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Yahoo Finance Presents: Former PepsiCo Chairman & CEO Indra Nooyi

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On this episode of Yahoo Finance Presents, former PepsiCo Chairman & CEO Indra Nooyi sat down with Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi to discuss her new book, "My Life in Full." She talks about her drive and passion for her work, starting from the bottom, her childhood and upbringing, and being an early woman in a leadership position. She also discusses her advice to women, return to work at the office, corporate burnout, and the rivalry between Pepsi and Coca Cola.

Video Transcript


BRIAN SOZZI: Indra, I apologize. I've been up all night finishing your book, "My Life in Full." I've read it from the front page to the last page. To me, it was a story in perseverance, dedication, extremely hard work. I'm very curious on what you learned about yourself sitting down and writing the book.

INDRA NOOYI: I learned about perseverance, grit, hard work. When you are doing it, Brian, you know you're working hard. But you don't realize how hard you're working and all the trade offs you're making. And you just don't realize what you're doing. Because you're just caught up in the moment. And then when you do get a chance to do something like this, as reflective as this, as writing a book, putting it all together, you sort of get tired and say, man, what did I do with my life? I just went from project to project, job to job, assignment to assignment.

And even when I could take time off, the way I was wired didn't let me do it. Because writing the book, I think in some part saying, I don't know why I'm wired this way. I'm just wired where I have to figure out the next place I can give back and the next place I can give back. So writing this book was cathartic in a way because it made me engage in a journey of discovery. And it also talks about what it takes to become the head of a large company. It's not easy. It's a lot of training. But training is not a formal training. It's a training that you have to develop yourself, not knowing where you're going.

You've got to train yourself when you get to the top. Then you have to stay there. Tougher than getting trained to reach the top.

BRIAN SOZZI: Indra, I was reading the book. And I couldn't help but wonder, I was worrying about your health. Even though these stories are 10, 15, 20 years old, I'm like, Indra needs to get some sleep. I hope you are getting some sleep now. One line that stood with me out of everything in this book, you wrote, quote, "I had no idea how to stop working." Why is that? And where do you think that came from?

INDRA NOOYI: No. No. I think back and my grandfather was such a big force in my life when I was a kid. Always used to say to us, if we sat idle for just a minute, he would say, Satan has work for idle hands. Don't just sit quietly. Do something. Read a book. Do some work. If you don't have anything, I'll give you a project to do. So I think it started there at his feet. But I have trouble not digging deep into something all the time. So I could be reading a beautiful book about contagion. I was reading a book and pretty soon I'm reading the footnotes and going off to research the footnotes.

And then you go, why am I doing this? Then you realize, nobody asked me to do it. That's who I am. That's who I am. And this is the whole issue of zooming in and you get into an issue to be able to really understand it before you zoom out and start thinking about therefore what. I think it's a skill more and more. I'm coming around to saying some of these things we might want to talk to the Association of Business School Deans and teach in business school curriculums because they're so useful any time in life, zooming in, zooming out, creating pictures from seemingly unconnected dots.

How do you do something future back? I think these are all skills we can teach.

BRIAN SOZZI: Yeah, very much I would say lost skills in this environment where we're just moving so quickly. I do want to go back to your childhood a little bit. How did your upbringing shape you in those early days as you started climbing that corporate ladder?

INDRA NOOYI: Remember, I came from a family where we didn't know what corporate life was about. In our community at that time, everybody worked for the government or the bank, steady job, 9:00 to 5:00, or 8:00 to 5:00, 8:00 to 4:00. And nobody worked on weekends, but there was a steady, steady, steady life. And my sister going to business school, it was the first breakthrough for our family in terms of thinking about a corporate life at all. She broke the mold in every which way. And the door opened to this whole corporate world. And that's how we all inched our way into corporate India and then corporate America when I came to Yale and then started to work at the Boston Consulting Group.

The only thing that my early upbringing did for me, it gave me the ability to dream. Because in our family, they said women and men should dream equally. We're not going to hold you back. And so it gave me the ability to soar and be whatever I wanted to be. It was a family that believed in helping, coaching, training, tutoring, mentoring. Everybody was educated in the family. So they kept driving us to higher levels of performance. All that helped.

And when my mother sits at the dinner table and said, what would you do if you're going to be prime minister? Well my grandfather says, if you're not going to do something to change the world, there's no point doing it. You realize that these things go deep into your DNA and you become a product of all of this teaching from a very young age.

