An intimate and powerful memoir by the trailblazing former CEO of PepsiCo
For a dozen years as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, Indra Nooyi redefined what it means to be an exceptional leader. The first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company — and one of the foremost strategic thinkers of our time — she transformed PepsiCo with a unique vision, a vigorous pursuit of excellence, and a deep sense of purpose. Now, in a rich memoir brimming with grace, grit, and good humor, My Life in Full offers a firsthand view of Nooyi’s legendary career and the sacrifices it so often demanded.
Nooyi takes us through the events that shaped her, from her childhood and early education in 1960s India, to the Yale School of Management, to her rise as a corporate consultant and strategist who soon ascended into the most senior executive ranks. The book offers an inside look at PepsiCo, and Nooyi’s thinking as she steered the iconic American company toward healthier products and reinvented its environmental profile, despite resistance at every turn.
For the first time and in raw detail, Nooyi also lays bare the difficulties that came with managing her demanding job with a growing family, and what she learned along the way. She makes a clear, actionable, urgent call for business and government to prioritize the care ecosystem, paid leave and work flexibility, and a convincing argument for how improving company and community support for young family builders will unleash the economy’s full potential.
Generous, authoritative, and grounded in lived experience, My Life in Full is the story of an extraordinary leader’s life, a moving tribute to the relationships that created it, and a blueprint for 21st century prosperity.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The women's living room in my childhood home had a single piece of furniture-a huge rosewood swing with four long chains that were anchored into the ceiling when my grandfather built the house, on a leafy road in Madras, India, in 1939.
That swing, with its gentle glide back and forth in the South Indian heat, set the stage for a million stories. My mother, her sisters, and her cousins-wearing simple saris in fuchsia, blue, or yellow-rocked on it in the late afternoon with cups of sweet, milky coffee, their bare feet stretched to the floor to keep it moving. They planned meals, compared their children's grades, and pored over Indian horoscopes to find suitable matches for their daughters or the other young people in their extensive family networks. They discussed politics, food, local gossip, clothes, religion, music, and books. They were loud, talked over one another, and moved the conversation along.
From my earliest days, I played on the swing with my older sister, Chandrika, and my younger brother, Nandu. We swayed and sang our school songs: "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," "The Woodpecker Song," "My Grandfather's Clock," or the Beatles, Cliff Richard, or Beach Boys tunes we'd heard on the radio: "Eight Days a Week," "Bachelor Boy," "Barbara Ann." We snoozed; we tussled. We read British children's novels by Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton, and Frank Richards. We fell onto the shiny red-tiled floor and scrambled back on.
Ours was the big, airy house where a dozen cousins would gather for festivals and holidays. The swing was a set piece for elaborate plays we wrote and performed, based on anything that caught our fancy. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles gathered to watch, holding bits of torn newspaper with the words one ticket scrawled on them. Our relatives felt free to critique our shows or to start chatting or simply walk away. My childhood was not a world of "Great job!" It was more like "That was so-so" or "Is this the best you can do?" We were accustomed to honesty, not false encouragement.
The reviews didn't matter on those busy, happy days. We felt important. We were in motion, laughing and carrying on to our next game. We played hide-and-seek, we climbed trees, and picked the mangoes and guavas that grew in the garden surrounding the house. We ate on the floor, sitting cross-legged in a circle, with our mothers in the center ladling sambar sadam and thayir sadam-lentil stew and curds mixed with rice-from clay tureens and dishing out Indian pickles onto banana leaves that served as plates.
In the evenings when the cousins were visiting, the swing was dismantled-the great, shiny-wood plank unhitched from the silver-colored chains and carried to the back porch to be stored overnight. Then we'd line up in the same space to sleep, boys and girls in a row on a large, colorful mat, each with our own pillow and cotton sheet. Sometimes, we'd be under a mosquito net. If the power was on, a fan turned lazily overhead, pretending to break the heat when the overnight temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.5 degrees Celsius). We'd sprinkle water on the floor around us, hoping its evaporation would cool the place.
Like many houses in India at the time, Lakshmi Nilayam, as our house was named, also had a men's living room-a vast hall with big square windows directly off the entry portico, where it was easy to keep an eye on who came and went.
