Unconventional Wisdom from Indra Nooyi: EO Powerhouse Speaker

EO members share a collective Thirst for Learning — in fact, it’s one of EO’s core values. That thirst keeps entrepreneurs curious and open to new ways of operating that can improve both your personal and professional life.

EO’s Powerhouse Speakers Series is designed to give entrepreneurs exclusive access to inspiring thought-leaders and change-makers across a wide swath of industries. Powerhouse Speaker Sessions are free and open to the public. Recently, EO Queensland member Shivani Gupta led a Powerhouse Speaker interview with Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo. The session provided incredible insights into Ms. Nooyi’s groundbreaking career and life.

In 2006, Indra Nooyi became the first woman and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company, holding the top position in PepsiCo for 12 years and growing net revenue by more than 80% under her leadership. A renowned champion for diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, Indra Nooyi is the author of New York Times bestseller, My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future. The memoir offers insight and a call-to-action on how society can balance work and family in the 21st century while advancing women in the future. During EO’s exclusive Powerhouse session, Nooyi shared insights into her fascinating journey and the valuable lessons she acquired along the way.

Here are 6 takeaways from the Powerhouse Speakers session featuring Indra Nooyi:

1. Unconventional productivity hacks.

Nooyi self-describes as “insatiably curious”. Also, she doesn’t sleep much. While she wouldn’t wish that on anyone, she uses the extra hours in her day to advantage. At PepsiCo, she could work 19 or 20 hours a day, and now has the time to read long-form stories on issues that interest her rather than forming opinions from social media headlines. “For every issue I’m confronted with, I zoom in and understand the details down to very, very granular levels, then zoom out to see the big picture that this issue fits into,” she explains. “I zoom in and zoom out constantly, to really understand what levers to pull to make an impact.” She is not addicted to social media and advises that “If you cut down on viewing fun, senseless videos, you will save an hour or two a day. You’ll be amazed how you can go into depth on many, many issues with that time.”

2. Commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Nooyi’s tenure at PepsiCo brought a notable commitment to diversity. Her approach was to focus on hiring the best and brightest from the entire talent pool, resulting in a workforce that mirrored the diversity of their consumer base. “When you take off your blinders and look at the whole talent pool, you’ll end up hiring quite a diverse makeup of people,” she shares. “PepsiCo is such a great talent academy because we assess talent for the sake of talent, not based on background or gender or ethnicity.” That mindset contributed to the percentage of women in executive roles at PepsiCo reaching 39 percent during her tenure.

3. Revolutionizing women’s return to the workforce.

Nooyi’s passion for empowering women in the workforce is evident in her research on getting women back to work after having kids. “There’s an incredible talent pool who’s dying to contribute. But a lot of women drop out of the workforce because they also want to have kids.” As part of the solution, Nooyi advocates for paid leave, workplace flexibility, and accessible childcare. “You need childcare support, in some way, shape or form,” she insists. “Universal, quality, affordable childcare is very, very important for the competitive advantage of communities, cities, states and governments.”

Nooyi draws a thought-provoking analogy between childcare facilities and gyms:  “When men wanted gyms in offices, gyms were put into every office building. I think the time has come to look at childcare facilities like gyms,” she says. “Whether it’s in the office or within communities, just as we all race to the best gyms with the best trainers, the next race is to build the best childcare facilities with the best childcare workers so that we develop the next generation of young people in a profoundly positive way.”

4. The role of mentorship.

“I’m a product of fantastic mentoring through my entire life. I didn’t pick anybody to be my mentor. They picked me,” Nooyi says. “Good mentors pick you because they see something in you that they want to mentor. Good mentors are very secure, because their mentees could take their job.” Nooyi’s gratitude toward her mentors — all men in a male-dominated corporate environment — showcases the positive impact of mentorship in her successful career. “Mentoring is big. Finding people that believe in us, even though sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves,” she said. “The men who mentored me, every one of them is gold. Unselfish gold!”

5. Navigating gender biases.

As an immigrant, person of color and woman, Nooyi faced multiple biases in her corporate journey. She joined PepsiCo in 1994, and was named CEO in 2006. In those years, the workplace was not as diverse as it is today, and she experienced bias as a regular occurrence. “When people talked over me, rolled their eyes, or didn’t include me in discussions, I would figure out how to be even more valuable so they couldn’t do without me,” she recalls. “I did a lot more through the power of my work than anything else.” By making herself unforgettable and invaluable, she earned respect and recognition.

6. Legacy beyond corporate success.

Nooyi’s legacy extends beyond her corporate success, as evident in the pioneering concept of “Performance with Purpose” at PepsiCo. Her commitment to linking purpose with performance left an indelible mark on the business world. In her post-PepsiCo life, she gives back around the issues that inspire her. “I’m deeply driven by purpose. I give back to young people, students, helping them build confidence and come into their own,” she says. She teaches at universities, sits on various boards including Memorial Sloan Kettering and the National Gallery of Art, and remains a solid advocate for paid leave and childcare in her sought-after lectures. “I’m busier now than I was even in PepsiCo, but I’m loving it.”

Want more of Indra Nooyi’s lessons on leadership, resilience, and the holistic definition of success? EO members can log in to the EO Learning Platform to view the entire Powerhouse Speaker Session through 8 February 2024.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey Inspirational


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