Indra Nooyi’s leadership qualities
“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader” - Indra Nooyi
You can read these words as a two-sentence quote on being a leader. Or you can read these words as a leadership anecdote coming from the woman who PepsiCo Inc., the second biggest F&B company in terms of revenue, answers to. And the one, who is the second most influential CEO among woman in business globally, according to Forbes. In the first scenario, these words do have a meaning. But in the second scenario, these words attain a more significant meaning. Who would want to discount leadership wisdom coming from one of the gurus? So, let’s dissect some of Indra Nooyi’s leadership mantras and see what makes her the person of power, by virtue of which she is the person in power.
• The 5 ‘C’s of leadership to deliver the big ‘S’uccess: Competence, courage, communication (skills), confidence and (moral) compass make up her 5 ‘C’s. All these reflect in her decision-making and with some serious degree of success. o She knew she had the competence to help an ailing giant back to its feet and running again. She took a courageous marketing decision that she had the confidence to pull off in the long run (taking a health-conscious stance on her product line). Initially, she had her detractors in industry analyst and shareholders. Her biggest opposer being Nelson Peltz, an activist investor campaigning for splitting Pepsi and Frito-Lay into two separate entities. But seeing her stance generate favorable results over time, industry analyst and shareholders tamed their stance against her. And Nelson Peltz backed down, too. Instead, settling for a neutral nominee in the board (former Heinz CEO Bill Johnson). To quote Steve Reinemund, Indra Nooyi’s predecessor as PepsiCo’s CEO on this, “She proved again that the strategy was right and tenaciously articulated it.”
- She changed PepsiCo’s culture and made in more top-down (streamline communication). Before her, PepsiCo functioned as a decentralized company, with managers assuming independent roles and responsibilities. But she wanted to listen and talk to everyone, “The top needs to know all the pieces. And the top better really get into the details. [Otherwise] you won’t know what questions to ask. You won’t understand these people when they come to you and say it’s too hard to do something.” o (Moral) compass made her exercise strong emotional intelligence in taking her calls during the economic slowdown, when she was appointed CEO. She had the choice of posting profits in the short term by implementing swift changes and cost cut-downs and walking away. She chose not to and looked for a sustained future, “Look, this is my company, this is my living, my livelihood. And 300,000 people in PepsiCo depend on PepsiCo for their life and their livelihoods. There are pensioners and investors out there who are hoping PepsiCo will remain a successful entity forever.”
• “Performance with purpose” is her slogan and she swears by it: She wants her company to maintain two balance sheets. Both where assets out value liabilities. One, to provide returns to investors and stakeholders. The other, to provide returns to the environment. That’s her whole idea behind performance with purpose. Put in verbatim, “In 2010, PepsiCo made a promise that for the next ten years we will deliver sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for our consumers, our planet, our associates, our external partners and the communities we serve. That promise is the cornerstone of our “Performance with Purpose” mission. While continuing to build a portfolio of foods and beverages, we are committed to finding innovative ways to reduce the use of energy, water and packaging while providing a great workplace for associates. In fact, we design our business plans to ensure that the work we do and the investments we make have a positive impact on society. We will respect, support and invest in the communities where we operate by hiring local people, creating products designed for local tastes and partnering with local farmers, governments and community groups.
A healthier future for all people and our planet means a more successful future for PepsiCo. This is our promise.” What’s debatable is, “are good leaders born or made?” What’s clear is that good leadership is a difficult act to master. That’s unless you know how to turn your values into valuable leadership qualities. Just like Indra Nooyi.
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