INDRA NOOYI – The Business Leader and Strategic Thinker Who Transformed PepsiCo

“No business can ever truly succeed in a society that fails.” ― Indra Nooyi


Indra Nooyi shattered the glass ceiling with her rise to become the first woman of colour and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company.[1] Her achievements at PepsiCo have marked her out as an outstanding strategist and leader. She spent twenty-four years at PepsiCo and is credited with growing the American multinational food and beverages company’s net revenue by more than eighty percent during her tenure as CEO.  Her initiatives strengthened PepsiCo’s commitment to environment sustainability and  improved the healthiness of its food offerings. In June 2023, Forbes estimated Nooyi’s net worth at $350 million.[2]

Nooyi’s amazing journey from Madras in southern India to the zenith of the corporate world in the United States is one that inspires many. 


Roots in India

Indira K. Nooyi was born on 28th October 1955 in Madras (now called Chennai) in the south of India to a close and devout Hindu family.  She has an elder sister and a younger brother. Indra describes her family as a ‘traditional family living in a multigenerational home’ and although they were not wealthy, they lived comfortably and had invaluable stability[3].  Her family was ‘supremely focused on education’ and so were keen on educating the women in the family, something that was uncommon in mid-twentieth century India.  

Her mother, Shantha, instilled in Indra and her elder sister, Chandrika, respect for their teachers, admonishing them to revere their teachers as ‘gods’. Indra recounts that often at the dinner table, Shantha “would ask us to write a speech about what we would do if we were president, chief minister, or prime minister – every day would be a different world leader she’d ask us to play”. 3

Indra had her secondary education at Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, a few kilometres from her home and then proceeded to Madras Christian College (MCC) from where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics in 1974.  She played guitar in an all-girl rock band and was an avid cricket player too.  After a tough admission process, Indra began an MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta (IIM Calcutta) in August 1974. She was pushed towards IIM Calcutta partly by her sister, Chandrika, who having spent her days at Holy Angels and MCC with Indra did not want Indra following her to Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad (IIM Ahmedabad). “I need a break from you – don’t you dare apply to IIM Ahmedabad!” Chandrinka had warned Indra.3

After graduating from IIM Calcutta, Indra worked with Mettur Beardsell, a textile firm owned by a UK-based company, Tootal, and then subsequently with Johnson & Johnson’s Bombay (Mumbai) office. At Johnson & Johnson, she took on the difficult challenge of marketing Johnson and Johnson’s Stayfree brand of sanitary pads. This was particularly difficult in the late 1970s India when such a product was not advertised and many retailers were reluctant to stock them.[4]

A Shade of Difference

When her sister, Chandrika, decided to leave Madras for IIM – Ahmedabad, their parents had been reluctant to allow an unmarried woman to travel that far for studies and were insistent on her marrying before leaving for college. Their mother had declared that she would fast until death if Chandrika was allowed to leave for Ahmedabad. Their grandfather’s intervention saved the situation. In many ways Chandrika was a trailblazer for Indra – her attendance of the distant IIM Ahmedabad paved the way for less resistance to Indra’s decision to attend IIM Calcutta. In August 1978, at age 23, Indra was leaving unmarried to study in a place thousands of miles away. This was not an easy decision as she recalls in the Financial Times January 2004 edition: “It was unheard of for a good, conservative, south Indian Brahmin girl to do this. It would make her an absolutely unmarriageable commodity after that.” 4

After reading an article titled ‘A Shade of Difference’ in the September 1976 edition of the Newsweek magazine, Indra felt the article was speaking to her. She wanted a life in global business – a different shade of what she was doing at that moment. The article was about Yale University’s new business school. In 1978, Indra gained admission to Yale School of Management in the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management.

After graduating from Yale in 1980, Nooyi worked with the Boston Consulting Group for six years managing international corporate strategy projects.[5]  From 1986 to 1990, she worked with telecommunications company Motorola, serving as Vice-President and Director of Corporate Strategy and Planning. She subsequently worked for power and automations company, ASEA Brown Boveri, as Senior Vice President for Strategy and Strategic Marketing.



Leading PepsiCo

Nooyi sees the fundamental role of leaders as looking for ways to shape the decades ahead and helping others accept the discomfort of disruptions to the status quo.3 She demonstrated this leadership at PepsiCo.

Her journey with PepsiCo began in March 1994 as Senior Vice-President of Corporate Strategy and Planning overseeing major restructurings during her first years. She played a major role in PepsiCo’s acquisition of Tropicana Products in July 1998 and its merger with Quaker Oats Company in 2001.[6] 

She rose through the ranks at PepsiCo serving as Senior Vice-President, Corporate Strategy and Development; Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer; President and Chief Financial Officer; Member, Board of Directors, responsible for Corporate functions. Indra Nooyi was appointed President and CEO in August 2006 and Chairman in 2007.

