In early May, a few of us Clockworkers were invited by our PepsiCo clients to see and hear PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi speak at The Carlson School of Management’s First Tuesday Series. What struck me, and what was evident from the minute she took the stage, was how much of a class act she is: she was genuine, authentic, and totally human. Which is saying a lot for a woman who runs a multi-billion dollar company. Afterward, we were fortunate enough to meet her at a small event where she showed up with that same humanity, plus a clarity and presence that was admirable given her hectic day.

Leadership in Five Bullet Points

Her talk was really quite memorable. In it, she shared five leadership principles that together form the roadmap for her vision of the “new” CEO — the CEO of the future. I loved all 5 points, not just because they align with my own views, but because they also demonstrate a refreshing human-centered approach to business.

  • Balance short-term and long-term successes. Most leaders are too focused on the “now” to really think about long-term development and what’s best for the company — as a whole — over its lifetime. 

  • Build strategic partnerships between public and private organizations. Working together is going to be so much more effective and powerful than working in silos.

  • Think globally and act locally. During the Q&A session she gave some impressive stats as to their employees in offices around the world — they hire locally rather than ship people in to do business in foreign countries.

  • Keep an open mind and adapt to change. Don’t stay so focused on your way that you miss the right way.

  • Act, at all times, with emotional intelligence.

More than anything, the last two points are the ones that struck me.

Change is crucial

First, keeping an open mind and adapting to change. She went on to articulate that in order to act on this, a leader must ask questions and listen to the answers. Actually listen. Only through this asking and listening can a leader facilitate discussions and hear what’s being said. Taking in dissent, challenging opinions, or handling questions about direction is difficult for anyone, especially for many leaders. But hearing and adapting to feedback — even if it’s difficult to hear — is key to growth, effective leadership, and change.  

Change is hard, especially for a company as large as PepsiCo. Throughout her tenure, she’s gotten some push back and criticism for her vision and the decisions she’s made. From what I can tell, she’s leading with the above five principles in mind; she is the CEO of the future. Of course that means change happens slower and that progress looks more like evolution than rapid development, but I respect her so much for making change happen and for doing it with conviction. 

Focus on People

The last point was the one I really loved: leaders must use emotional intelligence when working with people. They have to lead with their head and their heart. As a business owner and leader, this point hit home the hardest. It’s a principle that I’ve relied on over and over when it comes to running Clockwork and in deciding direction, strategy, and evolution.

For me, it’s always about finding a balance between the practical and the human. It’s too easy to think about only the bottom line. And frankly, I think that’s a pretty archaic leadership style because it dismisses the inarguable humanity within business. Our whole self is a concept that I’ve championed and exemplified for years, and now Indra Nooyi was on stage talking about the importance of the “whole self.” She went on to say each person who works within an organization, large or small, is more than just their work “self” and all their other “selves” impacts how they are within a business setting. 

During this part of her talk, she shared an anecdote from her tenure at PepsiCo. A while back, she wrote letters to the parents of her top executive team (200 of them!) thanking them for the hard work they put into raising their kids to be such good leaders. There is tremendous sentiment in this gesture. She made the effort to think about the importance of parents of the people around her and the impact these parents had on the talents, skills, and personalities of a group of people that she — and the company — were now benefiting from. She recognized that her team is more than just executives, they’re each someone’s kid. And that fact was as important as what they were doing for the company. 

Leadership isn’t a title, it’s an attitude and an approach. So developing and valuing emotional intelligence is something that everybody should tend to. Be open to people, try and understand them, and appreciate them for who they are. Hearing her speak was a really validating and illuminating experience. I heard that the way Clockwork’s doing things is how one of the most revered CEOs does them, too. And I saw that the future she’s bringing to life with her leadership is also being forged right here.

More than anything, meeting her made us even more appreciative and grateful for our chance to work with a great team of people at PepsiCo.


A group picture with Indra and our PepsiCo team.