I’m in awe of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India: Indra Nooyi

Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on September 28, 2021

Former Chairman & CEO, PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi   -  Dave Puente

Former Chairman & CEO, PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, on the start-up culture in the country, and on her time at the global corporation

Indra Nooyi, former Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo Inc, spent 24 years in the global soft drink and foods corporation, 12 of them as CEO. Her memoirs, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and our Future, published by Hachette India, is just out.

In an interview preceding her book launch, Nooyi, speaking from her home in the US on Zoom, talks about her years in PepsiCo, on the start-up environment in India, and offers advice for leaders in a post-Covid world. Excerpts:

You talked a great deal in your book about your credo at PepsiCo: performance with purpose. So does this continue at the corporation, or has it veered from the path of the values of nourish, replenish, and cherish, that you have written about?

I had set the framework and started the company towards that. The company is actually doubling down on certain areas. The amount of work that is going on in environmental sustainability is spectacular. The focus on zero calorie products is also spectacular.

I think that every CEO should put their own mark on the company. But if you look at the new CEO’s umbrella strategy, it is still winning with purpose. So it is taking performance with purpose to a whole new level. I am proud of what Ramon (Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo CEO) is doing with the company.

What would you say were the decisions that influenced the course of PepsiCo the most from your time as CEO?

I think over the 25 years of time at Pepsico, the world around has changed. The nature of the competition changed, consumer taste changed, government focus on nutrition and health stepped up. So many things changed in the environment.

I honestly believe that companies should anticipate where the consumer is going and make the changes. The whole articulation of performance with purpose was because I sensed the entire market globally was going a certain way.

People wanted to, and at many times told to, eat healthier, and appropriately so. Environmental issues were becoming major, whether it was plastics or water use. I grew up with water shortage in Madras. To me, water was very personal. So we had to do something about it. People are what make us successful. How we treat people as assets, not tools of the trade, was also very important.

So over my time at PepsiCo, I could see, CEO after CEO, how we were making changes in response to all of these trends. When I became CEO, I just accelerated the changes.

I think every CEO of any company should do everything future-back. Anticipate where the world is going; you can’t make changes overnight, so make the changes for the changing world in a gradual way so you can still deliver performance but retool the company for a future that’s going to be different. If you didn’t do that, you’ll be disrupted. You’ll become a non-factor in the corporate world.

The past one-and-a-half years have been pretty unprecedented for the world. What would your advice be for business leaders in this context?

We have come out of a most destructive period. I think that this time should have given everybody a moment to reflect, on what they want society to be. What do they want the support structures to be for families? What do they want the role of companies to be? How should they work with governments?

Because, I think at the end of the day, these moments of disruption should force people to sit back and say should a new kind of company emerge where companies and governments and non-profits work closely together to improve societies.

Because governments can’t really do everything. That’s why you have big corporations. You have NGOs and various other entities which support government. And, I think the time has come for us to think about a genuine public-private partnership.

What is your view on the business environment in India today?

I think it’s changing and I think India has come a long way. I’m in awe of the entrepreneurial environment in India, how many start-ups and the valuation they’re commanding. I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and I advise some of them. I must say they’re brilliant, they are driven by a sense of purpose; they’re also driven by a desire to cash-up. I think we have to build enduring companies for the country.

I think that the country has to come to terms with its posture regarding FDI. Is there going to be a consistent framework to think about FDI? Are companies going to be consulted when changes in laws happen? India is a very desirable destination, with lots of talent and understands capitalism.

But India can also be a frustrating country to do business in. I think the government is working on this. What’s the best way to operate in the country for the benefit of the citizens of India at the same time provide foreign direct investors a framework within which they can operate in a way that doesn’t sort of jerk the morale. This is very important.

Published on September 27, 2021

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