A Learning CEO Can Power Through Tough Times: Indra Nooyi

PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi talks to CNBC-TV18 about her personalised leadership style, why CEOs need to constantly renew skills and what India needs to do to attract foreign investors

Published: Dec 5, 2013 07:40:30 AM IST
Updated: Dec 5, 2013 08:01:10 AM IST
A Learning CEO Can Power Through Tough Times: Indra Nooyi
Image: Amit Verma
MakeMyTrip founder Deep Kalra asked Nooyi if leadership should be hard-nosed as it’s increasingly becoming nowadays. Nooyi answered, ‘One needs to rule a company with head, hands and heart. In the past, it was just head and hands

In volatile times, one needs a learning CEO who surrounds herself with people who can help the company power through the tough times, said PepsiCo Chairperson and CEO Indra Nooyi in her Lessons in Leadership talk with CNBC-TV18, on November 12 in Delhi.

“As a CEO, I am finding that I have to become a learning CEO. I have to go to school all the time because I am learning new skills that I need to run this company and I am realising that I am not equipped to just coast, I have to constantly renew my skills,” said the Indian-American who heads the world’s second largest food and beverage company. Nooyi added that top leaders today need to be agile, work through scarcity and be collaborative.

Many people of Indian origin are today rising to the top of the corporate ladder. Thus the moot issue, added Nooyi, is that “we should talk about is not just lessons in leadership or what the leaders need to do today but what can India do to bring those leaders back to India, so India itself can become an even more powerful economy going forward”.

Addressing the audience that included some of the brightest entrepreneurs from the country, the lady from Chennai said that multinational companies, when they come to India, are looking for “good infrastructure, welcoming investment climate and a taxation climate that is consistent”. “There should be an environment where education system produces good workers for companies to employ,” she says, adding that policies should be consistent irrespective of a change in government.

Nooyi gave hints of her personalised leadership style that included writing to parents of employees who are doing well. In the US, parents stop getting report cards once their children turn 18 and these letters, said Nooyi, “unleashed all kinds of emotions”.

The move itself was inspired by an incident when she was visiting her mother in Chennai. At home, all the visitors would go up to Nooyi’s mother, congratulating her for bringing up her daughter well.

PepsiCo has committed to investing $5.5 billion in India by 2020 and Nooyi said this indicated that India’s fundamentals are still strong. “It is great for India. It is going to provide jobs. It is going to provide tremendous investments, supply chain manufacturing, so all of us collectively should sit back and say ‘isn’t it great that two US-based multinationals, truly global companies, are showing their confidence in India?’”

(This story appears in the 13 December, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Deesha Trivedi

    She is truly inspiring and headstrong human being.She is my idol.

    on Feb 3, 2014
  • Anini Nyenga

    One among very few Indian women and even the world\'s on the top ...an inspiration.

    on Dec 6, 2013
  • Ca. Vishnu Khandelwal

    Nooyi is certainly the poster child of Indians managing MNCs. Truly inspiring!

    on Dec 5, 2013