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Indra Nooyi – breaking the odds

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

By Antara Kar

Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds

The lady with a fizz Indra Nooyi – Ex-CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s most influential woman, a rebellious child with an extraordinary pathway to success was born in an Indian conservative family back in 1955. She was a bit of a rule-breaker as she grew up. In an era where girls were considered marriage materials, she joined the all-girls cricket team. She even managed to be the female lead guitarist in a rock band while studying at Madras Christian College.

After earning her undergraduate degree in Physics, Chemistry, Math she went to study in IIM, Calcutta. “Very few women were admitted, so I was motivated to break that barrier if nothing else” she recalls.

After post graduating, she worked at Mettur Beardsell and then Johnson & Johnson in Mumbai, where she launched the Stayfree brand of sanitary napkins. Back then promoting and advertising female hygiene products was taboo.

Not satisfied with the way her career was shaping she persuaded her parents to let her study at Yale Management School in the US. Her parents hadn’t stopped her from applying but little did they know that she would bag a scholarship for a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management.

At that time, an unmarried Indian woman going to the States was still a scandalous prospect. She recalls, there was a big family meeting, everybody got together. Should we send her or not discussions were on. “I was going anyway!” It was Indra in her mind.

In 1978, unmarried Indira moved to the US with $500 in her pocket. Working odd jobs to make ends meet, she successfully completed her MBA degree.

"My whole summer internship was done in a sari because I had no money to buy clothes," she recalls her journey in the States.

Even when she went for an interview at the prestigious business-consulting firm, she wore her sari since she could not afford a business suit. She says being confident in your skin has always worked for me. “I had to work 10 times hard as men to strive in the business and bridge the gender gap. I only knew my work can set me apart.”

Indira joined PepsiCo in 1994, as the Chief Strategist and soon became an integral member of the company.

She was the main head behind the idea of redesigning the brand which fetched more revenue. She steered PepsiCo with revenues of more than USD 60 billion. She equally emphasized in the Mergers and Acquisition of the Tropicana and Quaker fruit juice brands. Her ability to think out of the box lead to the debut of a new range of products like Pepsi Natural and Mountain Dew which was an immediate hit among the youngsters.

By 2006, PepsiCo announced her as the CEO, making the first-ever female in an American Multinational company. The accolades came later and there were many. In 2007 she was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India. In 2008, Forbes named her the third most powerful woman in business.

Despite her immense success in the corporate ladder, Nooyi was also a doting mother of two daughters and a dutiful wife. Much credit she owes to her own mother for infusing confidence in the early stage of her life. Every night at the dinner table, her mother used to ask them to write a speech about what they would do if they were a President. At the end of dinner, her mother would decide whom she would vote for. Even though her mother didn’t work or went to school, she lived life through her daughters.

On International Women’s Day, March 08, '20 we salute the Iron lady – Indira Nooyi and many others for their exceptional journey. Nothing is impossible for the determined and strong-willed person; the only thing being required is perseverance.

Motherhood is a full-time job. Being an executive is a full-time job. Being a wife is a full-time job…There are only 24 hours in a day and we have to do all these jobs: be a parent, be an executive, be a daughter, and, in the Indian case, also daughter-in-law, and somehow find time for yourself.

So there are tradeoffs you make all the time. All of us women have been told we can do everything. We’ve been given hopes and dreams and education. But then we have these other issues to think about.…

So, I think, it’s very important that we all understand that if you struggle with these choices, you’re not crazy. You’re human. To rekindle the joy of life in each phase and keep up the passion.

As William Ross quotes “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” –

You are not alone

Know that you are the best

Pick your battles

Put your firm legs

Shatter the glass ceiling

The sky is all yours...

(Featured Image: Credit to Google)

About Antara Kar

Antara Kar is a techie by profession and an author/ poet/ blogger by passion. Her writing career started with fiction that she penned for a local magazine. Blogging was always on her bucket list, and eventually, with tangledemotions, it became a reality.

See her blog at

She is best known for writing articles, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and more. When not absorbed with a page-turner, she finds interest in cooking, traveling, sports and fitness.

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