Aurora Magazine

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Leadership in Action

Published in Nov-Dec 2021

Fauzia Kerai Khan reflects on the life lessons imparted in Nooyi’s new book 'My Life in Full'. 

My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future is the much-anticipated, intimate, inspiring memoir by Indra Nooyi, who served as CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo from 2006 to 2019. It is her raw and candid take on the opposing pressures and ensuing conflicts of working motherhood on her attention and time. This book will serve as an inspiration to young women everywhere and a reminder that they can balance work and family life and don’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other.

For over a decade, as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, Nooyi redefined what it means to be an exceptional leader. The first woman, a person of colour and immigrant to run a Fortune 500 company – a pre-eminent strategic thinker, endowed with consumer behaviour acumen and wisdom on running a global workforce, she is one of the world’s most favoured advisors to entrepreneurs, executives and governments. She is also highly regarded as a role model for women and immigrants and celebrated for her empowering messages on inclusivity.

At the iconic PepsiCo, she served as the Chief Architect of Performance with Purpose, steering the company’s mission to deliver sustained growth by making healthier products, limiting the company’s environmental footprint and empowering its associates as well as people in the communities it serves. She has been the recipient of the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honour, the US State Department’s award for Outstanding American by Choice, in addition to 15 honorary degrees.

My Life in Full offers an inside look into PepsiCo, detailing how she reinvented the company’s environmental profile without curbing financial performance – despite resistance at every turn. Grounded in lived experience, the book is an insightful narrative of a powerful woman who was determined to succeed and battled odds to rise in the ranks, while questioning the trade-offs she had to make, with grit, candour, and good humour. Nooyi describes the events that shaped her growing up in a middle-class Hindu Brahmin joint family household in Madras, (renamed Chennai in 1996) in the fifties and early sixties. She was a ‘tomboy’ – defying convention – yet, she had her parents’ support when she co-founded Madras’ popular all-female rock band, lived alone in Bombay during her internship at the Department of Atomic Energy, and moved as a single woman to the US to pursue a degree at the Yale School of Management. 

She narrates how she met and married Raj Nooyi, what made her join PepsiCo, the early difficult years when she resigned, and finally, what it was like to head one of the US’s most iconic companies for 13 years. She also talks about how her husband, Raj, also a high-powered executive, often put her career ahead of his and how her daughters, Preetha and Tara, lost something of their mother as she climbed the corporate ladder to the very top. She writes that struggling to always ensure that she was a good wife and a caring mother, yet giving her all to whichever company she was working for, was a part of her character, and which she could not change.

She recounts: “I wrestled with the ever-present conflicts of working motherhood. For 15 years, I kept a whiteboard in my office that only my daughters could write on or erase. Over time, that board was a comforting kaleidoscope of doodles and messages, a constant reminder of the people closest to me.”

But, as Nooyi eloquently argues, her story is not a call for women to simply try harder; rather, it is proof of the importance of organised care structures in all of our success. She makes a clear, actionable, urgent call for business and government to prioritise the care ecosystem – from skilled care networks to zoning policy, to paid leave and flexible and predictable work hours, each so critical to unleashing the economy’s full potential and helping families thrive.

“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.” She discusses how our society continues to sacrifice talent, rather than change how we organise work to maximise people’s potential to live full and productive lives. She makes a clear, actionable, urgent call for businesses and governments to prioritise the care ecosystem, paid leave and workplace flexibility, and a convincing argument about how improving company and community support for young family builders will unleash the economy’s full potential.

She describes her early years in PepsiCo where “white American men hold 15 of the top 15 posts.” She was the odd one out. She also talks about the early years which were not easy and, in fact, in 1996, two-and-a-half years after she joined, she resigned. She explains why and also what made her change her mind and stay on. However, once she settled in, there was no looking back. 

Nooyi recounts how for her mother, she was never the high-flying CEO of one of the US’s top companies, but instead a mother, daughter and wife with duties to perform at home. She recalls the day she became President of PepsiCo in December 2000, walking into the house bursting with excitement to share her success with her family. Her mother’s characteristic response was: “You may be the president or whatever of PepsiCo, but when you come home, you are a wife and a mother and a daughter. Nobody can take your place. So you leave that crown in the garage.” Before she even got a chance to tell the family her good news, Indra Nooyi was sent out by her mother to buy milk. 

This is a must-read for working women and the men who work with us, love us and support us. It also provides a road map for anyone who aspires to merge social change with leading a large organisation with the call to action for how our society can blend work and family – and advance women – in the 21st century.

My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future
By Indra Nooyi Published by Portfolio 320 pp, $28.00 ISBN 978-059-319-179-8

Fauzia Kerai Khan is Chief Executive, i&b Consulting, Training, eLearning.