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Nooyi at Pepsi pinnacle, a global bottleneck breaks

Aug. 14: Indra Nooyi today smashed a glass ceiling for Indian women in global corporate boardrooms when she was appointed chief executive officer of PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest soft drinks maker.

Chennai-born Nooyi is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and the Yale school of management.

Nooyi (50) has been with the company since 1994 and has been its chief financial officer since 2001. She will be the fifth CEO in PepsiCo’s 41-year history. She will take over the reins from Steven Reinemund on October 1.

The announcement was made on the eve of India’s 59th Independence Day – and it comes at a time when the soft drinks maker is battling fresh charges of pesticide residue in the soft drinks that it makes at its Indian plants.

Nooyi has directed the company’s global strategy for over a decade and was the primary architect of PepsiCo’s restructuring, including the divestiture of its restaurants into the successful YUM! Brands, Inc.

Nooyi said: “I am humbled by the opportunity to lead PepsiCo, and profoundly grateful to follow in the footsteps of Steve Reinemund, Roger Enrico, Wayne Calloway and Don Kendall. Steve has steered the company to a strong and enviable position, and he will be a continuing source of wisdom and perspective.

“I am equally fortunate to have amazing partners, not only on the board and executive team, but in the 157,000 bright, talented colleagues around the world who deliver the results every day and are as committed as I am to continue capturing every growth opportunity.”

In 2002, Nooyi had visited the Calcutta business school and found time to interact with budding managers. A student had then wondered what her next move would be. “I don’t know,” she said. “Probably I will have to go to my astrologer to check.”

Today, Anup Sinha, IIM Calcutta’s professor of economics, said: “We are proud because she is a woman, because she is a person of Indian origin, because she is an alumnus of this organisation.”

Outgoing CEO Reinemund, who wants to spend more time with his family but will continue as chairman of the board until his retirement in May 2007, was also full of praise for her. “Indra’s record of transforming PepsiCo speaks for itself, and she has been an invaluable partner and ally throughout my time as CEO.”

Crediting her with “sharp talent for turning insightful ideas and plans into realities”, Reinemund added that “I am convinced she is more than qualified and clearly ready for her new role in leading PepsiCo.”

Nooyi started her career as a project manager with Johnson & Johnson soon after graduating from IIM Calcutta. She later moved to Chennai-based Mettur Beardsell.

Chancing upon an advertisement in a magazine for graduate admissions at Yale school of management, Nooyi applied for a lark and was accepted.

Like so many before her, India’s loss was America’s gain.

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