My paternal grandfather, a retired district judge, had used all his savings to design and construct this grand, two-story residence, with its terrace and balconies. But he spent all his time in the men's living room, reading newspapers and books and lounging in a large easy chair with a canvas seat. He slept on a carved-wood divan with deep-blue upholstery.
He warmly welcomed visitors, who almost always dropped by unannounced. The men would gather on the room's two large sofas and talk about world affairs, local politics, or current issues. They had strong points of view about what government or companies should be doing to help citizens. They spoke in Tamil or in English, often alternating between the two. Children came and went-hanging out, reading, or working on homework. I never saw a woman sit in that room in front of my grandfather, whom I called Thatha. My mother was always in and out of the room, serving coffee and snacks to visitors or tidying up.
The Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary, both bound in burgundy leather, lay on a wooden side table. Thatha once had my sister and me read Nicholas Nickleby, the almost one-thousand-page novel by Charles Dickens. Every few chapters he'd take the book, point to a page, and ask, "What's the meaning of this word?" If I didn't know, he'd say, "But you said you'd read these pages." Then I'd have to look up the word and write two sentences to show I understood it.
I adored and revered Thatha, whose full name was A. Narayana Sarma. He was born in 1883 in Palghat, in the state of Kerala, which, under the British, was part of the Madras Presidency. He was already in his late seventies when I was a schoolgirl, a slight man of five feet seven or so with thick bifocal glasses, regal, very firm, and very kind. He dressed in a perfectly pressed white dhoti and a light-colored half-sleeve shirt. When he talked, no one else did. He had studied math and law and, for decades, had presided over both civil and criminal cases. His marriage was puzzling to me. My grandparents had eight kids, but when I knew my grandmother before she died, they never seemed to speak. They lived in different parts of the house. He was entirely dedicated to his young grandchildren, introducing us to ever more sophisticated books and ideas, explaining geometry theorems, and pressing for detail and clarity on our school efforts.
I was never in doubt that the head of the household-and of the family-resided in the men's living room.
But the heart and soul of our lively existence was down the hall, in the open space with the red-tiled floor and the gigantic rosewood swing. That's where my mother kept the household running, with the help of Shakuntala, a young woman who did the dishes at the outdoor sink and mopped the floors.
My mother was always in motion-cooking, cleaning, loudly barking out orders, feeding others, and singing along with the radio. The house was eerily quiet when she wasn't home. None of us liked that at all.
My father, an unusual man for the times, was around, too, assisting with the chores and helping care for the children. He had a master's degree in mathematics and worked in a bank. He shopped for essentials, helped make beds, and he loved to compliment my mother when she made his favorite foods. He often allowed me to tag along with him. He was a quiet man, filled with wisdom and a wicked sense of humor. I often refer to the Greek philosopher Epictetus's saying: "We have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." My father was a living example of this. He was adept at walking away from any tense situation without exacerbating it.
Every month, my father handed his paycheck to my mother, who handled the everyday expenses. She documented all the transactions on a paper "cash register" and balanced the accounts each week. It's a bookkeeping system that she set up intuitively, and it's still amazing to me that she developed it with no training at all in accounting.
Madras in the 1950s and Ô60s was a huge but fairly simple place for children like us. It was a city of roughly 1.5 million people, a sleepy, nerdy, safe town that came to life at 4 a.m., when morning prayer songs and bicycle bells began to fill the air. The lights went out promptly at 8 p.m., when everything-stores, restaurants, entertainment places-shut down. The young people went home to study. The day was over.
The British East India Company landed on this shore in 1639, and, more than three hundred years later, we lived in a mix of ancient Indian temples and nineteenth-century colonial offices, courthouses, schools, and churches. Broad tree-lined streets were full of buses, motorbikes, rickshaws, bikes, and a few cars-little Fiats or Ambassadors. The air was fresh and clear. Once in a while, we went to Marina Beach, which stretches six miles along the Bay of Bengal. To the grown-ups, the ocean was menacing and unpredictable, best to be viewed from a distance. We were only allowed to sit on the sand or the grass and couldn't go anywhere near the water lest we be washed away.
Madras, which was renamed Chennai in 1996, is the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, with an economy anchored by textiles, automakers, and food processing, and-more recently-software services. It is a city filled with prestigious colleges and universities. It's also the seat of South Indian classical arts that connect the community-ancient Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam, an expressive, rhythmic storytelling dance form. Every December the city filled with visitors for a renowned arts festival. We listened to the concerts on the radio and enjoyed the insightful critiques of each performance by the many relatives who were in and out of our house for the month.
