Indra Nooyi memoir: The secrets to balancing work and family life
How did a middle-class girl from Chennai who went to business school “with men, was taught by men and studied the work of men to enter industries dominated by men” become the global chief executive of PepsiCo in 2006 and only the 11th woman to lead a Fortune 500 company? Indra Nooyi tells the story of that journey in her memoir, My Life in Full (published by Hachette India) in 313 pages that are packed with her experiences of settling in America, negotiating the boardroom, balancing work and family life and what the pandemic has meant for workplaces.
Sixty-five-year-old Nooyi, who retired from PepsiCo in 2019 after serving at the top for more than a decade, traces her journey at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Motorola, ABB before finally landing at PepsiCo while navigating the pressures of getting good childcare, handling a child being subject to racist behaviour in school, the importance of power dressing while also living up to her mother’s expectation of a woman’s duties. Nooyi hit the headlines across the world in 2017 when she revealed that the day she got her promotion as president of PepsiCo, her mother told her to go out and get milk. When Nooyi protested, she said her mother told her to “leave that crown in the garage.”
That comment, which set off endless international columns and articles about work-life balance, gets context in the book when Nooyi reveals how she sets up a roster system with her family in India to take turns to look after the first of her two daughters. When she couldn’t find reliable childcare in the US, her mother and mother-in-law and other relatives took turns to look after her older child, Preetha, and do some housework and Nooyi and her husband would take over in the evening. “We didn’t pay the visiting relatives or my mother for their help,’’ Nooyi writes, adding that they saw it as “intergenerational responsibility and a joy’’. By the time Nooyi had her second daughter, Tara, they were able to find childcare but throughout the book, there’s emphasis on the it-takes-a-village-to-raise-children theory. From family, to the efficient secretary who steps in for school events, to neighbours who drop in and oversee childcare.
In the book, Nooyi focuses on the importance that organisational support plays in working women’s lives. For instance, she lists the offer of three months of paid leave by BCG to take care of her father in India when he was diagnosed with cancer. “I believe I would have curtailed my career, by quitting BCG to be with my dad and to help my family, had I not received this paid leave... we would have been in real financial trouble and unsettled,” she writes. Nooyi brought her father to the US for his treatment but he was unable to fight it and Nooyi went back to work after two months.
Then again, an important role was played by her immediate boss Gerhard Salge at ABB who didn’t stop giving her important assignments just because she was pregnant. In fact, the day after delivering her child, he came over to brief her about an important project. Nooyi spent her limited maternity leave with regular meetings at home but says that it was her choice to do so. At the same time, Nooyi writes about battling separation anxiety with her newborn and sleepless nights, constantly questioning her choices.
The most interesting parts of the book, however, are the bits of her describing her PepsiCo years and navigating a leadership role with hardly any other woman in the boardroom. While her legacy has been to make a push for healthy products and Performance with Purpose (PwP) or how to reduce water wastage and plastic usage by Pepsi products, the bits in her book that stay with you is her revelation of the change she noticed when she worked with a stylist as CEO, with one colleague even sending her a note about how dressing well made her more authoritative. Nooyi also acknowledges that it may be ‘elitism’ to talk about the use of company plane but it allowed her to finally be able to be there for her daughters, to have the freedom to hop across the country for work meetings, but still be back home for dinner.
As the book was finished during the pandemic, Nooyi, who now is an Amazon Board member and also International Cricket Council’s first independent female board member, makes a case for flexible working hours. “I believe job flexibility and remote work for everyone who needs it should be entirely routine. This will give families the chance to take care of home life obligations during the workday without feeling loaded with emotional consequences,’’ she writes.