Indra Nooyi’s Inspiring Life Story Is Proof That Impossible Is Nothing

Indra Nooyi was born Indra Krishnamurthy on October 28, 1955 in a conservative middle-class family in Chennai, then called Madras. Her father worked as an official of the State Bank of Hyderabad.She studied at the Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in Madras. Indra always speaks of the influence her mother has had on her values since child.

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Indra’s mother, who was a housewife, did not go to college as her parents thought girls should not study and it was too expensive. So, she always encouraged Indra and her sister Chandrika to “Dream Big” (Think Bigger). She even made a pact with her daughters that if their grades were not good, she would get them married at 18. This pact motivated the sisters to get good grades. Also, Indra’s mother would every night after dinner ask the girls to give speeches. She would tell them to pretend to be the Prime Minister, President and Chief Minister and give a speech. She would then critique the girls and in the process public speaking Indra and her sister were given the value of feedback and importance of expertise (Confident You, The Presenter In You). Indra’s sister Chandrika is a Grammy nominated musician.

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With her parents’ encouragement, Indra studied physics, chemistry and mathematics from Madras Christian College from where she graduated in 1974. During her college days, Indra says, she played the guitar in a rock band and seriously played cricket in an all-women’s team.  Being a brilliant student, Indra earned a seat in prestigious IIM-Calcutta, from where she completed MBA in 1976.

Her first job was with Tootal, a British textile company which had extensive holdings in India. Eventually she moved to Johnson & Johnson as a product manager. Her job with Johnson & Johnson was quite a challenging one as she was responsible for managing the introduction of Stayfree sanitary napkins to India. At that time advertising for feminine hygiene products was banned in the country and Stayfree was struggling to gain a foothold. Indra managed to introduce the products to young women by directly marketing to female students at schools and colleges.

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Her experience at Johnson & Johnson made her realise that she was still unprepared for the business world, and thus decided to pursue further education. She recalls that she decided to join Yale School of Management in 1978 after reading about it in Time magazine. She reportedly went to Yale with just $500 and a scholarship and pursued a master’s degree in Public and Private Management.

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It was unheard of for a good, conservative, south Indian Brahmin girl to do this,” Indra explained to Sarah Murray in an interview to Financial Times. “It would make her an absolutely unmarriageable commodity after that,” she added.

But Indra’s parents were very encouraging and purchased her ticket to send her to Yale. To fund her studies at Yale, Indra started working as a receptionist from midnight till sunrise. With her hard-earned money, she purchased her first suit that she would famously wear to her very first Interview after her Masters at Yale in 1980. She got rejected at the interview because she wore trousers which reached her ankles. Dejected, she turned to her professor at Yale who advised her to wear what she felt comfortable in. At the next interview, she wore a sari and got the job!Indra worked at the Boston Consulting Group as a director of international corporate strategy projects and worked their for six years before joining Motorola in 1986.

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At Motorola, Indra was made the senior executive in the automotive division development team. She quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to vice president and director of corporate strategy and planning in 1988.She changed her job yet again in 1990, this time accepting the post of senior vice president and director of corporate strategy and strategic marketing at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB). This job required Indra to integrate a group of around 15 diverse businesses into a cohesive operation.She proved to be a great success at this job and by the mid-1990s, she was aggressively being courted by corporate head-hunters and offered lucrative positions in some of the world’s largest companies. In 1994, Jack Welch, the head of General Electric, and Wayne Calloway, PepsiCo CEO, both offered her jobs.Indra joined PepsiCo in 1994 as senior vice president of corporate strategy and development and as they say the rest is history.

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Indra’s leadership style and her values are Indian and she draws a lot of inspiration from her mother.  Indra says her mother treats her like her daughter at home and not the CEO of Pepsico. Indra always recalls the day, she was made president of Pepsico. She says that when she came home excited to break the news to her family. The first thing her mother said was “The good news can wait. Go and get milk for the next morning.” When she returned with the milk, she slammed it on the kitchen table and told her mother “By the way, I have been appointed the president of Pepsico”. Her mom coolly responded, “You may be president of Pepsico, but you must leave that crown outside the house. Here you’re just a daughter, wife and mother”. Indra has started a practice in Pepsico to send letters of praise to the parents of senior executives, thanking them for the values they instilled in their children that has made them such star performers.

At Magnum Opus, we believe that our values make us.  Magnum Opus means creating masterpieces – As a leadership brand we are committed to creating masterpieces in organisations. Our exclusive progammes like Authentic Leadership DevelopmentMindfulness, Think Bigger and The Confident You and Be the One, create revolution from within through introspection and internationally-approved content.

“Greatness does not come from a position or a title, but from
helping build the future,”
Indra Nooyi’s vision.

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