We were a Hindu Brahmin family living alongside other Hindus and people of different faiths-Christians, Jains, and Muslims. We lived within the rules of a close, devoted family in the culturally vibrant, multifaith society around us.
To be Brahmin in mid-twentieth-century India meant we belonged to a class of people who lived simply, were devout, and were supremely focused on education. We were not wealthy, although the large house that we owned, however sparsely furnished, meant we lived comfortably and had invaluable stability. We came from a tradition of families who lived in multigenerational homes. We had few clothes-fashion was not something we desired. We saved as much as possible. We never ate out or took vacations and always had renters on our second floor for extra income. Despite our modest economic standing, we knew that we were fortunate to be born Brahmin. We had instant respect because we were perceived as learned.
My mother celebrated every Hindu festival with the appropriate rituals, but no one acknowledged birthdays. My parents never hugged us, kissed us, or said, "I love you." Love was assumed. We never shared fears or hopes and dreams with our elders. They just were not the kind to have those conversations. Any effort might be cut off with the words "Pray harder. God will help you find a way."
My mother's favorite expression-often repeated several times a day-was "Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam." It was translated by her to mean "Your mother, your father, and your teacher should be revered as God."
She would constantly remind us to respect all four. For example, we couldn't put our feet up in front of elders; we couldn't snack while studying, as a sign of respect for books; we always stood when a teacher entered the room and sat only when permission was granted.
At the same time, as children at home, we were always allowed to express our points of view, fully develop our ideas, and argue them out but had to be willing to accept the adults interrupting us constantly, not allowing us to finish, and often declaring, "What do you know about this topic? Just listen to us. You will be fine."
Our Madras household was always noisy, with plenty of laughing, arguing, and shouting. It was a strict environment, and I was spanked-something that was quite common then in most families-when I misbehaved. Our life was steady and pushed me to learn both self-discipline and how to speak up. I got the courage to branch out and prove myself because I was raised within a framework that gradually gave me the freedom to explore. There was always home to anchor me.
My childhood home was defined by particularly progressive thinking when it came to educating women. I was a middle child, dark-skinned, tall, and skinny. I had loads of energy and loved to play sports, climb trees, and run around the house and garden, all in a society where girls were judged on their skin tone, beauty, calmness, and Òhomeliness.Ó I overheard chitchat among relatives wondering how they would ever find someone to marry Òthis tomboy.Ó That still stings. But I was never deprived, as a girl, of being able to learn more, study harder, or prove myself alongside the smartest kids in our midst.
In our home, boys and girls were allowed to be equally ambitious. That's not to say that the rules were just the same. There was certainly a sense that girls were to be protected differently than boys were. But intellectually and in terms of opportunities, I never felt held back by my sex.
This came from the top-from our family's interpretation of centuries-old Brahmin values, from India's midcentury mission to prosper as a newly independent nation, and from Thatha's worldview. I was lucky that my father, whom I called Appa, was completely on board. He was always there to take us to any lessons and walked around with a proud smile if we did something well.
He told me he never wanted me to have to put my hand out and ask for money from anyone other than my parents. "We are investing in your education to help you stand on your own two feet," he said. "The rest is up to you. Be your own person."
My mother's view was the same. She is a tough, driven woman who, like many daughters-in-law in those days, was blamed by the elders for family conflicts, even if she had nothing to do with them. She handled those issues deftly and with a firm hand. She would have made a great CEO. She didn't get the chance to attend college, and she directed that frustration into making sure her girls could soar. It wasn't easy for her. I have always felt that she lived her life vicariously through her daughters, wishing for us the freedoms she never had.
Family, I learned from the very beginning, is fundamental to our lives on this planet. It is both my foundation and the force that has propelled me. The family that I created in the US with my husband, Raj, and my two daughters, Preetha and Tara, is my proudest achievement. I belong to an Indian family of a particular era and am defined by this heritage, but I know that family comes in every form. We thrive, individually and collectively, when we have deep connections with our parents and children, and within larger groups, whether we are related or not. I believe that healthy families are the root of healthy societies.
Table of Contents
Part I Growing Up 1
Part II Finding my footing 73
Part III The PepsiCo years 127
Part IV Looking Ahead 249