To reposition PepsiCo for success in the decades ahead, Nooyi introduced her guiding strategy, Performance with Purpose (PwP). She introduced PwP to rethink PepsiCo to provide consumers with healthier products and to promote environmental sustainability.[7] PwP was aimed at delivering excellent financial performance and three important goals: Nourish humanity and communities, Replenish the environment and Cherish the people at PepsiCo (Nourish. Replenish. Cherish.).

PwP tested the resolve of Nooyi as she faced resistance from some of the shareholders of PepsiCo but she remained resolute and it defined her leadership of PepsiCo. PwP influenced major decisions as well as minor decisions. For example, to show that she cherished the workers at PepsiCo, she wrote hundreds of personalised letters and notes over ten years to the parents of senior executives thanking them for raising their children well to become excellent workers at PepsiCo. She sent similar ‘Thank You’ notes to the spouses of her direct reports.

PwP influenced major decisions such as redirecting the company from junk foods to more healthier foods.[8] PepsiCo reduced the sugar content in its products and also ended the use of trans fats. It introduced recyclable packaging and new processes to reduce water consumption.[9] In 2012, PepsiCo won the Stockholm Industry Water Award for conserving nearly 16 billion litres of water in 2011.[10]

Nooyi is renowned for her strategic thinking and is credited with growing the revenue of PepsiCo’s from $35 billion in 2006, when she became CEO, to $63.5 billion by 2017.[11] The market capitalisation of PepsiCo rose by $57 billion dollars between 2006 and 2018, when she stepped down. She is also praised for mainstreaming design thinking at PepsiCo to drive innovation in the company[12].

The many initiatives implemented by Nooyi at PepsiCo were hugely successful and the company continues to benefit from them years after her exit – she shaped the decades ahead. Her achievements have made her a celebrated business leader.

In an interview with Morgan Stanley in 2023, Nooyi advised business leaders that “You don’t inherit leadership. You earn the stripes to be a leader. Leaders have to inspire everyone in the organisation to follow them.”[13] Indra earned the stripes with her achievements at PepsiCo and has a global following.

 The Value of Family

Nooyi sees family as a powerful source of human strength and has often touted the family she created with her husband, Raj Nooyi, as her proudest achievement. Indra was introduced to Raj by an Indian friend and after a few weeks of dating, they decided to get married. After four decades of marriage, Raj and Nooyi still debate who broached the subject of marriage. Raj and Indra have two daughters, Preetha and Tara.

Before joining PepsiCo in 1994, Nooyi had in direct conversations with Jack Welch rejected job offers from  GE (General Electric) because the offers were going to require her to move away from her family. She rejected an offer from the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant, Monsanto, for the same reason. Nooyi chose to join PepsiCo in part because its headquarters was close to her home and it would take her fifteen minutes to drive to her home, and to her children’s school, from the office.

Indra in her autobiography – My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future – recounts an occasion where her mother reminded her of the paramountcy of family and her role in it. She had just been informed of the decision to appoint her as President of PepsiCo and she drove home eager to tell her family. She was however met on arrival by her mother ordering her to go out and get milk. When upon her return she complained about her mother not being interested in hearing about her appointment as President of PepsiCo, her mother replied, “You may be the president or whatever of PepsiCo, but when you come home, you are a wife and a mother and a daughter. Nobody can take your place.  So, you leave that crown in the garage.” 3

The importance of family and providing the right conditions for work-life balance underpinned many of the major decisions she took as CEO. It also drives her efforts to find solutions to the work-life conundrum. The family support structure – mother, uncles, aunts and in-laws – she had around her allowed her to work full-time. These family members supported with the care of her daughters.[14]



Achieving Work-Life Balance

As a trail blazer for women at the very top, Indra has been a strong advocate for the creation of the right work environment to promote women’s financial independence and security.[15] She has been rallying businesses and governments to provide conditions that allow families to thrive.[16] In her view, companies need to see child care and elder care as business issues.[17] In order to create a healthy work-life balance, she has proposed a three-pronged approach focusing on paid leave, flexibility and predictability, and care.[18]

She has campaigned for a minimum twelve weeks paid maternity leave for mothers (primary caregivers) and eight weeks paid paternity leave to be made available across the United States.  She has been pushing for the extension of paid leave to workers caring for sick family members. Indra is a beneficiary of these paid leaves. In January 1983, she was granted a 6-month paid leave by the Boston Consulting Group to enable her return to India to care for her ailing father. She ended up taking only three months but credits the gesture as saving her career as she did not have to choose between family and career. In her own words, “In many ways, it’s only when you have experienced this benefit yourself that you can truly realise its critical importance.” 3

The second prong focuses on providing workers with work flexibility—including opportunities to work remotely—and predictability in work schedules, especially for shift workers.

