Real Leaders

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Born in Madras, India, the future CEO of PepsiCo grew up conservative and middle-class, studying physics, chemistry, and math. Her determination to study in the U.S. brought her to Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in 1978. 

Despite financial aid from Yale, Nooyi worked nights as a receptionist. She went in for interviews wearing a sari because she “had no money to buy clothes.”

But she persevered and finished her degree, moving on to the Boston Consulting Group before joining PepsiCo in 1994. Since then, she has been a major part of reshaping the Pepsi brand, overseeing major acquisitions like Quaker Oats and Tropicana, and becoming CEO in 2001. 

Nooyi’s strategic redirection of her company has been largely successful. She reclassified Pepsico’s products into three categories: “fun for you” (such as potato chips and regular soda), “better for you” (diet or low-fat versions of snacks and sodas), and “good for you” (items such as oatmeal). Her initiative was backed up with ample funding.

She moved corporate spending away from junk foods and into the healthier alternatives, with the aim of improving the healthiness of even the “fun” offerings. In 2015, Nooyi removed aspartame from Diet Pepsi, furthering the shift towards healthier foods

She has consistently ranked among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. In 2014, she was ranked 13 in the list of Forbes World’s 100 most powerful women.


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