Time magazine has described her as a ‘world class leader.’ Fortune magazine has named her the most powerful woman in business in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. She has graced the world’s 100 most powerful women list alongside the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Sonia Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton. And, over the past seven years, Indra Nooyi has overseen a team of 300,000 people worldwide as one of her many responsibilities as the Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi Co International, a company with over $60 billion in annual revenue.
Often times when we hear of success stories like Indra’s, we don’t think about the challenges they encountered en route to their present place on the corporate ladder. And yet without these challenges, and the lessons learned along the way, these stories would not exist. So what exactly can we take away from the story of the woman who was recently invited by U.S. President Barack Obama to be part of his wider consultations on the current economy?
1. Work harder than the person next to you.
Indra broke the glass ceiling when she joined PepsiCo in 1994 as the Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development. She knew getting the job was one thing while staying there was another. As she once said, “If you want to reach the top of a company, I agree that it can only happen in the United States, but you have to start off saying that you have got to work twice as hard as your (male) counterparts.
Ever since I have been in the work life, I have always used a simple rule: Whatever I did, I had to produce an output that was so much better than what somebody else did. So I would work extra hard at it. More hours, yes. More sacrifices, yes. This is the only journey I know. I don’t know what it is to have the cushy life and go home to watch 6:00pm news.”
2. Be a life-long learner.
Regardless of age, one should never stop learning, and such learning should not be restricted to academic knowledge, but be supplemented with street smarts and being aware of matters and issues in the real world. There is something to learn from every situation. It is important to keep that natural curiosity and Indra describes in her present job, of going on “market tours and walking the grocery stores, for at least half-a-day, a week” to understand the competition.
Indra has learned how to learn, and therefore is in a position to solve problems quickly. “One of the most important things for a leader is to identify their own core competency. In my case, my core competency is my ability to be able to demystify any complicated problem. I continuously strive to enhance that core competency. “
3. Never hide what makes you.
Indra worked as a receptionist from midnight to sunrise while she was studying in Connecticut to earn money and struggled to purchase a western suit for her first job interview out of Yale, where she had just completed her master’s degree in management. She was not comfortable wearing a formal western outfit to interviews. Not being successful at the interviews, she asked her professor at the school for guidance. The professor advised her to “be yourself” and stick to what she would wear if she were to be in India. Indra wore a sari for her next interview with Boston Consulting Group. She got the job and has followed this philosophy for the remainder of her career. She has never tried to change her basic beliefs, derived strength from her traditions and believed in who she is. As she says, “I’m so secure in myself, I don’t have to be American to play in the corporate life.”
4. Pursue what your heart desires.
“To be a CEO is a calling. You should not do it because it is a job. It is a calling and you have got to be involved in it with your head, heart and hands. Your heart has got to be in the job, you got to love what you do, and it consumes you. And if you are not willing to get into the CEO job that way, there is no point getting into it. And I love the job, I love the company, I love the people. I loved it when I was president and love it as much as CEO today.”
5. Have an extended family at work to achieve balance.
Indra has a unique to approach to work-life balance. She believes that you must have an extended family at work to achieve balance and everybody at the company is there to help in every way possible. When Indra was traveling on business, her daughter would call the office to ask for permission to play Nintendo. The receptionist would know the routine and ask: “Have you finished your homework? Have you had your snack? OK, you can play Nintendo for half an hour”. She then left a voice message for Indra saying “I gave Tara permission to play Nintendo”. This is unheard of in most corporations. However, it speaks to the team Indra has built at PepsiCo to achieve balance.
Image courtesy of: Businessweek.com.