BRIAN SOZZI: The corporate world you entered, it was very different compared to what we know today. There were really no women in leadership positions. In those early days, what was it like for you to be in these important meetings and not see people such as yourself in those meetings?

INDRA NOOYI: Well that's interesting because I had almost no women peers, almost no women bosses. I would say no women bosses. And I was different, immigrant, person of color, woman. I had every quote, "strike" you could think of against me. So when I'd walk into any room of power, remember I didn't start in the boardroom. I worked my way up. In the early days, when I was at BCG consulting to clients, I'd walk in, I'd be the only one of its kind walking into that room.

And I'd feel like I was in a hole. I always felt like I was being viewed as somebody that there's a big question mark as to why she's there. What is she going to be able to tell us? So I would over prepare, overanalyze, over learn the subject matter so that I was an expert. And I felt that. I needed that to dig out of the hole and then contribute. Little did I realize then, but now I realized later on that people didn't put me in a hole. They accepted me for who I was. And they were amazed that I worked so hard and really contributed to the company, or wanted to contribute to their company.

And so that stood me in good stead. In a way, that immigrant mentality, that feeling of what am I doing here, propelled me to learn more, contribute more, get into the details, fly high, do all that stuff.

BRIAN SOZZI: Did fear drive you at all?

INDRA NOOYI: Yeah, fear of failure. I always was afraid that I would let my family down, let myself down, and by inference when people say, people from India are not very [INAUDIBLE]. So I felt like I had the weight of the country, my family, my own self. Now nobody told me that they would say that. But I just assumed they would say that. So all of that drove me, not in bad ways, but it just drove me to do better, and better, and better.

BRIAN SOZZI: A lot you talk at length about juggling the demands of corporate life and your family. And you mentioned in the book that now you look back and you do feel some sadness on how you weren't there for your children in their early days of development. How do you reconcile that to who you are today? Do you spend more time with them? Is there a way to make up for that lost time?

INDRA NOOYI: But let's go back. I grew up at a time, or at least I came into the corporate world at the time, and had my children at the time. And we didn't have the technology. We didn't have the FaceTimes and the Zoom and none of those technologies, texting. None of that existed. So there was no way for me to really keep in touch with my kids on a regular basis except through the landline telephone. In today's world, you can keep in touch with them all the time. And they text me 10 times a day, which I love. And when they don't, I get worried.

And so I think in today's world, technology has brought us much closer, which is great. And my only regret is that we didn't have these tools when I was coming up the corporate ladder and the kids were young and growing up. I still did the best I could, Brian. I was the one mother. When my kids had a tiny headache or a small sprain in the leg, I was always the first person to the school saying, how's my child doing? And at critical moments, I was always there for them. So we all have this perfection gene. We'd like to be perfect at every role we do, perfect defined by ourselves.

We want to be the perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect daughter, and the perfect executive. Not possible. Only 24 hours in a day. It's not possible. So in my case, I just slept less because I couldn't sleep much. Somehow, I tried to do everything I could to be as good as I could be in each of these jobs. Did I have regrets? Whenever there are trade offs, whenever you come to a fork in the road and you have to pick one thing, there are regrets and tradeoffs. But that's par for the course. And those regrets happen for women and for men. So it's all par for the course.

BRIAN SOZZI: And you had a great support system from your family members. Even you had a neighbor who helped develop or just take care of your kids get them to where they needed to be if need be. What do you tell those who don't have that same experience today? The women who have now because of the pandemic, they're at home. They're dealing with school issues, they're dealing with they're still working now remote. How can they overcome these challenges?

INDRA NOOYI: So that to me lands on the moon shot. Because I honestly believe that during the pandemic, many, many women left the workforce because they just didn't have the ability to juggle family, and work, and in the absence of childcare being the primary everything for the family. It's just too much. Family became a source of incredible stress, not strength. And many of these young family caregivers were single mothers, which is a single parent, which added to the burdens of the family.

So I come back and say, yes, I was lucky. I had multigenerational families support. I had neighbors, I had friends. I mean, I cultivated all of them. They just didn't fall from thin air. I cultivated all of them. And whatever stresses and strains go with multigenerational living, I was OK with it. It's just something we had to cope with. I think in today's world, we have to create those family structures, either through community networks, or through organized care support structures. This is why to me, an organized childcare sector is going to bring more to the people who left the workforce back to the workforce. They all tend to be predominantly women.

