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Indra Nooyi ’80 Concludes ‘Compelling and Consequential’ Tenure Leading PepsiCo

Indra Nooyi speaking with Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale SOM in 2016.

Nooyi, a longtime advisor, supporter, and champion of Yale SOM, led the company for 12 years.

This fall, Indra Nooyi ’80, a longtime advisor, supporter, and champion of Yale SOM, will step down as CEO of PepsiCo after 12 years of leading the global food and beverage company. A few months later, she will step down as the company’s chairman. 

Under Nooyi’s leadership, PepsiCo’s annual revenue nearly doubled. She launched the Performance with Purpose initiative, incorporating the company’s impact on health, society, and the environment into its strategy. Healthier foods now make up half of the company’s portfolio, up from 38% at the time of Nooyi’s appointment as CEO. 

“Indra Nooyi’s strategic and purposeful leadership has had a huge impact on business and society,” said Dean Edward A. Snyder. “This is a great time to celebrate Indra’s compelling and consequential career as well as to recognize her wonderful efforts to represent Yale SOM so well.”

Snyder noted that in 2016, Nooyi made a landmark gift to Yale SOM to endow the school’s deanship and inaugurate the Fifth Decade Innovation Fund. “On a personal level, I am honored to be identified as the Indra K. Nooyi Dean,” he said. 

Nooyi’s gifts to the school also include generous support of Edward P. Evans Hall, where a classroom is named in her honor; she also made a gift to name the Isaacson Classroom in memory of Professor Larry Isaacson. With her 2016 gift, she became the most generous graduate of Yale School of Management in terms of lifetime giving to the school, as well as the first woman to endow the deanship at a top business school. She has served as a member of the Yale SOM Board of Advisors and as a member of the Yale Corporation, and is currently co-chair of an alumni consultative committee advising the school on its search for a new dean. 

A native of Madras (now Chennai), India, Nooyi received her undergraduate degree and an MBA in India before traveling to the United States to attend Yale SOM. After graduating, she worked in senior roles at Asea Brown Boveri, Motorola, and the Boston Consulting Group and joined PepsiCo in 1994. She served as chief financial officer before being named president in 2001, CEO in 2006, and chairman in 2007. She has frequently appeared on the Forbes ranking of the world’s most powerful women. 

In a commentary for Chief Executive, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, writes that Nooyi’s rise “is proof that the American dream is not in our past. Many lament that the dreams of newcomers to the U.S. are myths than cannot be realized, but Indra Nooyi’s career trajectory provides testimony that the door of opportunity is still open and that merit still matters. Hard work and raw intelligence can still pay off.”

Sonnenfeld notes that the success of the Performance with Purpose has not come at the expense of shareholder returns, writing, “Nooyi showed that doing good is not antithetical to doing well. She has led the industry in responsible water use, ended the use of trans fats and dramatically reduced sugar in PepsiCo’s products, introduced recyclable packaging, and achieved other inspiring sustainable and nutritional milestones aimed at helping communities and customers.”

Linda Mason ’80, the chairman and founder of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, was a classmate of Nooyi’s at Yale SOM. “On first meeting Indra our first year at SOM, I was struck by her spark, her wit, and her warmth,” she said. “She was a wonderful juxtaposition of an intelligent, wise, respectful Indian graduate student and a cool rock guitarist. I knew right then that she would be one of my most fascinating and memorable classmates.”

As their careers unfolded, Mason said, she and Nooyi would often go years without seeing each other. “But always when we met, she immediately asked me about my children, my husband Roger, and importantly, my parents,” she remembered. “Her value of family, hers and others, is central to who she is. She was consistently enthusiastic and supportive of our entrepreneurial ventures and would much rather talk about what I was doing than the myriad of amazing things she was doing.
 
“Every conversation with her is sincere and warm,” Mason added. “She has the rare gift of really listening to you. I always marveled at how Indra could stay so centered and loyal to her friends while creating amazing accomplishments at PepsiCo and beyond.”

Watch a Yale Insights interview with Indra Nooyi on the Performance with Purpose initiative.