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Indra Nooyi: A Study in Effective Leadership

by Lea N. Bishop,CEO,Women's Professional Network

On May 25 the WPN will host a workshop “Sustainable Leadership: Navigating Personal and Professional Boundaries in the Workplace”. Curious about leadership styles, I researched literature on the topic and decided to focus on an outstanding woman business leader, Indra Nooyi, for the following article.

Theories abound on the topic of leadership and the most effective leadership styles. There is an extensive collection of books and workshops claiming to teach the ‘best’ techniques to aspiring leaders. Yet the simple truth is that there is no one style that works for everyone. Our experiences and our own characteristics determine the style that best fits our personal strengths and varied situations.

This article deals with the leadership style of one widely recognized business leader, Indra Nooyi. Although mentioned previously that leadership is not ‘one style fits all’, I think it is important to understand some of the components of Ms. Nooyi’s leadership, first, because of her career success and, second, because some of these components are common to many successful leaders. The key to making them relevant to our own careers is to adapt them to our own personalities and situations.

For 12 years Indra Nooyi was the CEO of PepsiCo, Inc., the largest food and beverage company in North America. Her responsibilities included all aspects of PepsiCo’s global business which represented 44% of the company’s revenue and included Frito-Lay, Starbucks, Quaker Foods, Pepsi Cola Co., and Tropicana. Over these 12 years, PepsiCo’s revenue grew from $35billion to $635billion. During this time she saved the company from a major crisis by implementing a leading-edge healthy lifestyle approach which was heavily criticized by PepsiCo insiders. She removed unhealthy ingredients across product lines, introduced new diet options, and withdrew certain products and rebranded others. Her accolades include being named by Fortune magazine as #2 on their ”Most Powerful Women in Business” list, one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”, and #2 on Forbes’s list of “20 Most Powerful Women in International Business”.

According to Inc. Magazine: Indra Nooyi “had a steadfast focus on realizing healthy profits, while utilizing a solid moral compass to lead the way. It’s a brave and bold leadership approach that advocates doing the right thing – even when it’s easier or faster to do otherwise.”

What was the leadership style of such a successful businesswoman? Certainly her intelligence and hard work played a role in her success. Encouraged by her parents to always sharpen her mental skills and to work hard at whatever she did, she received a degree in physics, chemistry and math followed by an MBA. However this was just one facet of a combination of characteristics that, together, led to her continued success as a corporate executive.

I think some of the most integral components of Ms. Nooyi’s leadership style include:

- Integrity - Creative innovation - Courage and confidence - Calm, balanced composure - Expert communication skills - Welcomes feedback but challenges assumptions - Lifelong learner of new technologies and trends - Ability to build a culture of trust and support - Focus on developing others to make the most of their talents - Willingness to work together with the team but ready to make the tough decisions - Advocate of multicultural inclusion - Respectful of the opinions and experiences of others

After stepping down as PepsiCo CEO in 2018, Ms. Nooyi joined the Board of Directors of Amazon and is the Chair for the Study of Leadership at West Point. She has also authored a book titled “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future”. Ever mindful of the balance between career and personal life, upon retiring, she advised her PepsiCo colleagues “Think hard about time…Make the most of your days and make space for the loved ones who matter most…I encourage you: be mindful of your choices on the road ahead.”

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