INTERVIEW | ‘I Live the Great American Dream’, says ex-PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi tells Medha Dutta Yadav that her recent memoir is her way of paying it forward and how she  has used her life as the backbone to tell the story
 

Published: 03rd October 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd October 2021 07:20 AM   |  A+A-

Indra Nooyi (Photograph by Dave Puente)

Indra Nooyi (Photograph by Dave Puente)

Your book starts with countless happy memories of your childhood. What is that one memory you hold closest to your heart?

Well, I kept thinking about this even while I was writing the book. And the thing that hit me the most was that “we did not have much, but we still had a lot”. When you don’t have too much, you don’t have the infection of affluenza. You take joy in the little things of life. You had so much, because you didn’t have so much.  

You write: Family is the foundation and the force that has always propelled you. Could you expand on this?

My upbringing was marked by a strong framework within the home. I think having a stable roof over your head is very important. I view that as a very important base. Second is, the entire family came together to parent us. The elders were all collectively responsible for the kids. They all leaned in. There was no excessive praising or expression of love. But they were always around. My grandfather was the tough guy—a loving disciplinarian. Some people ask me: Did you ever have fun? Well, fun is a relative thing. And for us, the definition of fun was different. I think all of that was very, very useful.

My Life in Full: Work, Family, 
and Our Future
By: Indra K Nooyi
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 334
Price: Rs 530 (Hardcover)

While growing up, who or what has been your biggest management teacher? Your mother, girl scouts, or debating?
I don’t think there was any one biggest teacher. It’s only in retrospect that you learn how important even the smallest lessons were. For example, I learnt about pitching a tent in my girl scouts days. That small thing actually taught me about teamwork. It taught me how every single person mattered in making sure the tent stayed up just right.

Besides your trailblazing professional career, you also had many unlikely first-ever achievements—part of the first-ever cricket tournament and rock ‘n’ roll band. Tell us more.
I was always a bit of a tomboy. It was one of those things when you sit back and think if the guys can do it, why can’t the girls? Today, I really don’t know from where I got the courage and the confidence to do something like that. Also, surprisingly my peers—both girls and boys—jumped on to the idea. The girls wanted to play cricket and the boys were more than eager to train us. Also, in the early 70s, everybody wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. So, it was defiance, it was adventure, it was breaking boundaries, but within the framework. 

Had your sister not gone to IIM-Ahmedabad, would we have had Indra Nooyi, the celebrated CEO?

Probably, not. I always wanted to be my sister. She blazed all the trails for me. She laid the tracks and also, since we were so competitive with each other, it gave me the impetus to follow her trail, and try and do it better. I owe her a debt of gratitude. Also, my parents knew that the moment they gave my sister, Chandrika, permission to do something, they were implicitly giving me permission. So, yes, my sister fought all the battles for me.

From The Great Gatsby to The Death of a Salesman, the ‘Great American Dream’ has been a theme in many works. As an immigrant, how real is the concept?

I live the ‘Great American Dream’. I am the story of the great American dream. When I came in as an immigrant from an emerging market, I came in with nothing. This country with all its aspects embraced me wholly for what I could contribute. I’m grateful to the largest democracy and the oldest democracy. I’m the person that shows that democracy can do wonders.

In one word, how would you sum up your life?

I would say ‘magical’. Every bit of hard work was worth it. Every experience helped me discover and learn more. It has been a completely amazing experience. 

“I was always a bit of a tomboy. It was one of those things when you sit back and think if the guys can do it, why can’t the girls? Today, I really don’t know from where I got the courage and the confidence to do something like that.” 

My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future
By: Indra K Nooyi
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 334
Price: Rs 530 (Hardcover)



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