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PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi Is ‘Concerned’ Her Departure Will Leave So Few Female CEOs

August 6, 2018, 9:10 PM UTC

When Indra Nooyi steps down after 12 years running PepsiCo in October, the consumer packaged goods industry will lose its current longest-running CEO, and perhaps its most visible and vocal.

But an even more exclusive club will say goodbye to one of its longtime members. Nooyi’s departure in two months will further diminish the already small group of female Fortune 500 CEOs—she is one of just 25—and the even more minuscule ranks of women of color. (When Nooyi took the job at PepsiCo in October 2006, she was one of 11 female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company.)

“It concerns me in that we can actually count how many there are, as opposed to saying there are hundreds,” she told Fortune today in an interview.

Nooyi will become one of three recent Fortune 500 female CEOs to depart from a consumer-packaged goods company—once one of the rare bright spots for women chiefs. Almost exactly a year ago, Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld announced she would be stepping down from the maker of Oreos and Cadbury, and in May Campbell Soup’s Denise Morrison retired suddenly.

Those departures are part of a broader exodus of top executives in the Big Food sector as the industry grapples with pressure from activists, a radically changing consumer, and a hyper-competitive retail environment. Nooyi was one of the earliest CEOs in the sector to try to adjust to the company to the public’s growing demand for healthier goods.

Before today’s announcement, PepsiCo’s stock was essentially flat year over year, versus a 15% increase for the S&P. Its beverage sales in North America had dropped for four consecutive quarters as consumers look for alternatives to soda.

Nooyi said that the timing of her departure was unrelated. “I look at our performance over a long period of time,” she said. “The company is in great shape.” Over her tenure, Nooyi has delivered an 8% annualized total return to shareholders, versus 8.9% for the S&P over the same period.

Nooyi said the conversations about her transition started approximately one year ago. Nooyi’s successor, Ramon Laguarta, was named PepsiCo’s president last July.

“I’ve been in the company 24 years, and it’s been a labor of love,” said Nooyi, who is 62. “At some point, you’ve got to sit back and say, what do I want to do with my life.”

She said that she did not yet know what she wanted to do next. But Nooyi, who has not been afraid to get political, said it would not be running for office. “I’m not good at politics,” she said. “I’m just a good worker bee.”

One area of interest for Nooyi is getting more women into the upper echelons of management. “In many ways, I think after stepping down as CEO I can work with other women to figure out how to get them to c-suite positions and as a mentor and supporter,” she said.

The big question, she added, is how to remove barriers to women’s progress—a topic she’s been talking about a lot these days. “I see the struggles women go through, and you can’t expect every woman to be a superwoman,” she said. “It just doesn’t work because there’s one constraint we all have, and that’s that there are only 24 hours in a day.”

It’s a topic Nooyi is especially well-equipped to address. Last year in an interview she told Fortune that she gets up every hour in the night to check her email and that she thrived on the workload and pace.

And yet she has also been more candid than most top female executives when it comes to reflecting on the sacrifices she’s made personally for her work.

“It is all consuming,” she said. “When you are the CEO, especially of such a large company company, there’s only one priority, and that priority is being CEO. I think my family was short-changed a lot. The last 24 years, the PepsiCo family always came first.”

She added, “Now is the the time to shift my priorities to my family.”