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Cornell Johnson | Ms. Food Waste Warrior
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Stanford GSB | Ms. Future Tech Exec
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Georgetown McDonough | Ms. Air Force
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Stanford GSB | Mr. Sustainable Business
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Harvard | Mr. Healthcare Fanatic
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Stanford GSB | Mr. FinTech
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Executive Q&A: PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi at a PepsiCo-sponsored community event

P&Q: You’ve been able to reach the highest level of corporate leadership, all while maintaining a 37-year marriage and raising two children. Work-life balance is such an important topic for MBA graduates. What have you done that has enabled you to make it work?

IN: I like to say I did a lot of things right. The thing I really did right was I married the right guy! I have to tell you, the man is a gem. He’s patient, puts up with my long absences, and he’s willing to step in and pitch in for me when needed. He keeps me grounded. I don’t know how he does it. He has his own career, travels, and does his own thing, but we coordinate our schedules and somehow we make it happen. If I had to find one thing that has allowed me to do this, it would be my husband. I would give him all the credit.

P&Q: You’ve been with PepsiCo for 22 years now. What keeps you curious and passionate about both the company and the food and beverage industry as a whole?

IN: I’ve always been a curious person and I love this company. I think that ensuring that this company remains successful in the future in the eyes of our people and our shareholders is very important to me. I recognize that the world is changing. The only way that we will keep our company successful is if we change with or stay one step ahead of the changes happening in the world.

Somebody once said to me, ‘The distance between the number one and the number two is a constant.’ If you want to lift your organization, you have to lift yourself. That’s the only way it works. I know the onus is on me to go across the world. I ask the question ‘why’ multiple times to transmit and spawn that curiosity, passion and interest to the rest of the company. As I said, I love this company. If you don’t love your company, you cannot remain passionate about it. I honestly believe that if you treat your job as just a job, you just come and do your work and leave. I view this as a calling. I want to keep PepsiCo a very, very strong company. Today, it’s one of the best food and beverage companies in the world, if not the best. I intend to keep it there.

P&Q: Every organization has “unwritten rules” that new hires must heed to be considered part of the team and move up in their careers. Imagine you were counseling a newly-graduated MBA. In your experience, what are a few of the biggest unwritten rules that they must master to gain the confidence of their superiors, clients, and peers?

IN: Early in your career, put your hand up for the most difficult projects. People make the mistake of saying it’s early in my life and I just want a job: a cushy one, 9-to-5, take it a bit easy. I think early in your life, when you first enter a company, make a mark. People should know that you have arrived in the company.

Indra Nooyi with PepsiCo employees.

Along with taking on the most difficult jobs, learn from people around you. Don’t talk too much. Listen, observe, read, absorb —make sure in the first two years that you have made a significant contribution. People should be taking notice of what you are doing. While you’re doing that, don’t get political. Don’t start talking about your next job. Just do the job you’ve been given exceedingly well. Once you do that, believe me, everybody will notice you and want you. They will create that pull for you. People often create a push for themselves, but I would tell a young person to create a pull for yourself. And the only way to create a pull for you is to bring out your capabilities during the first two years.

You also need to demonstrate that you care about the company as opposed to, ‘What’s my next job’ or ‘When’s my next pay raise?’ I think too many people are worried about that and that really is a downer.

 

P&Q: In 2016, our partner, TransparentMBA, mined its data and found that PepsiCo had the highest job satisfaction among MBAs and MBA interns. What are some defining features of your culture that has produced such high marks?

IN: I think it starts with the roles people play coming into PepsiCo. We don’t treat them as a new employee.

Whether you’re an intern or a new MBA, when you come in the door, we say, ‘Here is a major project we want you to work on or here is a major piece of a project we want you to work on. Here are the 2-3 people who can guide you through this project.’ When we throw people into meaningful projects and make them feel they’re important in the company, it’s amazing how people rise to the occasion. People don’t come here to be paper pushers, they come here to make a difference in this company. They find that people around them want to help them and want them to succeed. If you have this whole ecosystem pulling for you and you’re given an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, people love it!

When they look at their colleagues and notice that everyone is equally excited, they know that it’s not just an isolated case. It’s a structure and philosophy within the company that has created an environment where the best and brightest are drawn into it and retained. I think that’s why our MBAs love coming to work at PepsiCo. I think the interns are the same. Every summer I speak to the interns. My goodness! They are so smart; they love being here; and when they go back to campus, they become our best PR agents because they are talking to everyone about what a wonderful experience they had at PepsiCo. That feels great!

P&Q: What other observations would you like to share?

IN: The one thing I would say to all MBA students is the following: You are privileged to go to an MBA program. It is an amazing program that opens your horizons and truly gives you a wonderful perspective on business. So view your MBA education as a privilege.

My plea to students is, if possible, do your undergraduate degree in anything but business. That’s because if you do an undergraduate degree in economics, science, physics, chemistry or biology, you’ll actually learn something very different. And then you’ll approach the MBA degree, which is really an advanced degree, from a completely different perspective.

Also, when you come to the MBA program, make sure that when you graduate you leave with a sense of responsibility to shape the way business is being operated in your sector and in the world in a more responsible and inclusive way.

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