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April 16, 2013

Indra Nooyi---From a night time receptionist to chairman of PepsiCo Inc.

Indra K Nooyi is the India born US citizen, who is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo. Though, PepsiCo is known largely for its Pepsi soft drinks, it’s basically a global empire comprising of many brands under its belt.  The famous brands of PepsiCo include popular Tropicana juice, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, IZZE beverage company, SoBe lifewater, Doritos-brand chips, and Quaker Oats cereals. So, Indra Nooyi is not only one of the top business leaders in the US, she is also the   No. 1 Indian woman in the corporate world in the US.

Early life Nooyi was born in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India in a middle-class family in 1955.  It was unusual for a woman to exert herself in those days, but Nooyi was no ordinary girl.  In her school days, she broke all the rules and became a part of all-girls cricket team, besides taking part in many extracurricular activities such as playing guitar in a female rock band, etc. After graduation, she joined IIM Calcutta, which was just one of two management schools in India that offered full-fledged MBA program.

Nooyi joined the Indian operations of a UK-based textile company, followed by a brief stint at Johnson & Johnson in Mumbai as brand manager.  She had a challenging assignment of promoting Stayfree, which was just introduced in Indian market at the time and it had virtually no market share as people were not used to using a branded napkin.  As a marketer, it was a challenge to first create the awareness and culture before promoting the product to the masses; also because, at that time it was considered a taboo in India to advertise such type of protection.

Nooyi realized that her preparedness to face the challenges of business world was inadequate.  So, she planned to go to US for further studies in management and joined Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in Connecticut in 1978.  This was quite unexpected for a young female from South India, as people didn't prefer to marry a girl, who had spent some time of her life in the US studying and staying alone in the “pervert” culture.  But, according to her, she is an emotional person and her emotions prompted her to go for further studies.

Appearing in prestigious interviews in the US without a business suit Nooyi was from a middle-class family, so it was financially not easy for her to survive in New Haven, Connecticut.  She had a tough time studying at Yale, as despite the financial aid, she had to do a part-time job as a receptionist in the night to meet her living expenses.  She had no money to buy new clothes, and therefore she spent a few months in her part-time job in a sari.  She used to wear a sari instead of a business suit even during some crucial interviews to hire management school students, because she had virtually no money to buy clothes.  She had to undergo a course in effective communications as part of the MBA program at Yale, and according to her, the content was invaluable to her as back home in India, communication was the least important aspect of business studies at the time.

Pepsi vs. Coke war Pepsi vs. Coke war is one of the oldest and most highlighted corporate wars of America. The infamous fight between the two giants is for a whopping $60 billion soft-drink market.  This war is as old as early 20th century, when the two soft drink giants came into existence.  Though, Pepsi entered the international market three decades later in 1950s after Coca-Cola, which became global in the 1920s, Pepsi swept the international market in the 70s, when it started its operations in erstwhile Soviet Union.

The famous “cola wars” began heating up after 1975, when Coca-Cola launched the product "New Coke," which was similar to Pepsi Cola, but the idea was not welcomed by Coca-Cola customers.  Coca-Cola is considered to be the market leader for carbonated colas, whereas Pepsi has a larger presence in the food industry.

Second corporate innings in the US after getting a management degree from Yale

Nooyi completed her master of public and private management degree from Yale in 1980 and the first job, she bagged was with a consulting company called the Boston Consulting Group, BCG.  She supervised many global corporate strategy projects during her six-year stint at BCG before joining Motorola in 1986.  In 1990, she joined as head of strategy, Asea Brown Boveri Incorporation, ABB.  It was a Swiss Swedish venture that made power plants and industrial equipment all over the world.  At ABB, she did so well in the American market that she started being noticed by the corporate honchos.  Sooner, she found herself faced with the dilemma of choosing between two offers: the first from none other than Jack Welch of General Electric and the other from Wayne Calloway of PepsiCo.  The PepsiCo offer was well pitched and therefore Nooyi joined as its chief strategist.

Unforgettable performance at PepsiCo She focused on reshaping the brand identity of PepsiCo and soon became an influential leader inside the company, and in 1997, separated its restaurant division.  She also implemented various strategies, the rival Coca-Cola was implementing in order to become profitable and perform better on the stock market.  It sold its $2.3 billion bottling operations in a public offering in 1999.

She took many strategic decisions to put Pepsi on the right track and bought many brands such as Tropicana Orange Juice, Quaker Oats and SoBe, beating Coke in almost every deal.  Her impressive skills led her to become CFO of PepsiCo in 2000 and this was the highest rank in corporate America, any India born female had ever achieved.  Her next promotion was to the title of president in 2001.  By the time, PepsiCo was a great food empire selling a huge range of snacks and beverages, including Capt. Crunch cereal to Mountain Dew and sports drinks.  The next brands on the buying list of PepsiCo were Aquafina bottled water and Doritos snacks.


Indra Nooyi found herself in the middle of a controversy in 2005, when she likened the United States of America with middle finger.  It was interpreted that the US was giving the middle finger to the rest of the world and entire country saw red over this remark.  However, PepsiCo issued a clarification, citing that the remark was to emphasize the leading role of the US in the world affairs. She also successfully handled the allegations of pesticide-contamination in Pepsi and Coke soft drinks in the Indian market and a resulted ban on Pepsi in many states.  

A top corporate visionary There is no doubt that she is one of the top corporate visionaries of America.  Nooyi was honored among the global business influentials rankings of the Time magazine in 2003.  Despite all her success, she's a devout Brahmin, who performs regular prayers.  Contrary to the fear of not being accepted by Indian men for marriage, she's successfully married to Raj, a management consultant.  The doting mother of two daughters is still passionate about music and performs on stage at company events.  She's a workaholic and sometimes she keeps strategizing 24 x 7.  At present, PepsiCo has more than 20 brands with annual revenue of more than $20 billion in sales.  The annual net revenue of PepsiCo is around $65 billion and its chairman Mrs Nooyi is the chief architect of its astounding growth.

Tags : Indra Nooyi, the global business influentials, PepsiCo, Coke, Coca Cola, the cola wars, Tropicana juice, Frito-Lay, Gatorade, IZZE beverage company, SoBe lifewater, Doritos-brand chips, Quaker Oats cereals.

About Nashaat Quadri

Freelance Content Writer (Compare Infobase, New Delhi.) Ex Sr Content Writer, Western Software, New Delhi. Ex Relationship Manager, Mashreq Bank, Dubai.