When Indian PM and US President both claimed Indra Nooyi is one of theirs

PTI, Sep 26, 2021, 10:31 AM IST

Washington: Indian-American Indra Nooyi, the former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, still vividly remembers a 2009 meeting with the then US president Barack Obama and former prime minister Manmohan Singh during which both claimed: ”she is one of us”.

“I belong in both worlds,” Chennai-born Nooyi, 65, writes in her new memoir “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future,” recollecting the memorable events of November 2009 when Obama had hosted Singh for his first state dinner.

In the memoir, set to hit the bookstores next Tuesday, Nooyi describes the events that shaped her life from childhood to her becoming Pepsico CEO, a position from which she retired in 2018.

“One foggy Tuesday in November 2009, after hours of meetings in Washington, DC, with two dozen top US and Indian business executives, I found myself standing between the president of the United States and the prime minister of India,” she writes in the introduction of the memoir that runs into over 300 pages.

“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. When he got to me—Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo—Prime Minister Singh exclaimed, “Oh! But she is one of us!” “And the president, with a big smile and without missing a beat, responded, “Ah, but she is one of us, too!” “It’s a moment I never forget—spontaneous kindness from the leaders of the two great countries that have given me so much,” Nooyi writes in the memoir, an advance copy of which was obtained by PTI.

“I am still the girl who grew up in a close family in Madras, in the South of India, and I am deeply connected to the lessons and culture of my youth. I am also the woman who arrived in the US at age twenty-three to study and work and, somehow, rose to lead an iconic company, a journey that I believe is possible only in America. I belong in both worlds,” she writes, narrating her immigrant story.

From a sari-clad intern at Booz Allen Hamilton rising to the post of Pepsico CEO, Nooyi writes that the business world has improved immeasurably for women in the US since she started her professional career. Nooyi writes that more recently, the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaigns have had a profound impact on exposing the degree to which women are subjected to sexual violence and harassment. The movement and campaigns have created a necessary community for survivors, she observes. “I was never sexually assaulted. I did witness and hear about plenty of male behavior early in my days in the corporate world that offended my sense of decency and my values. I later made it a priority to shut down offensive behavior as soon as I saw it or it became known,” Nooyi writes.

Nooyi says after she became PepsiCo’s president, she instructed the compliance department to address harassment complaints made to their anonymous Speak Up Line immediately. “We were quick to fire confirmed harassers,” she writes.

In the book, she rues that women hold just 26 percent of US corporate board seats. “In my view, companies should consider setting term limits on board members of fifteen years and a mandatory retirement age of seventy-two. Immediately, they could also expand their boards by one or two members to make room for qualified people who better understand the issues facing working women and young families,” she said.

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