The Unconventional Leadership Style of Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi Unconventional Leadership Style



Indra Nooyi Unconventional Leadership Style

Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi is the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage industry. Through her contribution, Nooyi has managed to turn around the fortune of the company twofold. She has been very influential in her leadership styles to an extent that she has been named by Forbes Magazine as one of the most powerful in business worldwide (, 2005). In 2009, Time magazine placed her at the top of the most influential women in the world. Her unconventional leadership style is an interesting study for student of leadership behaviors.

Nooyi joined PepsiCo in 1994 as the company’s chief strategist. Even before she rose to the helm of the company, she had started proposing strategies that reshaped the future of the company. After analyzing the future of the company, Nooyi advised the management to get out of the restaurant business. In 1997, the company got out of the restaurant ventures by selling Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC (Lussier and Achua, 2012). In the following year (1998) the company made strategic acquisition by buying a jucie company, Tropicana, and entered the sports business in 2001by acquiring the best seller Gatorade (Howell, 2012). In 2006 and 2007, Nooyi led PepsiCo in expanding its juice brand through acquisition of Izzle sparkling juice drinks and Naked Juice smoothies respectively. Such strategic acquisition and joint ventures with other food and beverages company are clear proof of Nooyi’s leadership qualities. The leader has also made critical decision, such as acquisition of bottling companies in 2010 that has made the company cut its operation cost. In addition, during the period that Nooyi has been at the helm of the company, she has spearheaded expansion strategies that have made the company command significant global market (Fortune 2013). Such strategies that have been implemented with remarkable success portray the characteristics of a visionary leader. Nooyi acquired these brands even when some of the management doubted her strategies (Lussier and Achua, 2012).

Unconventional Leadership

“Performance with Purpose”

Shortly after Nooyi became the CEO of PepsiCo, she launched the corporate mission –“performance with purpose”. The whole concept of the mission is to balance pursuit for profit with corporate social responsibility. Nooyi believes in conscious capitalism; that a company cannot strive to please it shareholders while disregarding the general good of the public. In the “performance with purpose” mantra, Nooyi believed that a company that wanted to succeed had to take care for the interest of its customers, be conscious to the environment as well as take care for the needs of its employees. According to the leader, pursuing short time goal in the modern management is a thing of the past.

It is through the “performance with purpose” mission that the PepsiCo CEO started diverting from the original company’s junk food. Nooyi had realized that a company that wanted to secure its future had to sell healthy foods and drinks to its customers. It is such understanding that led PepsiCo to divert from fast food business and instead, ventured into healthy brands. The mission also informed PepsiCo’s human resource policy as well as its corporate social responsibility policy.

In line with the “performance with purpose” mission, Nooyi has not only reinvented the company from its tradition junk foods to its modern healthy brands, but has also embarked on creating a sustainable enterprise that does not only concentrate on shareholders’ value. A modern company, according to the leader cannot afford to pursue profit at the expense of humanity. According to the leader, such a strategy is not about “subtracting from the bottom line” but rather it is about bringing together “what is good for business with what is good for the world” (Howell, 2012, p 196). As such, Nooyi believes that any company in food and beverages industry has to focus on healthy foods.

Letter to the Parents

Nooyi is a leader who believes in well being of her employees. She says that the best thing that a company can have is employees who are emotionally attached to its mission. One of the ways that Nooyi has done to achieve this is regularly communicating to employees to assure them that the company values them. But one of her unconventional style that has been regularly noted in many places is her behavior to write letters to employee’s parents. In this unconventional style, Nooyi explains that employees have an emotional attachment with their parents. As such, Nooyi write letters to parents of her employees thanking them for allowing their son or daughter to work in the company. This is one way of creating emotion attachment between the company and its employees.


Nooyi is a leader who combines many qualities. In some newspapers, Nooyi is referred to as the “Karaoke-singing” CEO due to her tendencies to perform melodies during corporate functions. She is also reported to be seen walking in the office bare-footed regularly (Boston Consulting Group 2010, p34). In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Nooyi said that she runs PepsiCo with an immigrant mentality, meaning that she has to earn her job. Such unconventional styles make Nooyi to be an outstanding leader.




Boston Consulting Group (2010). The Future of Leadership: Converstion with Leaders about Their Challenges and Opportunities. Boston: BCG

Forbes Magazine (2005). Indra Nooyi: The 100 Most Powerful Women. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from <>

Fortune (2013). Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from <>

Howell, J. (2012). Snapshots of Great Leadership. London: Routledge

Lussier, R. & Achua, C. (2012). Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development. New York: Cengage Learning.

Time Magazine (2010). The 2009 Time 100 Finalists: Indra Nooyi. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from <,28804,1883644_1883653_1884594,00.html>

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