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India Inc hails Indra Nooyi: PepsiCo boss will leave behind a great legacy that generations will remember

Sulekha Nair
In August, the Board of Directors had unanimously elected Ramon Laguarta, 54, to succeed Nooyi, 62, as Chief Executive Officer

News that PepsiCo's India-born and educated CEO Indra Nooyi will step down has taken boardrooms across the globe by surprise. A career-focused and enterprising CEO who worked almost seven days of the week, Nooyi is credited with turning PepsiCo from just a carbonated drinks seller to a health foods company.

Under Nooyi's leadership, the food and beverage major's revenue grew by more than 80 percent. It added a new billion-dollar brand almost every other year, the company said in a statement, on Monday, which also announced Nooyi's decision to part ways with a firm she often refers to as family. PepsiCo "developed new design and eCommerce capabilities, a business which generated $1 billion in annual retail sales last year," the company said.

PepsiCo is the second-largest food and beverage company globally and her admirers credit that success to Nooyi. And her decision to step down has shaken the world of women CEOs, because, soon, only 24 women CEOs will remain at Fortune 500 companies.

Biocon Ltd. boss Kiran Mazumdar Shaw told Firstpost that Nooyi will leave a big void in many ways 'including in the sphere of women business leaders'. Shaw said "Nooyi did prove emphatically that she was one among equals in a male-dominated CEOs world."

Nooyi, 62, will step down on 3 October, 2018, after a 24-year stint with PepsiCo Inc. She will remain as chairman until early 2019.

An area that interests Nooyi is to help more women move into the upper echelons of management, a PTI report said. "In many ways, I think after stepping down as CEO I can work with other women to figure out how to get them to c-suite positions and as a mentor and supporter," she said. There is a need to focus on removing barriers to women's progress, she added.

Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairman, India Advisory Board, Advent Private Equity, said Nooyi's willingness to mentor CEOs would be 'fabulous'. As someone who has seen her championing the cause of women, Kidwai said Nooyi has, in whatever positions she has held, encouraged and hired women. "There was no soft approach to women employees but she actively encouraged them," Kidwai added.

One conversation doing the rounds is how the pool of the top women CEOs will shrink with Nooyi stepping down. There were only 25 women in the Fortune 500 list of CEOs across the globe in 2017. Nooyi was ranked fourth. "Now there will be one less among the 25," said Geetha Kannan, MD, Anita Borg Institute €" a not-for-profit organisation whose primary aim is to recruit, retain, and advance women in technology.

Nooyi, one of the world's most powerful and influential business leaders, said leading PepsiCo has been the "honour" of her lifetime, and that she is "incredibly proud" of all that the company has done over the past 12 years to advance the interests of shareholders and stakeholders.

Kannan said there are very few 'women' role models in business and to lose Nooyi leaves a 'huge black hole'. "We don't have role models of the kind of Nooyi. I am sure she must have the feeling of been-there-done-it-all but I would have liked her to continue for a few more years," she said, adding that everyone who worked with her, the PepsiCo management and its stakeholders were happy with her.

Nooyi has over the last 12 years served as the CEO of PepsiCo. Among the few executives to break the glass ceiling in corporate America, Nooyi  also created history by being among the few India-born women to lead a global giant when she took over the reins at PepsiCo.

Kidwai says that she is not surprised that Nooyi is stepping down. After all, she worked as the CEO for 12 years. "You serve 12 years in the US where there are very few who have such long tenures. The job is full of pressures and Nooyi not only survived it but came out with flying colours which is huge."

Mazumdar Shaw seconded that and said, "Nooyi belongs to a cadre of exceptional global business leaders. She leaves behind a great legacy at PepsiCo that generations will remember. She was the role model of all professional women."

Referring to the aphorism that all good things must come to an end, Kidwai also said that there is no need for one to 'hang on to these positions'.

Nooyi's legacy is far greater than her leaving, said Seema Sindhwani, a professor of strategy at the Indian School of Business (ISB), adding that Nooyi always said that fresh blood was required in important positions. "Nooyi has exemplified what she has said by stepping down and having another take on that role."

PepsiCo has appointed Ramon Laguarta to take over as chief executive. Nooyi will pass the baton to an insider who led the company's fast-growing emerging markets business. Laguarta, who starts on 3 October, will be tasked with managing the company's response as consumer tastes move away from sugary drinks.

What is important to note, said Sindhwani, is that Nooyi has given wings to many women's dreams. "Their thought will be, if an Indian-born CEO raised and educated in India can make it to a CEO's job, so can we. Nooyi has played her innings well, cut the biggest deals for PepsiCo, transformed the company and given it a new purpose. If we study women's leadership styles, they don't go for an immediate change but bring about a transformation, which is what Nooyi has done. She will go down in history as the CEO who created a F&B company from just a soft drink firm," she said.

Nooyi has said that after she quits, her focus will be her family. Being the CEO of a company is "all consuming," she said. "When you are the CEO, especially of such a large company, there's only one priority, and that priority is being CEO. I think my family was short-changed a lot. The last 24 years, the PepsiCo family always came first." She added, "Now is the time to shift my priorities to my family."

Now, going forward, will Nooyi be a family person and mentor women CEOs (not necessarily in that order)? She could just spring another surprise, given her graph of excelling in all that she takes up.

(With data support from Kishor Kadam)

Also See: Indra Nooyi steps down: PepsiCo's long-serving CEO to shift priorities to her family, rules out joining politics

PepsiCo boss Indra Nooyi to step down in October; will pass the baton to Ramon Laguarta

Indra Nooyi steps down: PepsiCo calls her 'a pioneer'; under her helm company's revenues grew by more than 80%

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