blow off steam”, she plays rummy with her kids. In an interview with Good Housekeeping, she said she likes playing games like Bridge, Scrabble and Sudoku online. “My guilty pleasures are the websites where you can look at the fashions and see how different outfits will look. You can even take a picture of yourself and download it and play with the fashions!,” she told GH.

Nooyi grew up in Chennai where her father was a bank officer. Her career path in the US began in 1980 at the Boston Consulting Group, followed by stints in Motorola and ABB. In 1994, she joined PepsiCo as senior VP, strategic planning. With annual revenues of $65 billion, PepsiCo is the world’s second largest food and beverages company.

As the head of strategy at PepsiCo, she was responsible for much of its restructuring. During her tenure, PepsiCo sold off the restaurant business and spun off its bottling operations, and acquired new businesses like Tropicana and Quaker Oats. In 2006, she was named CEO, only the fifth in PepsiCo’s history. With her at the helm, sales have nearly doubled and earnings have gone up by 30 percent. Nooyi has pushed PepsiCo to become a healthier company by investing in R&D to make soft drinks with less calories, chips with less sodium or yoghurt with more fruit.

She has taken the company global, cut costs by consolidating facilities and laying off more than 8,000 employees last year. She has made aggressive acquisitions in the BRIC nations. (PepsiCo spent $7 billion in buying two businesses in Russia alone). She is a fierce supporter of conscious capitalism and says a lot of inspiration for her thoughts on sustainability come from the tough times in Chennai where her mother would wake up at 3 am to store water.

Last year, the market feared that her position at PepsiCo would be under pressure, when activist investor Ralph Whitworth’s hedge fund invested $600 million in PepsiCo. Her critics say her push into “good-for-you” products is taking too long to show results.

Nooyi says she made several sacrifices in managing her career and her family. But, in an interview with WSJ, she says every time her kids called during work, she would stop to take those calls. Even when those were only to ask her if they could play Nintendo. Nooyi credits her husband for his support; she says he took on half of her workload at home so she could continue building her career.

The Dynamic Duo: Indra Nooyi and Padmasree Warrior Have Much in Common
Image: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Padmasree Warrior
Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Cisco Systems
Age: 52
Educated at IIT-Delhi (chemical engineering), Cornell University (Masters in chemical engineering)
Married to IIT-Delhi college-mate Mohandas. They have a son, Karna.

In her current role, Warrior is charged with aligning technology development and corporate strategy to enable the $43-billion Cisco to anticipate, shape and lead major market transitions. She has led the company through 15 acquisitions in 15 months. In a recent interview, Chairman John Chambers named her as one of the people who could get his job when he retires in 2-4 years.

Warrior sees a huge shift in technology and how it impacts our lives in the next five years. In an interview to McKinsey, she said only 1 percent of what could be connected in this world actually is; as these connections increase it will change how consumers shop, businesses handle data and individuals grapple with the data.

Warrior is among a handful of women executives in the overwhelmingly male-dominated technology world. Chambers said in an internal memo that only 22 percent of Cisco’s workforce are women. Warrior admits that when starting out, she was intimidated as technology was considered a man’s domain. She considered a career in academia but took up a job at Motorola’s semiconductor factory in Arizona. She had given herself one year but ended up staying 23, rising to become the CTO. She came to Cisco in 2007 after Chambers pursued her for a year.

In an interview to The Huffington Post, Warrior says the biggest mistake she made in life was saying no to opportunities when she was starting out. “I thought, ‘That’s not what my degree is in’ or ‘I don’t know about that domain.’” In retrospect, at a certain point, it’s your ability to learn and contribute quickly that matters…I always tell women that the fact that you’re different and that you’re noticed, because there are few of us in the tech industry, is something you can leverage as an advantage.”

In an interview with Fast Company she says, “I would have dinner with PG Wodehouse. I have read all of his books at least 10 times over. I am a great fan of his character Jeeves. His intellectual brilliance and audacious sense of humour fascinate me.”

When her son was born, Warrior was in charge of a factory at Motorola. It was a 24/7 job that put enormous stress on her family and herself. At one point, she moved her treadmill into her son’s room so she could exercise while looking after him. In later years, she says she came to realise that operating like this was a big mistake. In an interview to The Take Away she says, “The important thing to remember is it’s not about balance; it’s about integration... to really focus on making sure you’re integrating all four aspects of your work, your family, your community and yourself. And it’s not about trying to spend equal amounts of time on everything you do each day on each of these things, but making sure you’re paying attention to all the things that make it up as a whole human being.”

(This story appears in the 28 June, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)