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By Kerry-Ann Hamilton
Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing
University Communications
October 3, 2011      
PepsiCo CEO Shares Candid Perspectives on Life and Leadership

PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi visited Howard University on Monday, Oct. 3, for an executive lecture in the School of Business Auditorium. Photographs by Justin D. Knight.

WASHINGTON – PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi spent Monday morning at Howard sharing life lessons and recounting her uncharted path to success as a woman, a person of color and as an immigrant.

More than 200 students, faculty and staff convened in the School of Business auditorium for the CEO executive lecture. Yuvay Meyers, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, joined Nooyi on stage for an Oprah-style one-on-one interview covering a range of topics from life to leadership.

The audience followed the interview with a Q&A session. A smaller group of honors, international and graduate students were treated to an intimate roundtable with the top exec about career, sources of inspiration and work ethic.

Nooyi told the future leaders about the “Cs” she lives by.

“To be a leader, you must be competent at something; be courageous and confident; be able to communicate; be consistent, do not go with the wind and have a moral compass that points true north,” she said.

Nooyi is both personable and professional. Ranked among the most powerful people by Forbes, she is the architect of PepsiCo’s multi-year strategy. The busy executive reads several books a week, keeps up with the Yankees, and cooks for her family on the weekend – all with the BlackBerry within reach. PepsiCo is the world’s largest portfolio of billion-dollar food and beverage brands, including 19 separate product lines that generate more than $1 billion in annually.

Nooyi, a former college rock band member and cricket player, admits that the sought after and elusive work-life balance is a challenge at best under the pressure of “ungodly work hours.” But she encouraged students to “create their own version offun.”

“Mrs. Nooyi did not provide cookie cutter answers, but provided insight into the pitfalls of managing life as a CEO and a mom,” Meyers said. “Our students gained great lessons and advice about being successful leaders with integrity.”

Students were also implored to become owners, not employees at their respective firms.

“I don’t work for PepsiCo. I am PepsiCo,” Nooyi said. “If you are a janitor in a firm, zoom out and see your role in the enterprise, then zoom in and be the best janitor possible.”

Young business leaders were told to look at people two to three levels above them in a firm. “Study how they speak, carry themselves and how they manage…You don’t want to obsess about the next job. Nail the job you have first.”

She added, “You want to be aware of the politics in your organization, but don’t play into it.”

As a global company with more than 185,000 employees in 200 countries, Nooyi said she is committed to community and company.

“I truly believe in capitalism with a conscience,” said the Indian-born American. “I grew up without running water and remember my parents having to get water when city valves opened at 2 or 3 in the morning. We filled every pot in our home and got our ration of water for the day.”

Today, as a leader of PepsiCo, she takes prides in the corporate commitment to providing two liters of water for every liter of water used in a developing country. The corporation also trains farmers on irrigation and agricultural best practices to maximize water use and minimize waste.

“I was intrigued by her extraordinary presence,” said senior psychology major Nykeeba Brown from Mandeville, Jamaica. “What resonated with me the most was her humility and that she has not forgotten her humble beginnings as a girl in India and her appreciation of the seemingly small aspect of her world.”

Born Indra Krishnamurthy in Madras, now called Chennai, Nooyi joined PepsiCo in 1994 as a chief strategist. She was named President and CEO in October 2006 and assumed the role of Chairman in May 2007. She earned a bachelor of science from Madras Christian College, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and a Master of Public and Private Management from Yale University.

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