This Tuesday Tip we are not ‘solving a problem’ but rather building an awareness (through a story), one that will hopefully lead to an action. This action might just be the most important, rewarding, and significant thing you do today. It is something that won’t take more than 10 minutes of your valuable time.


The Story:

Indra Nooyi is a remarkable person and leader. Born in 1955 into the Krishnamurthy family who lived in the heart of Madras (present day Chennai), she went on to become the chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo. She currently serves on the Amazon board and has ranked among the world’s most inspiring and influential people by Time magazine, Forbes and Fortune. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India. During her 12-year tenure as CEO, PepsiCo enjoyed an 80 percent growth in sales. That said, her leadership qualities and style are something of an anomaly. She wasn’t the ‘delegate-foresee-manipulate’ kind of a leader, but rather was well known for her collaborative and inclusive approach to leadership. She put a high price on being ‘totally honest’ and demonstrated a willingness to learn and expected the same of others. Nooyi is the embodiment of a genuine heart-centred leader, one who understood the need for empathy and who was guided by a strong moral compass. Her mantra was, ‘Performance with Purpose’.

As a child Indra had learnt to appreciate and apportion resources as well as what it meant to work hard. Water was scarce in her home, two buckets had to meet all the daily washing and cooking needs for the entire family. Early rising and having family chores done before 5am was the norm and then there was the ever-present challenge of finishing in the top three at school, a standard made even harder by an older sister (Chandrika) who consistently finished top of her class in the monthly ratings. As a young woman Indra wasn’t afraid to challenge some of the contextual norms of her day; acts that led to her playing in an all-girls cricket team as well as being a member of an all-female rock band.

During an interview with Bloomberg, Indra shared an epiphany that she had experienced on the occasion of a visit to her elderly mother, Shantha (her father, who had been a banker, had died in India). Her mother had gathered several friends around for the visit and they were all celebrating her daughter’s remarkable success, congratulating Shantha on her daughter’s noteworthy accomplishment of becoming CEO of one of the world’s leading companies. As all this played out, it dawned on Indra just how significant a role her parents had played in her achieving all that she had – the countless ways in which they had encouraged, influenced, and supported her throughout her life. She suddenly had a new appreciation for the sacrifices they had made to ensure she had the best education possible, from her early schooling to her undergraduate degree in chemistry, physics, and math, arching all the way through to her time at Yale.

She recalled that while she and her siblings were growing up, her mother would have them deliver speeches over dinner on a variety of topics including imagining that they were the Prime Minister of India. There would be a prize for the best speech (a small piece of chocolate) and through such games, Shantha would help her children to strive to be the best they could be, develop their skills and grow in confidence. “She taught me to dream big” Indra reflected.

Returning home with this insight fresh in her mind, it occurred to Indra that she had never acknowledged the role that the parents of her own executive team might have played in shaping their lives, or in her own words, “It occurred to me that I had never thanked the parents of my executives for the gift of their child to PepsiCo”. Indra had, in a moment of insight, caught a glimpse of the crowded shadows; the many who stood behind those with whom she worked and who had played a significant part in their success. Just as her own parents had in her own success.

She decided to do something about this; she resolved to act on this powerful epiphany. She decided to do something when many (in her position) would have dismissed it as a pleasant but passing thought, and simply moved on.

What Indra did was to write to the parents of her executive team, around 400 of them, and thank them for the ‘gift that their child was to the company’.

Pause for a moment; if you (as a parent) were to receive such a letter, think what it might mean to have your role acknowledged as such. Flip that round: imagine your parents being thanked for their sacrifices and the role they have had in shaping you…and all this coming from your Boss!

Many of the parents responded with deep gratitude for this thoughtful acknowledgement and several of her team shared with Indra that for their parents, getting this acknowledgement from the CEO of PepsiCo, was one of the greatest honours they had received. Any parent would immediately understand this and recognise how this simple act of recognition (and kindness) could be so significant.

The Response:

What could you do to acknowledge those around you? How could you share your appreciation for those who ‘stand in the shadows’ – those who stand behind the people who are key to your own success or that of your business?

Of course, you might need to first ask them who it was that played an influential role in shaping them into the person they are today. That wouldn’t be a bad conversation to have!

Why not write that letter or maybe make a simple call? Maybe even a special event or an invitation to one of the regular events you do have where they could be acknowledged? Just do something…the rest will follow. How you spend the next 10 minutes (thinking about this and then doing something) might just be the most important and most significant 10 minutes of today – for both you and for someone else!

Maybe this is why we talk about each day being, ‘a gift.’

Now, what is it you need to do?


Indra Nooyi, a Biography by Annapoorna  

The world needs a new leadership response to a global context of change, complexity and uncertainty. Leadership Thinker (and author of today’s Tuesday Tip), Keith Coats is passionate about helping audiences around the world to understand what this response looks like and to equip leaders with the tools needed to respond to this changing context.

Keith’s research and global experience of over 20 years has helped him identify the key-defining factors of a successful leader in the 21st century as the ability to learn, grow and be adaptable. It is his great privilege to help leaders access new frameworks and thinking in order to successfully lead into the future. Chat with us if you’d like to explore how he could help your team prepare for the future.

TomorrowToday Global