Nooyi boosts SOM’s profile

M ’80 as chief executive officer of PepsiCo has heightened the profile of the School of Management, as Nooyi continues to work actively on the Yale Corporation and the SOM Board of Advisors.

Nooyi, who will replace chairman and CEO Steve Reinemund on Oct. 1, currently serves as president and chief financial officer of PepsiCo. Her promotion will make the company the largest American-based corporation by stock-market value to be led by a woman. Nooyi, who has been declining all media inquiries following news of her election, was also recently named “the world’s most important female chief executive” by The Economist magazine.

As the youngest of Yale’s professional schools, the SOM has yet to produce the kind of prestigious alumni that some of Yale’s other schools claim. But Yale President Richard Levin said he thinks Nooyi and her peers from the founding days of the SOM are beginning to change that.

“It’s terrific for the School of Management to have among its relatively young graduates the CEO of a major global company,” Levin said. “We’re all very excited and very proud of her.”

A member of the SOM’s third graduating class, Nooyi has remained involved with the University in various capacities since her graduation from Yale, SOM Dean Joel Podolny said. She spoke at the SOM’s Leaders Forum in 2002 and will be returning to speak at the University this November. She also serves as a Successor Fellow on the Corporation, the University’s highest decision-making body and as a member of the SOM’s Board of Advisors.

Podolny said Nooyi and classmates John Thornton SOM ’80, the former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, and Ned Lamont SOM ’80, who is currently running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut, are the forerunners of what he hopes will grow to be a diverse and successful network of SOM alumni.

“Indra’s success epitomizes the success of SOM graduates to date and is a harbinger of what I am confident will be many other such stories in the coming years,” Podolny said.

Podolny also said Nooyi has been an active alumna whose corporate success and desire to give back to the school provide a shining example of the SOM’s mission statement.

“Indra’s story is one from which we should all draw inspiration,” Podolny said. “Through sharpness of mind and tremendous determination, she has risen to the pinnacle of the corporate world, and, as she herself has commented, being a woman, an immigrant and a person of color has made her achievement thrice difficult.”

SOM Senior Associate Dean Jeff Sonnenfeld said Nooyi’s ideas and oversight on the board contributed greatly to the creation of the SOM’s new interdisciplinary curriculum being implemented this fall.

“Indra has been a great advocate of SOM’s new curriculum, especially the focus on an international experience,” Sonnenfeld said. “She is very supportive of the school’s desire to build a global influence.”

Sonnenfeld described Nooyi as a strong business leader and friend of Yale.

“She is at the same time creative, artsy, musical, very conceptual, and yet has tremendous perseverance and a brilliant logical mind,” Sonnenfeld said. “She comes regularly to Yale, and her talks never fail to charm and inspire her listeners with her really powerful visions.”

Classmate Gail Katz SOM ’80 said that although it’s difficult to tell which classmates will go far in life, she is not surprised that Nooyi has done extremely well in her career.

“She was very impressive, ambitious and creative, and yet a lot of fun,” Katz said of her former classmate. “She’s obviously very capable, and we are all very proud of her.”

John Faucher, a senior analyst for JP Morgan who has worked with Nooyi for nearly eight years, also said he considers Nooyi well-rounded.

“She’s illustrative, very smart and very driven, but at the same time feels that fun is very important,” Faucher said of Nooyi, who played in a rock band during her college years and still frequently performs karaoke. “She’s a person who takes her work seriously without taking herself too seriously.”

Nooyi, who joined PepsiCo in 1994 after working at an engineering firm, is also a role model to women in business. She is one of only 11 women to head a Fortune 500 company, and her company earns up to $33 billion in annual revenues.

Faucher said he thinks Nooyi’s promotion reflects a gradual change in the representation of women in the financial and business world.

“There has been improvement across the corporate landscape, but it’s tough to say that one individual promotion is indicative of anything,” Faucher said. “That said, PepsiCo is a big global corporation, and it is to a large extent remarkable that they picked a woman, and an Indian woman at that, for the position.”

Faucher said he thinks Nooyi’s election has been part of a grander management scheme on PepsiCo’s part to ensure that the corporation better reflects the demographics of its customers.

“What PepsiCo has done, and one of the reasons it has succeeded, is they realized the company needs to look like its consumer base in order to compete in a global market,” Faucher said. “As corporations become more global, these types of things will become more normal.”

Sonnenfeld said Nooyi made several important contributions to PepsiCo that helped to earn her the top spot after Reinemund announced his decision to resign. Perhaps most controversial was her analysis of PepsiCo’s restaurant groups under CEO Roger Enrico and her recommendation to divest the corporation’s holdings in Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

“It was a very bold move on her part — she was essentially reversing the decisions of prior CEO Wayne Calloway, who purchased these chains,” Sonnenfeld said. “She saw a certain entrepreneurial verve in the business world of casual dining and thought their responsiveness would be better served with greater autonomy.”

More recently, Nooyi advocated the purchase of Quaker Oats and Gatorade, catapulting PepsiCo to the head of the burgeoning American health food industry and completely repositioning PepsiCo’s image.

“Indra has been a driving force to embrace health by introducing better labeling, taking out saturated fats and developing purely healthy foods,” Sonnenfeld said. “It’s been a perfect opportunity for the company. I have no doubt she is the best person for the job.”

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