One of the most prominent women CEOs in the world, Nooyi will step down from her post on 3 October.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on August 7, 2018

Nooyi spent a total of 24 years at PepsiCo and was credited with increasing sales 80% during her 12 years as CEO. The company is most often associated with Pepsi, but is a food and beverage conglomerate with hundreds of brands including Gatorade, Doritos, Cheetos, Walkers and Aquafina bottled water.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done and excited for the future,” Nooyi wrote on Twitter.

The outgoing Nooyi has agreed to remain on as Chairman at PepsiCo until early next year to allow for a smooth handover to her successor, current PepsiCo President Ramon Laguarta.

When Nooyi first started working in corporate America, she felt self-conscious that she only owned two suits. But she soon developed a reputation as someone who got results.

“I started to depend more and more on my brains and my hard work as opposed to how I looked or how I talked,” she said. “Think of me not as a complete package, but a brain.”

Nooyi turned PepsiCo into a bigger, more diverse, more health-conscious company

Among her achievements was leading PepsiCo’s transition to a more environmentally aware company. The company also expanded internationally and diversified, leading to healthy revenue growth. The company’s share price almost doubled and the dividend price per share tripled during her tenure.

She also steered the company towards a greater presence in the health food space, acquiring fruit and vegetable snack producer Bare Foods earlier this year. While this strategy was initially unpopular with investors, it paid off in the long run. In 2006, when she moved into the CEO position, 38% of the company’s revenue was derived from healthier drink and snack products. Today, healthier options make up half of Pepsico’s revenue.

“Growing up in India, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to lead such an extraordinary company,” Nooyi said in a statement.

“Guided by our philosophy of Performance with Purpose—delivering sustained performance while making more nutritious products, limiting our environmental footprint and lifting up all the communities we serve—we’ve made a more meaningful impact in people’s lives than I ever dreamed possible.”

Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management paid tribute to Nooyi’s socially conscious approach.

“She is an Asian-born woman who rocketed to the top of America’s corporate elite, but she never acted like an elitist. She didn’t think like an elitist,” he said.

“She always felt doing well and doing good were not antithetical to one another.”

Nooyi said she was standing down partly to spend more time with her mother.

Indra Nooyi, a rare woman of colour in a CEO role

The Indian-born Nooyi was a rare example of a person of colour leading a Fortune 500 company. After her departure in October, there will only be a single woman of colour running a Fortune 500 company.

She was also part of a small minority of women leading large corporations. She is currently one of only 25 women to be CEO of a company listed in the Standard & Poors 500.

The number of women CEOs at the top end of industry has decreased in the last year after Denise Morrison left Campbell Soup, Meg Whitman resigned as CEO of Hewlett Packard and Margo Georgiadis stepped down as CEO of Mattel. Morrison had been voted one of the most reputable CEOs just days before her resignation.

Nooyi previously shared her theory on why there are not more women CEOs with Freakonomics radio: “We get a lot of women in at the entry-level positions. As you get to middle management, women rise to those positions, and then that’s the childbearing years.

“When they have children, it’s difficult to balance having children, your career, your marriage, and be a high potential out-performer who’s going to grow in the company. So it starts to thin out as you move up. We have to solve for that.”

Before taking on the CEO role, Nooyi had overseen many of the company’s key acquisitions including its 2001 purchase of Quaker Oats. She earned US$31 million last year.

Her successor will become only the sixth CEO of the company in its 53-year history. Nooyi said he was an ideal fit for the role.

“He is a terrific executive with a long and proven track record of growing businesses,” she said.

“He has a deep understanding of the changing preferences of consumers and other critical trends unfolding around the world, and he has demonstrated that he knows how to navigate them successfully. Ramon has been a critical partner in running the company, and I’m confident he will take PepsiCo to new and greater heights in the years to come.”

Read on: Spotlight on Indra Nooyi