- Arguably the most famous Indian American woman, Nooyi shares experiences of growing up in India, relocating to the U.S., rising through corporate America, being one of the only women to run a Fortune 50 company, as well as struggling to achieve work-life balance as a mom of two girls.
In her new memoir, “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future,” former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi describes the events that shaped her life – from growing up in Chennai to relocating to the U.S., her rise as a corporate consultant, and her journey as one of the only woman to run a Fortune 50 company.
In one of the early chapters of the book, Nooyi, 65, shares her formative years and her journey from India to the U.S., as described in excerpts shared by The Washington Post. “I was born into a progressive family, highly educated family, a conservative Brahmin family, which basically said education is everything,” she writes. “But the most important luxury of life that I won was that the men in our family believed women should be allowed to be educated, should be allowed to dream, dream big, and do whatever they wanted to do,” she continues.
“So that was the huge advantage that I had growing up, because my father and my grandfather basically said we’re going to support your education. As much as you want to be in college and university, please do,” she says. “And if you really want to be who you are, you want to thrive as an individual, come to the United States. It was the most inspiring thing for all of us young people growing up in ’70s India. And as luck of the draw, I applied to the Yale School of Management, got admitted, and most importantly got a combination of loans and scholarship money and some work programs to be able to afford Yale. And the shock–the biggest shock of them all, my parents allowed me to go. So a combination of these brought me to the shores of New Haven, Connecticut.”
She writes that it was growing up in a Hindu Brahmin household where she learned the importance of family. A self-described “tomboy,” Nooyi says she “loved to buck tradition.” She co-founded an all-female rock band, lived alone in Bombay while interning at the Department of Atomic Energy, and later moved to the U.S., unmarried, to pursue a degree at Yale. Just like her parents, her husband Raj supported her as well. After she was offered a job she couldn’t turn down, Raj agreed to move their young family from Illinois to Connecticut. “Raj’s selflessness was all the more remarkable because he was taking on the conventions of the time in so many ways,” she writes.
Along with reflecting on her career and her time as PepsiCo, Nooyi discusses the challenges of balancing work and family, especially her two daughters, Preetha and Tara. “As my career progressed, and my children grew up, I wrestled with the ever present conflicts of working motherhood,” she writes. “For fifteen years, I kept a whiteboard in my office that only my daughters could write on or erase. Over time, that board was a comforting kaleidoscope of doodles and messages, a constant reminder of the people closest to me and those to whom I really belong.”
An incident that Nooyi has shared extensively during her talks also features in the book. In 2000 she was appointed president of the company, she rushed home to tell her family the news, but was quickly humbled by her mother: “She said, ‘You know, I don’t care if you’re president or on the board. I don’t even know what that means. But let me just tell you, when you walk in this door, you’re a mother, you’re a wife, you’re a daughter, you’re a daughter-in-law. That’s all you are in this house. So please, do me a favor, just leave that crown in the garage.’”
Another theme in the book is her duality, which comes across clearly in the introduction of the book. “One foggy Tuesday in November 2009, after hours of meetings in Washington, D.C., with two dozen top U.S. and Indian business executives, I found myself standing between the president of the United States and the prime minister of India,” she writes. “Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh had entered the room for an update on our group’s progress, and President Obama began introducing the American team to his Indian counterpart.,” she continues. When Obama introduced Nooyi, Singh exclaimed, “Oh! But she is one of us,” she writes. “And the president, with a big smile and without missing a beat, responded, ‘Ah, but she is one of us, too!.” Noting that it’s a moment she will “never forget,” Nooyi writes that the “spontaneous kindness from the leaders of the two great countries that have given me so much,” made her realize that she belonged to both worlds.
In the epilogue, “written specially for the Indian audience,” according to the Press Trust of India, Nooyi nods to her Indianness. “I departed India 43 years ago, but India has never left me,” she writes, according to the PTI report. “I am still a vegetarian; I don’t smoke or drink alcohol beyond a few sips of wine; I have a puja alcove in my home where I light my lamp every day, and, as much as I love the New York Yankees and American TV shows, I can’t resist watching IPL cricket, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati,’ Indian movies and ‘Indian Idol.’”
Since the book was released on Sept. 28, Nooyi has been doing the media rounds — with several print and television interviews.
Nooyi, who stepped down from her role as CEO of PepsiCo in 2018 after leading the company for 12 years, is known for steering the company toward healthier products and reinventing its environmental profile. “The more I thought about PepsiCo’s future,” she writes, “the more I felt it was incumbent on me to connect what was good for our business with what was good for the world.” She told CBS that she would describe her time at PepsiCo as being “a pretty good success.” She said as CEO, she “did bold things, did transformational things, did things that people at that time criticized before, but now call it prescient.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Nooyi, who is on the board at Amazon, acknowledged that although she had her set of challenges while leading the company, she’s glad she’s not a CEO today. “CEOs have it difficult these days.”
The memoir has been receiving rave reviews as well. According to publishing company Penguin Random House, “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future,” is “the story of an extraordinary leader’s life, a moving tribute to the relationships that created it, and a blueprint for 21st century prosperity.”
Amazon calls it a “rich” memoir, “brimming with grace, grit, and good humor,” which “offers a firsthand view of Nooyi’s legendary career and the sacrifices it so often demanded.”
Kirkus Reviews, a book review magazine, calls it “a quick, fascinating read, laced with unusual frankness and generosity. The author is honest about her privilege and her regrets, never sugarcoating her failures or giving herself undue credit for her successes. An autobiography of a female, immigrant CEO that is full of heart.”
The Penguin Random House website shares praise for Nooyi’s memoir from the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mindy Kaling, and several female executives.
“With candor and good humor, Nooyi has written a wonderful book that brings her story to life, from her early years in India, surrounded by love and high expectations, to her determined efforts to succeed in the corporate world, all the while questioning the tradeoffs she had to make,” says Clinton. “She reveals just how our society continues to sacrifice talent instead of changing how we organize work to maximize everyone’s potential to live full and productive lives. A must-read for working women and the men who work with us, love us, and support us.”
Calling the book “truly inspiring,” Kaling says “Nooyi’s honesty, integrity, and humor shine through at every turn.”
Ursula M. Burns, former chair and CEO of Xerox, and author of “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are,” says: “Gritty, joyous, and visionary, Nooyi tells the story of an everyday person living an extraordinary life, leading beautifully and confidently from the front. A must-read for all.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, and author of “Unfinished Business” says, while “‘CEO’ and ‘care’ do not usually go together,” they have always gone together for Nooyi. “Rather than offering us a list of policy prescriptions, she shows us what is possible when businesses care about family and families have time to care for one another.”
Before the book’s release, Nooyi took to her official Twitter account to interact with her over 89K followers. “If you had the opportunity to call up your past self and give them a piece of wisdom, what would it be?” Sharing a picture from her teen years, Nooyi further reflected on her own past. “To this version of myself, I would say — when you take on something, give it everything you’ve got. If people can’t accept you for who you are, it’s their loss.”