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How Indra Nooyi Thinks


Indra Nooyi is the chairperson and the former CEO of PepsiCo, the second largest global food and beverage business by net revenue. An Indian-born, naturalized American, she has consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women. In 2017, Nooyi rated number 13 in the Forbes global 100 most powerful women list. Fortune magazine has ranked Nooyi number one several times in its annual ranking of the most powerful women in business.

On October 3, 2018, Nooyi stepped down as CEO, passing the baton to Ramon Laguarta, a 22-year PepsiCo employee who had served as the company’s President. Nooyi will step down as Chairperson in early 2019.

62 year old Nooyi led the company for 12 years through shifts in consumer sensitivities and preferences, triumphing over an attempt by an activist investor to split up the company. She expanded PepsiCo’s product range way past its cola beginnings, venturing into kombucha, hummus, and other more nutritious items. PepsiCo’s annual revenue increased 81% during her tenure to $63.5 billion. So how does this extraordinary woman think?

I analyzed Nooyi’s thinking during PepsiCo’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 first quarter earnings conference calls.  Her commentary was rated according to our Hierarchy of Thinking Styles.

The analysis revealed an overwhelming combination of moderate positive thinking, extraordinary positive thinking, and Optimal Thinking. Although Nooyi willingly confronts and discusses headwinds and shortcomings, she employs a very small portion of negative thinking in her remarks.

How Indra Nooyi Thinks

This analysis provides a snapshot of Indra Nooyi’s thinking process in a critically important context. Nooyi utilizes moderate positive thinking to connect with her audience and achieve understanding.  She uses words like “increase”, “improvement”, “better”, and  “grow”.  She also uses phrases such as “good balance”, “better leveraging”, “positive results”, “higher brand equity”, “growing environmental consciousness”, and  “talent management processes”.

Nooyi often deploys extraordinary positive thinking to articulate the PepsiCo’s focus on innovation and product differentiation. She does not deploy extraordinary positive thinking as wishful thinking.

We were especially pleased with the successful innovation in North American beverages with four products, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Gatorade Frost Glacier Cherry, Starbucks Iced Coffee, and Lipton Pure Leaf, on track to achieve $100 million in annual retail sales….And we are focused on achieving product disruption and differentiation through science-based R&D , especially in the area of sweetener innovation.

How Indra Nooyi Uses Optimal Thinking

Optimal Thinking is the language of our best self.  This realistic thinking style gives us the best chance of achieving everything we want.

Like other leading CEOs, Nooyi employs Optimal Thinking to define the context of PepsiCo’s values, benchmarks and direction.

We’ve concluded that ownership by PepsiCo of the North American beverage business in its current form maximizes shareholder value, because our current ownership structure allows for optimally aligned objectives and execution.

Nooyi also deploys Optimal Thinking to articulate evidence-based achievements.

As evidenced, in 2014 we were the largest contributor to U.S. retail sales growth among all food and beverage manufacturers.

Want to Put Optimal Thinking to the Test?

If you are a CEO, senior executive or rising star who is facing an immediate challenge, I would like to prove that Optimal Thinking will give you the best chance of achieving everything you want.  You will experience  consistent peak performance to best resolve your greatest challenge.

The transcripts used in this article are © 2013, 2014, 2015.

Read my analysis of “How Mark Zuckerberg Thinks” (CEO of Facebook, Inc.) as part of the “How CEO’s Think™” Optimal Thinking article series.

If you would like to nominate other well-known leaders for a thinking analysis, feel free to include them in your comments below.

4 Responses to “How Indra Nooyi Thinks”

  1. Dana Andrews says:

    Wonderful article about a woman who has beaten the odds by doing the right thing with her heart in the right place. A friend of mine reports to her and has nothing but words of praise for her.

  2. Bill Jones says:

    Indra Nooyi is a fantastic success story. A colleague has worked for her for 10 years and says she uses extraordinary thinking to promote innovation and optimal thinking to optimize processes. I’m learning a lot from these posts. Keep them coming. Is Jeff Bezos is on your radar?

  3. Peter Hendrick says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Nooyi a few years ago. She is very personable. She is precise in her thinking and uses optimal thinking to achieve optimum closure with regard to the issues she deals with. I just took your assessment. The results are spot on and the recommendations are enlightening and very helpful. I’m going to organize my staff to take it.

  4. Jane Browne says:

    Indra Nooyi is a great example of a naturalized American who is living the American dream. She got a good education and obviously made great decisions. It looks like she must have made the best of the opportunities who came her way. Can you analyze a A. G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor & Gamble?

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