The third prong concerns the provision of quality, safe and affordable care infrastructure for children and the elderly. Again, Indra exemplified this at PepsiCo by resisting scepticism to spend $2 million to retrofit a floor at PepsiCo’s headquarters into a childcare facility, PepStart.[19]

Community Service

Since Nooyi’s retirement from PepsiCo‘s board in 2019, she has been focusing her efforts and attention on community service. For her it is no longer about “achieving anything. It’s about giving back—as so much was given to me—to my community, the state, the country.” 1

In 2019, Nooyi was appointed co-director of Connecticut Economic Resource Centre to help improve the state’s economic development strategy. Nooyi and fellow Yale graduate Dr. Albert Ko were chosen to represent Connecticut on a six-state body  in the U.S. tasked with designing a plan for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.[20]  In 2021, Indra and her husband Raj Nooyi donated $3 million dollars to Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) to establish the Raj and Indra Nooyi Professor of Public Health to help position YSPH as an international leader in public health science.[21] She has made several donations to Yale and is one of her  alma mater’s largest alumni donors.

She was the co-chair of AdvanceCT, a Connecticut based non-profit organisation, from 2019 to 2021.[22] She joined the board of Amazon in 2019.[23] Nooyi also joined the Board of the International Cricket Council as its first independent female director in June 2018.[24]

 Recognition and Awards

Indra Nooyi has received numerous awards and recognitions over the years. She was elected to the Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008[25] and was elected chairperson of the U.S. – India Business Council in January 2008. In 2009, she was named CEO of the Year by the Global Supply Chain Leaders Group and was named every year from 2008 to 2017 on Forbes’ list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.[26] She was winner of Academy of International Business (AIB)’s The International Executive of the Year award in 2016.[27] In 2021, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in the U.S.[28]  In 2019, Indra was honoured with a portrait at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.[29]

She has received honorary doctorate degrees from many universities including her alma mater (Yale University),[30] New York University[31], Duke University[32] and University of Warwick[33].



Indra Nooyi’s journey to the pinnacle of corporate America and her accomplishments at the top is one of the most remarkable stories about overcoming challenges with hard work and determination, no matter one’s origins. It is one that motivates many to strive for success in work and family life. When Nooyi stepped down as CEO of PepsiCo in 2018, after 24 years, she shared with staff some of the lessons that had guided her throughout her career. These lessons are worth repeating and are summarised below:[34]

  • Always have a clear, compelling vision for what you want to accomplish
  • Focus on the short-term and the long-term
  • Bring people along with you
  • Be a good listener
  • Be a lifelong student
  • Think hard about time–make the most of your days.


[1] retrieved 29th January 2024

[2] retrieved 29th January 2024

[3] Nooyi, Indra. My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. New York, Penguin, 2021

[4]  Encyclopedia of World Biography “Indra Nooyi Biography’’ retrieved 29th January 2024

[5] retrieved 29th January 2024

[6] Tempest Lynsey “ How Indra Nooyi changed the face of PepsiCo” World Finance retrieved 30th January 2024

[7]  retrieved 29th January 2024

[8] Novak, David (September 12, 2018). “Follow Indra Nooyi’s example: Be a leader people want to follow”. Retrieved January 30, 2024. 

[9]  retrieved 29th January 2024

[10] retrieved 30th January 2024

[11] retrieved 29th January 2024

[12]  retrieved 29th January 2024

[13] retrieved 29th January 2024

[14] Burke, Louise. “How I made $290 million while raising two children” The Telegraph 3rd October 2021

[15] Indra Nooyi: The Indian executive who broke the glass ceiling in corporate America”. The Economic Times. August 7, 2018

[16] retrieved 29th January 2024

[17]  retrieved 30th January 2024

[18]  retrieved 30th January 2024

[19]  retrieved 30th January 2024

[20] retrieved 30th January 2024

[21]  retrieved 30th January 2024

[22] retrieved 30th January 2024

[23] retrieved 30th January 2024

[24] retrieved on 30th January 2024

[25] retrieved 28th January 2024

[26] retrieved on 30th January 2024

[27] “International Executive of the Year Award”. Academy of International Business (AIB). Retrieved 30th January 2024

[28] retrieved 31st January 2024

[29] retrieved 31st January 2024

[30] retrieved on 30th January 2024

[31] retrieved on 28th January 2024

[32] retrieved on 30th January 2024

[33] retrieved on 28th January 2024

[34] retrieved on 30th January 2024

50 Inspiring Living Leaders

This 50 Inspiring Living Leaders series highlights current influencers who are succeeding in leadership, integrity, family or entrepreneurship in whatever field and exhibit most, if not all, of our values of PELÉ. We value people, growth, particularity, excellence, success, authenticity and significance. These stories are largely written in terms of growth, success and significance in leadership, integrity, family and  entrepreneurship. While we do our best to receive personal references about each leader, most of our research and writing is based on literature review of publicly-available information. As authorities in leadership, we are fully aware that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and leaders may have their flaws, but we choose to celebrate these inspiring living leaders for their achievements outlined in our series. Having said that, should you happen to have any incontrovertible evidence that any of our featured leaders does not fit our bill of an authentic leader, please write to us at Our vision at PELÉ is a flourishing global ecosystem of authentic leaders characterised by healthy growth, holistic success and lasting significance.


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