And the biggest crisis we have today is the cost of care is too high when it's available. Most of the time, it's not available. And even when it is, the quality of the care is not good enough. We have to address this on an urgent, urgent basis. Because we have an acute labor shortage. And a lot of the labor shortage is not shortage of people to show the people who can come to work. Because they don't have an alternative.

BRIAN SOZZI: Sure. I was reading a new McKinsey survey out. And it's discussing burnout, the burnout crisis among women executives. What role should big business be playing and help solving that? And I mention this because all I hear a lot from big business right now, we have to return to the office. But I'm not seeing necessarily the protocols to pull this off successfully.

INDRA NOOYI: I can understand why big business would like to return to the office. Because contrary to what we all thought, we need soft skills to develop. We need skills on teamwork, how to solve a problem together, how to figure out what the corporate culture is and move it forward. All of that requires face to face interaction. So I can very well understand why people want people to come back and the employees to come back. On the other hand, it's like a pendulum swinging, Brian. We went from all remote. Now many people are talking about everybody come back.

It's going to rest at some point, which is some sort of a hybrid system. What cannot happen in the hybrid work environment is there are two classes of citizens, that those that come to work get treated with more attention than those that don't. Then you're back to saying everybody better come to work or else. So I think the next six months to a year is a period of experimentation. People are going to figure out what's the best working environment for them. And if people want to come in three days and be working from home for two days, how do they work it out in their family so they can get help for the other two days?

So I think we should wait and see over the next six, nine, 12 months. Everybody is going to experiment. And let's hope there isn't another variant that shuts us down. Because you don't want faith in the system to be shattered. I think if we can get through the next six to nine months, there's going to be good return to the office, good renewal of urban cores, and advancements in technology that allow us to have near office experience from our home computers. All are coming.

BRIAN SOZZI: Indra, I could sit and talk to you about this all day. But I did want to ask you a couple just fun things before I let you go. Let me [INAUDIBLE] around the horn because I waited very long time to talk to you. How intense is the rivalry between PepsiCo and Coca-Cola?

INDRA NOOYI: I always look-- I looked at this industry and said, the beverage industry has got two phenomenal companies. More than two, but the two that are there are both phenomenal companies. Big, global, iconic brands focused on quality, offer a lot of jobs, it's just two phenomenal companies. The big difference is that PepsiCo and Coke are not direct competitors. PepsiCo is a much broader company.

BRIAN SOZZI: Which you mention in the book.

INDRA NOOYI: Yes, absolutely. Yes.

BRIAN SOZZI: You did an analysis in there.

INDRA NOOYI: Much more diversified company. But you cannot take away the romance of Pepsi versus Coke. The romantic rivalry. Without that, who will have material to teach about great competitors? There's not enough there. So you need to have a Pepsi versus Coke for business schools to teach the great rivalry. So go for it.

BRIAN SOZZI: As someone who has followed your career for so long, Indra, I can't recall a time you've actually said Coca-Cola out in public. We'll leave that for a different day. We'll take that offline.

INDRA NOOYI: The red company.

BRIAN SOZZI: Last but not least, you are clearly not retired. You have an office, you're working very hard, you're on the board of Amazon. Do you want to be CEO of another company at some point? Or do you see yourself with a role in government at some point?

INDRA NOOYI: Not both. I think I'm just enjoying all the different things I'm doing. I've got this one shot I want to take on, which is to bring together all the people that we're working on support of young families, not just females, support of young family builders and progressing women in the workplace. And I'd rather work with them to move this agenda forward. Because so many women and young family builders ask me this question about how do we do it? How do we advance? And I think it's time that people like us who are in seats of power who can now convene and talk about these issues and move thinking and academic research to action, we ought to do that.

So that's what I want to do the next few years. And I'm going to have a purposeful, fulfilling time doing that.

BRIAN SOZZI: Well, I hope you get some rest. It's well deserved. You play some tennis. You finally get some more exercise, which you talk about in the book. And I will say this. I know you did 75 PepsiCo earnings calls. I still miss seeing you on those earnings calls. I will say that.

INDRA NOOYI: Oh, Brian, I miss you too. Let's keep in touch.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right. Thank you so much. You're so generous with your time. I appreciate it.

INDRA NOOYI: Pleasure. Thanks, Brian.

BRIAN SOZZI: Thanks, Indra.