5 powerful career habits that drove her to success
February 01,2021

Indra Nooyi - Pepsico CEO - 5 powerful career habits that drove her to success

Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi spent more than 24 years with the company and always has been an inspiration to people and women in general around the globe.

Born in our homeland India, she is one of the handful of people of colour who run an S&P 500 company. During her 12 year tenure as the chief executive, Nooyi was instrumental in transforming PepsiCo into one of the most successful food and beverage companies worldwide. She had an eye for product packaging and pushed healthier snacks and beverage options that led to an 80 percent sales growth during her 12 years.

In 2014, she was ranked at number 13 on the Forbes list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women, and was ranked the 2nd most powerful woman on the Fortune list in 2015. In 2017, she was ranked the 2nd most powerful woman once more on the Forbes list of The 19 Most Powerful Women in Business.

Here are some of the traits and habits she used to help steer her career

1. Imagine you are the president

When Nooyi was a child in India, she and her sister used to play a very unusual game.  At the dinner table her mother would ask her daughter to imagine what they would do if they were the prime minister, or the president or any other world leader. By the end of the dinner the girls would say a speech and the mother would decide who won.

Though their mother instilled  many traditions, she also encouraged them to be whomever they wanted to be. “She gave us that confidence,” Nooyi said.

This simple game builds her confidence. Later as she attended Yale school of management she said men would doubt her abilities and even refused to make eye contact. She pushed through all that and was assured in her own skills and abilities.

She’d say to herself, “I can do this better than anyone else can,” she explained at a 2015 talk at the 92Y in New York. She added, “If everything else fails, they’re going to come to me and say, ‘Fix it,’ because I know I’m that good. Remember, I could be president of India!”

2. Think like your customer/client

Nooyi oversaw more than 26,000 employees globally and was in charge of more than 100 products. During her first few weeks she would personally go to stores weekly so she could see how the products would look on the shelves.

 It's very important to look beyond an individual project or an assignment to its overall purpose or mission which would focus and inspire you. It would ensure that you are building solutions that people need.

“I’m not just a CEO,” Nooyi added. “I’m also a consumer.

3. Develop a Niche Skill

Identify your specific talent and skill and then hone it. When any issues arise people should automatically think of you as a sole person who can solve it.

Nooyi relies on her skill to use research to simplify complicated issues. “Somebody gives me a complex problem and I become a student. I don’t care that I’m CEO, or president, or CFO. I became a student.”

As CEO, she made the tough decision to overhaul PepsiCo's IT system. To understand the technologies and what was needed, she read 10 textbooks cover to cover over her holiday and had professors on call to answer her questions. This legwork didn’t just make her more informed and help her clearly identify the right solution, it helped her overpower skeptics who were hesitant to make a change.

4. Be strong

Nooyi was anxious when she turned from a CFO to a CEO. “There was a lot of anxiety when I took over”.

Her charge for healthier food choices for instance, initially received some push back. But Nooyi stayed with her strategy for the company. The New York Times said that half of PepsiCo’s revenue comes from healthier snack and drink products. 

Stick to your gut, when your instinct tells you to go with something stick to that.

 5. Surprise with gratitude

Once after her promotion as CEO she has visited her mother here in India. During her stay many visitors congratulated her mother on her success. That is when she realized that parents of great workers rarely get recognised for the person they helped raise.

After that trip Nooyi wrote more than 400 letters to her parents and her senior executive expressing her gratitude. Many parents responded saying they were honored.

It’s important to take time to acknowledge those who support you and show you that you value their time and effort and don’t take it for granted. An act of kindness can make people more likely to help you to reach your goals.

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