By Patricia Sellers
October 14, 2008

Fortune’s No. 1 Most Powerful Woman, PepsiCo

Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, delivered disappointing quarterly earnings this morning and said that the company will close up to six plants and cut 3,300 jobs. PepsiCo stock is down 9% to $56 in midday trading.

Meanwhile, another Most Powerful Woman–a newcomer to the 2008 rankings released two weeks ago–is on a roll. Johnson & Johnson’s

Sheri McCoy, No. 44 on our MPWomen list, just got promoted from worldwide chairman of the $12 billion surgical care unit to head of the company’s $25 billion pharmaceutical business. Turns out, J&J’s better-than-expected third-quarter earnings, announced this morning, were powered in part by surgical care’s healthy performance. Growth in medical devices, including surgical care, and consumer products drove J&J’s quarterly profits up 30% to 3.3 billion on revenues of $15.9 billion.

I haven’t met McCoy, but when I saw her speak a few months ago, I was struck that she projects the demeanor of a real leader: smart, self-possessed and charismatic.¬†And while J&J has elevated several women to top positions–vice chairman Christine Poon, who is soon to retire, and Colleen Goggins, who is worldwide chairman of the consumer group and No. 24 on our MPWomen list–McCoy stands apart. A chemical engineer by training, she started at J&J in R&D and moved swiftly up through marketing and general management. More than that, in a company that projects a family-friendly image to consumers but where the top women execs historically have been about toughness and drive, McCoy, 49, is renowned for a warm and caring style. One person who used to work for her is Mari Baker, the CEO of Navigenics, a personal-genetics startup in Silicon Valley: “She keeps pictures of her family in her office and was always quite open about needing to get to her sons’ football games,” says Baker about McCoy, who has three sons. “She set a great example for the women on her team.”

Keep an eye on McCoy. If she delivers good growth in pharmaceuticals, she’s clearly a contender to succeed Bill Weldon as J&J’s CEO. The other likely candidates, I hear, are Nick Valeriani, a 30-year J&J veteran who now heads strategy and growth, and Don Casey, a 23-year vet who chairs J&J’s comprehensive care group. With McCoy, who has worked at J&J for 26 years, there’s a combined 79 years of J&J experience among these CEO contenders. That level of company loyalty–what a rarity!

P.S. Yes, I’m back from two weeks away in California, and so is my “Pattie” sign-off. Tell me if you think the signature is silly–or more importantly, should I should keep it? It’s up to you! Thanks!

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