Indra Nooyi: Why It Can Get Lonely (and Tiring!) at the Top

January 7 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Take a Breather

There’s a funny quote that reads, “She believed she could, but she was really tired, so she didn’t.” Can you relate? Girl, I’m tired. So, so tired. Sometimes it’s the everyday gruntwork: dishes piling up, laundry yet to be folded, library books overdue. Sometimes it’s the news: another sexual harasser, another politician getting indicted for poor choices, another wildfire taking people’s lives. It can all be a lot.

It’s OK to take a moment, a day, a year to fill your cup up with something that brings you joy, something that’s easy. If you’re someone who pushes until she has nothing left, take a breather. Put self-care on your calendar right now.


There’s much to admire about women who are in male-dominated companies and forge ahead, paving the way for future generations. But it’s hard, hard work to be the only female in the room. These women can feel like their every move is under a microscope, as if their performance is the voice of their entire gender. That’s a lot of pressure, and maybe it’s why in 2018, the amount of female chief executives dropped by 25 percent.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Indra Nooyi, Former CEO of PepsiCo

One accomplished woman who is taking a much-needed moment of calm is today’s Woman to Watch, Indra Nooyi. For a couple dozen years, Indra worked at PepsiCo, eventually working her way up to CEO. Growing up in India, the idea of being in charge of such a large international company wasn’t even on her radar. So how did Indra end up in charge of more than 260,000 employees?

Indra came to the states to pursue an education. Her mother in India threatened to fast if Indra left the country to pursue what her mother believed would make her undesirable for marriage. It was, in fact, Indra’s father and grandfather who encouraged her to pursue her bold dreams. (Don’t worry, her mother’s fast only lasted a day.)

Following her graduation at the Yale School of Management, Indra worked at a consulting group in Chicago. After her time in the windy city, Indra headed to PepsiCo to work on corporate strategy. Her knack for seeing the big picture and how to get there gave her plenty of credence, which ultimately guided her into the CEO position.

During her time at the company, net revenue has nearly doubled as PepsiCo has pursued more environmentally friendly approaches and healthier products. Indra has refreshing candor that rarely comes from anyone successful. There were, according to Indra, plenty of tradeoffs to being CEO: Her kids were growing up, but she admits that she was still putting PepsiCo first her first.

In a heartbreaking letter, Indra’s four-year-old daughter wrote that she loves Indra, but would love her more if she were home more often. That’s a stab in the heart, isn’t it? These are the tradeoffs for being at the top, so Indra recently resigned.

On Indra’s last day at the company, she offered a few bits of advice. First, she says, bring people along with you. She believes no matter how smart you are, you can’t accomplish much alone. Second, be a lifelong learner, so even if you’re the smartest woman in the room, there’s always more to learn. Third, remember that time is precious; Indra’s one regret is that she missed those school activities, those family meals, those good mornings and good nights. Life is all about balance.


Indra Nooyi said:

"To be a CEO is a calling. You should not do it because it is a job. It is a calling, and you have got to be involved in it with your head, heart and hands. Your heart has got to be in the job; you got to love what you do; it consumes you. And if you are not willing to get into the CEO job that way, there is no point getting into it."

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