My Life in Full by Indra Nooyi


I have always admired Indra Nooyi for many reasons. I share my birthday with her. Having worked for Coca-Cola I understand the world of Pepsi, even when I was trained to look at it as a competitor. So, it was time to read her biography, My Life in Full, which I assumed is an autobiography till I read the acknowledgments section.

My Life In Full by Indra NooyiWritten in a chronological fashion, My Life in Full, her story begins in Chennai in a middle-class joint or she says, a multi-generational Brahmin family. She begins by explaining what it meant to be Brahmin – it meant limited resources but a focus on education, as well as respect in society for the same. She talks about being taught not to ask for money and to stay frugal instead. As a student, she comes across as multi-faceted as she played cricket and formed an all-girls band. She participated in as many student programs as she can visiting different cities including Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi.

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Navigating through IIM Calcutta and Yale in the USA, she worked in many industries including launching Stayfree in India. Her stint at BCG gave her an opportunity to work in different domains for different clients, till she eventually joined Pepsi and made history of sorts.

As she narrates her career path, you see that she had a knack for making herself indispensable to her boss. They just could not do without her and wanted to take her along wherever they went. It also got her advantage like paid leave when her father was not well or during maternity. At one place she admits that she was working for an individual and not an organization. From my limited experience in the corporate world, I can see that most successful executives take this approach of joining a group and progressing together.

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She also tried to build a group of powerful women by inviting the women CEOs of American companies. She must be so good at hustling just like Hillary Clinton who she became friends. No wonder both President Obama and PM Manmohan Singh said – she is one of us. Being good with people is a rare quality of good leaders.

On the personal front, you see her struggling like any working mother in America and lately probably in India too. You see her torn apart between her children, their caregivers, and her professional commitments. She probably weighed her career a bit more with the help of a supportive husband and help from her parents and in-laws. It is not always easy, there are always pushes and pulls involved when you depend on people for your core duties.

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She talks about the subtle biases that she faced as a woman as well as a person of color or maybe as an immigrant. She looked past them with her eyes firmly focused on her work. I remember her once tweeting that she does not like being called Sweetie, Honey or Babe and I responded by saying I am with you. I hate being addressed like that. However, the difference is that she ignored it and moved ahead. Later when she was in a position to influence, she took initiatives like establishing childcare facilities at the workplace or changing the cobbled streets to ones more comfortable for heel-wearing women.

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I was amused to hear her say that when she changed her dressing style after becoming the CEO, she did see the impact of her power dressing in the boardroom and I assume elsewhere. All I can say is for women who do not care about dressing too much, it is not easy to make that change or let designers decide what you wear.


She talks about her relationship with her mother often. I like the way she puts it – one foot on the accelerator and another on the brake. I am sure many Indian women would find it relatable. Our parents want us to grow and conquer the world but also be home for everything. There are times when she comes home to share the news of a big promotion. But all her mother wants is for her to go and fetch milk. Keep your crown in the garage she says. Women doing well in their careers often face a version of this.

She talks about her receiving the coveted Padma Bhushan from the Government of India, and when none of her relatives called to congratulate her. This is also so common. The extended family would like to use your name. But they would forget to participate in your joy. I think Indra Nooyi is being brutally honest and raw here.

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Toward the end of the book My Life in Full, she talks about her favorite initiatives at Pepsi. That can be a bit boring in retrospect. I did learn about the Activist Funds that tend to influence companies with good growth potential. Activism is a disease everywhere.


She passionately talks about her focus on bringing care to families both for children as well as elderly. A lot of what she says is primarily focused on the American society that she belongs to now. I admire her writing letters to the parents or spouses of her direct reports thanking them for the wonderful people she got to work with.

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Her Indian ethos of growing up with a grandfather does show up in her talks where she promotes multi-generational homes and encourages young couples to have children. In one place she says – Families are the roots of healthy societies.

Born in a vegetarian family, Indra Nooyi stays vegetarian which can be challenging as a corporate nomad. I smiled as I read about her making tomato sandwiches during her student days. I have bought bread, tomatoes, and butter in so many places to make myself sandwiches.

Overall, My Life in Full is an interesting read with good insights for women on the corporate ladder.

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