Visionary Women In Business: Indra Nooyi (CEO, PepsiCo)

It’s hard to imagine anyone living a modern city or town not having enjoyed at least one product from PepsiCo. With a product portfolio that ranges from fizzy drinks to snacks and health drinks for athletes, it’s hard to be left out.

However, not everyone is aware of the visionary CEO who drove PepsiCo from a near-obsolete brand grappling with multiple problems into a futuristic brand that’s giving its peers a run for their money. Especially for leaders and change agents in organizations, Indra Nooyi’s approach to business offers a few significant lessons.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Indra Nooyi’s visionary leadership saw a massive shift in PepsiCo’s business approach

Pepsico’s re-emergence as a health conscious brand: a study in Uniqueness 

Indra Nooyi took charge as the CEO of PepsiCo in 2006. Her ascendance came after a string of successful years for the global beverages giant. However, in terms of future prospects, things were not looking well for PepsiCo.

For one thing, the company was facing significant regulatory pressures on some of their most selling products. Also, their products were not getting as many consumers as it used to in the North American market. To make matters worse, sales of PepsiCo products in some of their major American customers took a hitting.

Nooyi had two options in front of her. The first was a quick-fix approach with which she could help the company generate more revenue for the next few years and make an exit. The second option involved the harder task of steering the company in an entirely new direction- one which would lead to a sustained, long-term growth.

Nooyi opted for the latter.

Her strategy was to introduce more products under  the PepsiCo brand for the health-conscious consumer. This decision was at least partially influenced by a string of town hall meetings she had with the employees soon after she became the CEO. In the meetings she found that many employees wished to work for a firm that was ‘good’- which creates products that would benefit the consumer.

This shift towards healthy foods didn’t mean that the ‘fun-for-you’ category of products- including sugary drinks and roasted chips was abandoned. Rather, it meant expanding the product portfolio to suit the lifestyles of more customers.

The more ‘health-oriented’ PepsiCo was a strategy which saw many detractors and skeptics. But eventually, the company rebounded and is now ahead of many of its peers.

Nooyi’s ability to see a scenario or an organization with a fresh pair of eyes is the ability of uniqueness. It’s an ability that’s hard to find in modern leaders but which Nooyi apparently has in spades.

Design thinking as transformation strategy: the power of Vision

One of the more ingenious things Nooyi did as a CEO was to use design thinking as a strategy for transformation.

Following this vision, in 2012, Nooyi roped in the legendary designer, Mauro Porcini to be the company’s very first chief design officer. Earlier, Porcini helped 3M become a smarter brand with his unique approach to design.

Imagining that design thinking implies just package redesign would be a mistake. In Nooyi’s vision, it involved a rethiking in everything from the conception of a product to how it’s displayed in the store to how the consumer interacts with it.

For instance, while men are comfortable popping the crumbs at the bottom of a chips packet straight into their open mouth, women might feel uncomfortable doing that. So, when designing products catering to women, the product design has to take this into account.

With Porcini’s aid, dramatic changes were made in the products, even leading to introducing new products in the market. More than a cosmetic makeover, this gave the brand the ability to retain customers who found their products suited for their lifestyles.

This was possible only because of Nooyi’s personal vision for a design-led transformation. Such a strong vision helps leaders see their organizations through challenging times.

The Temenos Vision Lab or TVL is a session developed with over 25 years of business consultancy experience. Incorporating psychological insights, guided by some of the best transformation coaches, TVL helps leaders realize their True personal Vision so they could lead with confidence.

An upcoming TVL for women

This process is made possible with the Influence Maps- a proprietary tool developed by Temenos+Agility. Incorporating the steps of Personal Mythology, Clean Slate, Personal Vision and Compelling Shared Vision, it helps individuals realize their True Personal Vision and a team their Compelling Shared Vision.

Leaving the crown in the garage: the art of balancing different selves

Like any mother would to a married daughter, Indra Nooyi’s mother also gave her a piece of advice for striking  work-life balance. Her advice was to leave the “crown” in the garage once she returned home.

Balancing different selves- marital, professional, social et all is something Nooyi endorses

The crown in question is the pedestal of leadership designations like CEO bestows on a person. The gist of the advice is to realise that the once you are home, you are no more the boss but an equal partner in a relationship.

Nooyi says that the advice has stood her in good stead. Married to Raj K. Nooyi, President,AmSoft Systems, their marriage is 37 years long and still going strong.

Evenly divided childcare responsibility among two parents may not be realistic. But Nooyi is of the view that some amount of sacrifices on either side would go a long way in balancing the different selves of our beings.

It is invigorating to see someone of Nooyi’s stature taking time to speak so openly about the idea of balancing the different selves- be it between professional, personal or social selves. Though it’s an aspect intrinsic to life, it’s still something that doesn’t form part of our public conversation.

In the present age especially- when professional commitments are more demanding than ever before, it is hard to make space for our different selves. You could learn more about that particular art- if that is the right word in this blog entry.

Indra Nooyi is stepping down as CEO of PepsiCo this October. Her work with the company leaves quite a legacy behind- the firm’s share growing by 78 percent during her tenure being just one grand aspect. Temenos+Agility applauds this visionary leader.

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