Lessons From Indra Nooyi on Business and Life

Business books don’t often make it to my nightstand. I save my nightstand for poetry, novels, history, spirituality — writing that puts my days in perspective. But My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future by the trailblazing former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, is so much more than a business book. And definitely on my nightstand! Yes, there are plenty of amazing business stories here, but it’s really a memoir of an extraordinary life, with lessons and wisdom on issues that go far beyond the boardroom.

After leaving India for America in 1978 to attend the Yale School of Management, and after a few years consulting at BCG, among other stops, she joined PepsiCo, where there weren’t many people who looked like her. “White American men held 15 of the top 15 jobs at PepsiCo when I walked in,” Nooyi writes. “I don’t believe that any of their wives worked in paid jobs outside of their homes.” And as she notes, she’s not singling out PepsiCo, at which she found many supporters and mentors — the company’s leadership looked the same as virtually all other large companies at the time.

The stories of how she managed to succeed, again and again, as one of the few female business leaders in the country are endlessly riveting. But what really comes through for me is how deeply committed her experience has made her to our need to fundamentally change our business culture. She writes movingly of the support she found in her husband, Raj, as they raised their two daughters, and how this informed her view of work-life integration. “Over the years I met thousands of people worried about how to be true to their families, their jobs, and their ambitions to be good citizens,” she writes. “This engagement had a great impact on me… I thought about how family is such a powerful source of human strength, but realized that creating and nurturing families is a source of stress for so many.”

Especially, of course, for women. “Our failure to address work and family pressures in the senior reaches of global decision-making restrains hundreds of millions of women every day, not only from rising and leading, but from blending a satisfying career with a healthy partnership and motherhood,” she writes. The consequences of this “disconnect,” as she calls it, are profound, not just for women, but for men, for families and for the planet.

The pandemic has made more and more people join Nooyi in rejecting the idea that we should have to choose between being successful at work and happy and fulfilled in other parts of our lives. The effort to change that, to solve the “work and family conundrum” and build an economy centered around care is what Nooyi calls our “moonshot.”

She is right that the transformation won’t be easy. “But I have learned that with courage and persistence — and the inevitable give-and-take — it can happen,” she writes. And she has given us a roadmap, both in her own remarkable life and now in this book. There are, of course, many, many business lessons as well as life lessons in these pages — above all her conviction that you can do well by doing good. She tells the story, for instance, of making PepsiCo’s product line healthier. Or, as she puts it, dialing up the “better for you portfolio” and nudging customers away from the “fun for you portfolio.” And it wasn’t just because she was able to look around the corner and rightly see that this was the direction the market was headed. It was important not only for the well-being of PepsiCo, but for the planet as well, which is why she led industry efforts to make the food supply healthier. “It’s not that I was worried about just our beverages,” Nooyi said to Adam Grant on a recent episode of his “Taken for Granted” podcast. “I think it’s a broader, societal issue, and there’s a downstream cost to society and all companies have to work on it.”

So if you’re looking to be inspired and motivated, or someone on your holiday gift list is, you can order a copy here.

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