Indra Nooyi, the highest-ranking India-born woman in corporate America, was honoured with an excellence award at a glittering ceremony.
The ceremony for Nooyi, president and chief financial officer of PepsiCo, was organised by the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (Uspaacc) at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
US Secretary of Labour Elaine Chao presented the Woman Pioneer Award in Corporate Strategy and Development to Indra Nooyi, ranked as one of the 50 most powerful women in America by Fortune Magazine.
While Nooyi was given the highest award, at least four other Indian Americans were among the several Asian Americans honoured with Awards & Scholarships at the Uspaacc event held as part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
All of them were given the awards for their individual achievement, inspiration to others in the community and improving the quality of life in America.
They were: Arun Netravali of Lucent Technology, astronaut Sunita Williams and astronaut Kalpana Chawla (posthumously) and Manish Suresh Noticewala of Stuyvesant High School in Brooklyn, New York, who was given the Cary C. & Debra Y.C. Wu Scholarship award.
Accepting the award, Nooyi said she was terribly honoured. Speaking about her immigrant roots, she said she was 23 years old when she came from India to the U.S after getting a degree in science from Chennai and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata.
She came in 1978 to attend Yale University's Graduate School of Management and interviewed with consulting firms wearing a sari because she did not own a business suit.
"Well that was the beginning, but still I would say I did not have to undergo too many hardships because I had education and I could speak English, although very few understood it," she said amid cheers.
However, she said it was her education and support from a wonderful family that had helped her overcome initial hurdles. "The number one thing is education, it is the single most solid thing that counts and even today it helps. Deeply religious, she said she attributes her success to the ability to bridge the divide between the American executive lifestyle and her rich Hindu roots."
Nooyi, who is the only foreign-born woman officer at PepsiCo, joined the company in 1994 and is now in charge of all of PepsiCo's corporate functions.
Arun Netravali, the 2001 recipient of the National Medal of Technology, is a pioneer in digital communications technology and has catapulted Bell Labs as the worldwide leader in communications technology. He could not be present at the award ceremony, as he had to leave for India a couple of days earlier due to a death in the family.
Sunita Willians, who works as Mission Specialist for the United States Navy, was presented the excellence award in science and technology. Born to immigrant parents from India, in Euclid, Ohio, she considers Needham, Massachusetts to be her hometown.
Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, born in Karnal, India, perished along with other crewmembers on February 1 this year when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated just 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing.
"In light of the recent Columbia space shuttle tragedy, I think it's especially fitting that we are honouring five NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) astronauts, each of whom has unselfishly given to our country in the most challenging endeavour imaginable - exploration in space," said Uspaacc president and CEO Susan Au Allen.
Uspaacc was established 18 years ago to promote, nurture and propel economic growth by opening doors of education and other opportunities to Asian Americans and their business partners in corporate America and government agencies.
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