Last week, PepsiCo announced that the CEO, Indra Nooyi, would be retiring in a few months. Though I have not met her, I admired her from a distance and wanted to share why. The following has been adapted from an article previously published on Forbes.com:
Dear Indra Nooyi,
I write this to express the ways in which you have provided a role model for millions of people who are leaders or may find themselves in circumstances where they may be called upon to lead.
The financial performance of PepsiCo speaks to your leadership but is far from the only measure. PepsiCo has made inroads in areas such as sustainability and health and you have spoken for years about the need for businesses to do good and have maintained a dignified, steady demeanor while doing so. Even when significant shareholders sought to influence the company in ways that collided with plans you, and the management team were pursuing, you did not allow a crisis to develop. Indeed, a confident, calm leader is an antidote to chaos.
Your educational path is one I often recommend – diverse. Frequently, students are urged to specialize, learning more and more about less and less. Yet, I often encounter successful leaders whose backgrounds are more eclectic than a shallow review would indicate. Your undergraduate work in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, followed by a master’s in business and a second master’s at the Yale School of Management provides diverse content knowledge but as important, different approaches.
CEO transitions are not easy and accompanied by a host of features that can quickly become disruptive. Congratulations to you and the board for the smoothness with which you have handled this initial phase of what is a momentous change.
As the attention will quickly turn to your successor, your role may seem less important, but nothing could be further from the truth. The way a leader departs is often overlooked in CEO transitions. You are proceeding in this transition with the same calm dignity you have displayed during your time in the CEO role. This provides an instructive contrast to what some CEOs do.
Leaders at any level can learn from your example. Among the lessons are the following:
- Calm is contagious. A leader needs to be confident and if not, do what is needed to get there.
- Companies need diversity of thinking. They often seek it in a group when it actually starts within the mind of the leaders.
- Because someone has a financial interest in your business doesn’t mean they share your vision or strategic intent. Leaders must have an informed trust in themselves.
- The selection and oversight of the CEO is one of, if not the most critical role of a board. This process deserves the sort of attention and planning that it appears you and the board have given to this important phase.
- While a CEO is, rightly, the face of the company, they cannot be solely in charge of when to move on. Done well, this is a decision that requires partnership between the CEO and the board.
The human mind and memory are drawn to beginnings and endings. A new leader can take advantage of newness to signal future direction. A departing leader has a unique role in helping people feel proud of what has been accomplished and remind them of their capacity that will continue into the future. That is a gift of lasting value.
I am confident that you will attend to employees, customers and investors as your transition progresses.
To the reader, I recommend that you listen to an interview on Freakonomics Radio: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/indra-nooyi-update/