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Indra Nooyi shares the best business advice she learned from her decade running PepsiCo

October 20, 2022, 12:01 PM UTC
Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo.
Courtesy of MasterClass

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott is at the center of the company’s $1.6 billion misinformation lawsuit; a new study uncovers alarming racial disparities in infant deaths related to fertility treatment; and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi offers her guidance to a new generation of leaders.

Best in business Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi became a business icon in her roughly 12 years leading the global behemoth. As one of the very few women of color to run a Fortune 500 company, Nooyi has offered her advice to others over the years who aim to rise through the ranks of corporate America.

She’s shared that wisdom in multiple books and, last month, debuted a series of lessons on the platform MasterClass. In her new class, Nooyi shares some of her most basic tips—like identifying your core competencies—and more advanced guidance, like pinpointing the mega-trends that will shape an industry for a decade or more.

I spoke to Nooyi by Zoom about her new class earlier this month. The former PepsiCo chair and CEO complimented me on drinking Diet Pepsi during our conversation—“very considerate,” she said. (I admit, I usually go for Diet Coke, but the store was out.) Nooyi, who held roles at PepsiCo ranging from SVP of strategic planning to CFO before her corner office appointment, was eager to share her advice with a broader group of professionals.

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo.
Courtesy of MasterClass

Below are some excerpts from our conversation about Nooyi’s new MasterClass series.

How to figure out your unique value

You have to have a unique proposition for a company. Who are you, and what are you offering that they can’t afford to lose? Originally, I didn’t know what my proposition was. But people told me what I could do very well was to take the most complex topic and simplify it. Difficult projects would land in my lap, and people would say, if I can’t solve it, the project must require rethinking.

It’s hard for someone to sit down and really play up what their skill is. But if you have a good manager, they can help you build on your skills and add to your repertoire. The performance appraisal process should help to crystallize your core skills.

How to make the most of a meeting

Be very clear about the objectives of the meeting. What are you trying to do going in? Are the right people in the room? Is it only those who need to be there and not all and sundry? If you see people withdrawing, draw them out—they must have a point of view. Ask people who haven’t spoken if their point of view has been addressed. Maybe someone will say something unexpected.

How to make great first impressions

The first impression is important because you’re coming in with tailwinds. You’ve got no headwinds. But if you make a bad impression, you’ve got headwinds. If you make no impression, who knows where it’s going?

Walk in, look confident—but not overly confident or arrogant—give eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly, and sit down. Go to meetings prepared. Read the material.

How to get buy-in

You have to have conviction in what you’re pushing. Have conviction and confidence in what you’re trying to sell. You have to convince—never just work the crowd. Creating buy-in is tough, and it’s tougher the higher you go because change has to happen on such a profound basis.


Nooyi acknowledged that much of her advice comes from decades in corporate America that predate the rise of remote work and other changes that have profoundly transformed the American workplace. Still, she hopes her experience can guide others.

“Given my background and where I come from—crossing oceans as an immigrant, a person of color, a woman—ascending to lead this iconic company was a tough slog,” she said. “I’d love to see the most unusual, improbable people ascending to the top. Let’s give them the tools to move ahead.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Paige McGlauflin. Subscribe here.

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PARTING WORDS

“A very good friend at the time encouraged me to accept success in the same manner that [drama school] had prepared us to accept failure. To meditate on saying yes and on receiving what could potentially come my way.”

—Actor Lupita Nyong’o on embracing success in acting, instead of expecting failure as she was often advised as a graduate student at Yale’s School of Drama

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