The second annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month dinner drew a large crowd of students to the Saybrook College dining hall Thursday night, where cans of Pepsi and Sierra Mist complemented Asian cuisine.
Yale Corporation member Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, who is president and chief financial officer of PepsiCo, delivered the keynote address. In her speech, titled “Lessons in Leadership: part science, circumstance, mysticism and dumb luck,” Nooyi divulged six principles of leadership derived from her personal observations of corporate America.
Nooyi said she quickly learned the importance of “focus,” her first principle, when she joined PepsiCo 10 years ago. At the time, the company owned Pepsi Cola, Frito Lay and a restaurant company whose ran restaurant chains included Pizza Hut. Ultimately, PepsiCo opted to focus its resources on packaged goods and operate the restaurant company as a separate venture to maintain quality, Nooyi said.
“You have to get your resources centered on what you and your organization do best,” she said.
But decisions to merge, sell, offer a promotion or create a new product should not be based solely on collected data, Nooyi said. Data-based decision making can have disastrous results which can be avoided by relying on common sense and instinct, she said.
“Data can — mislead,” she said. “Too often we aggregate it and can’t see what’s under it.”
Nooyi said communication is another principle that is integral to corporate success. As president of a company that employs 150,000 people, every day presents numerous opportunities for public speaking, she said.
“You can’t motivate people with — [numerical] targets,” Nooyi said. “You must come up with something noble to get everyone’s juices flowing.”
At PepsiCo, Nooyi said employee motivation is cultivated by strategically placed door mats depicting Frito-Lay rival Pringles’ trademark image — a bald man donning a black mustache and top hat. Employees invariably stomp on their rival company’s corporate logo whenever they pass in or out of a door in the building, she said.
While it is important to communicate clearly with employees, Nooyi said it is just as important to convey a clear message to the ultimate audience — the consumers. She said business endeavors such as promotions often fail because consumers don’t understand how they work.
Businesses’ success in communicating with consumers can be quantified by the achievement of results, which, if attained honestly, enable businesses to progress and grow, Nooyi said.
In spite of PepsiCo’s size, the company uses results garnered by individual employees in its promotional system. Employees are therefore promoted on the basis of an “unassailable” value system, Nooyi said.
“When promotion is based on results, there’s a level playing field. The people who contribute the most rise to the top,” she said.
Leaders who typically “rise to the top” never stop learning and exhibit a “childlike” curiosity, Nooyi said.
Because money and fulfillment of one’s career aspirations are not mutually exclusive, Nooyi urged students to consider the kind of legacy they want to leave behind as they hone their leadership skills at Yale and beyond.
Raghav Chopra ’06, who said he attended the dinner in part due to his own business aspirations, said Nooyi’s talk was valuable.
“It shed a lot of light about what qualities are important to succeed in corporate America,” he said.
Although Christine Hung ’06 said she is more interested in attaining a law degree than an M.B.A., she said she appreciated the lucidity of the speech.
“[Nooyi] made abstract concepts of success in the business world seem attainable,” she said.