Nooyi, a global leader who rose to become PepsiCo’s chairman and chief executive officer, shared insights she developed over many years about gender bias, inequality and being a mother in today’s workforce.
On May 1, 2023, Mercy College welcomed Indra Nooyi, former chairman & CEO, PepsiCo, to its Dobbs Ferry Campus for an engaging conversation about breaking down barriers. Nooyi, a global leader who rose to become PepsiCo’s chairman and chief executive officer, shared insights she developed over the years, many of which are included in her book, “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future,” about gender bias, inequality and being a mother in today’s workforce.
Nearly 250 people attended the event, including Mercy College students, faculty, staff, Mercy and College of New Rochelle (CNR) alumni, Mercy Trustees and community partners spanning the education, nonprofit and business sectors. As master of ceremonies, Mercy Chief Advancement Officer Bernadette Wade began the program by welcoming Nooyi to the College, then introducing Mercy College President Tim Hall.
“It is indeed an honor to host a corporate luminary and visionary thinker such as Indra Nooyi,” said Hall. “She is one of those rare breeds of leader who not only sees the possibility of change, but makes it happen. And she did this by demonstrating that it is possible for a corporation to be a good citizen of the world in addition to a profitable business. That good global citizenship is something we try to instill in all our students at Mercy College as they head into their various careers.”
At the start of the conversation, facilitated by Mercy College’s Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Eva Fernández, Nooyi expressed her gratitude to Mercy College for the invitation to speak. “I have never been to Mercy College before and I’m thinking I really missed out. So, thank you for having me and it is a privilege to be here.”
Nooyi continued by answering questions – all submitted by event attendees – on managing the responsibilities of being chief executive officer and a mother, the importance of advancing women in the workplace, her leadership philosophy, the challenges and opportunities for professional women of color, and how to implement effective diversity, equity and inclusion programs and policies in the workplace.
On the topic of balancing work and family, she said, “Well, unfortunately, women are born with this perfection gene. We want to do everything perfectly. So, we sacrifice everything about ourselves, which I did. There are struggles all the time, a lot of juggling. You just hope you juggle all these priorities, and the most important ones don't crash...If you have the courage and the resilience you can power through.”
To rise through the ranks and become a successful leader, Nooyi advised, “The most important thing each of us have to know is our proposition to the company. Always ask yourself, how am I going to be a lifelong student so I can learn everything around my job so that I can offer a proposition to the company which I keep improving?” She also said, “Expand the scope of your job and push to make it better. It’s a very unselfish thing that you have to do.”
Nooyi also met with about 30 Mercy students during a pre-event reception to learn about their career interests and extracurricular involvement. The students asked Nooyi for her thoughts on how to stand out in a competitive marketplace and succeed as they embark on their careers after graduation.
Mercy student Taylor George ’26 was thankful for the opportunity to meet Nooyi and hear a global leader of such importance speak at her college. “What stood out to me the most was Indra Nooyi’s comments about performance and purpose. Having purpose behind your performance, I think that’s really important – you have to know why you’re showing up,” said George. “And in my pursuit of internships and a career, knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing is going to keep me on the path forward to achieving what I want.”
Nooyi was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo from 2006-2019. She was the chief architect of the PepsiCo initiative “performance with purpose” – PepsiCo’s pledge to be a better corporate citizen by being responsive to the needs of the world around it. This led PepsiCo to expand its portfolio of brands to include more nutritious foods, to limit its environmental footprint, and to empower people in the communities it serves. Through “performance with purpose” Nooyi also acknowledged the need to attract and retain talent by providing family friendly employee benefits and initiatives.
Nooyi has been named “Outstanding American by Choice” by the U.S. State Department. In 2019 her portrait was inducted into the Smithsonian national portrait gallery, and in 2021 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
She holds a B.S. from Madras Christian College in Chennai, India, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and a Master of Public and Private Management from Yale University. She is the first woman to endow a chair at Yale’s School of Management.
Nooyi is also the recipient of 15 honorary degrees including one in 2003 from CNR, a legacy Mercy has continued to preserve as part of its agreement with CNR when it closed in 2019.
To watch a video about Nooyi's visit to Mercy College, click here.