When Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi speaks, the world listens. Not just because she happens to be the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Pepsico, the world’s second largest food and beverage business. And not because she is the third wealthiest woman CEO of Fortune 500 ranking (44). Nooyi is 62 now but global captains of industry have been reverently lapping up her words of wisdom for long.
The Indian-American lady does not dabble in the nitty-gritty of business in her public speeches. That is for the treatises and tomes of business management that professors swear by. Despite having done her MBA from Yale, Nooyi has preferred to distil all his management gyan into values which make us better human beings. One can become a bloated money bag through business trickery but you cannot become a respected business leader by pursing money alone. You can build hordes of gold but getting the golden shine remains the preserve of only a few.
Businessmen, who transcend business considerations while remaining involved in commerce, evolve into higher beings like Nooyi. The world becomes their concern. Their work becomes a passion. They work for the sheer joy of it. And they end up raising others around them. No wonder, they are idolised by millions, mainly upcoming business executives, and are remembered forever.
Recently, I happened to come across a YouTube speech delivered by Indra Nooyi at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. I found it succinct and scintillating. Let me analyse the salient features of the short address.
Nooyi started off by referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’. Talking about ‘outliers’, that is the most famous and successful persons in the world, Gladwell makes a very pertinent point which we often tend to overlook in our lives. Usually we try to assess what successful people are like. Rarely do we care to discover their background, that is, where are they from, their family, culture and generation and the very different and special features of their upbringing.
Referring to Gladwell’s book, Nooyi told the august audience in the presence of the then President of India Pranab Mukherjee, “… who you are cannot be separated from where you came from. I left India 35 years ago, went on to the United States and went on to have tremendous success in that meritocracy.But none of that could have happened if I hadn’t had a wonderful upbringing very much here in India. So I have a lot to thank India for.”
It really gladdened the hearts of Indians to find Nooyi being grateful to India despite being an American citizen perched atop the corporate pinnacle now. She broke many a ceiling to rise to such heights – being a non-white Asian that too being a woman. These are still major handicaps even in the so called advanced world. Nooyi performed spectacularly in the West’s dog-eat-dog business world. Indeed, Nooyi does not have too manypeers or competitors amongst professional managers.
Nooyi shared three lessons with the listeners. You will find them very simple. But we often falter in life because we neglect the basics or consider them insignificant.
“First, please be a lifelong student. When we were kids we asked questions like why is the sky blue? Why is that bird flying so high? But, for some reason as we grow that curiosity goes away.”
She cautioned that we atrophy when we become happy with the knowledge we have. Unwilling to remain a lifelong student we gradually turn into fossils. “Don’t lose that curiosity,” urged Nooyi.
What Nooyi said at the Rashtrapati Bhawan is all the more relevant today when change has become the only constant. Technology is developing at an incredible pace. Artificial intelligence is emerging both as a threat and an opportunity depending on your level of curiosity and the willingness to remain on the learning curve.
Anticipating the future using tools like big data and even sheer intuition is imperative. Complacency can kill. We have seen the debacle of world champs like Nokia and Kodak. Real estate giants are hankering for high net worth clients. Only the other day, a Dubai construction behemoth held a road show in Mumbai to lure customers.
The plummeting fortunes of petroleum-producing countries are creating political and social upheaval in West Asia. All these companies or countries refused to see the stor m staring at them and are finding themselves in a soup. Revival is terribly difficult though not impossible. The required surgery will be painful. We can see how petro-exporter Venezuela is virtually gasping for breath.
And if this can happen to the affluent West Asia and other industrial conglomerates, then we can well imagine the fate which awaits weaker economies and smaller business enterprises. So keep your eyes open, remain vigilant and keep upgrading yourself to meet new challenges. The smarter lot, whether countries, industrial groups, companies or business professionals, can turn threats and challenges into opportunities.
“Second, whatever you do throw yourself into it. Throw your head, heart and hands into it. I look at my job, not as a job. I look at it like a calling, like a passion. I don’t care about the hours. I don’t care about the hardship because to me everything is a joy. So whatever you do please look upon it as a calling, as a passion, not as a job, not as something temporary,” Nooyi offered this as her second advice.
I find the lady’s suggestion highly relevant for Nepal at this juncture. Major economic, political and social upheavals in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are ominous signs for Nepal. Over half a million Nepalese youth work as migrant labourers in these two countries alone. The situation in other countries in the region, as well as in Malaysia, is not too heartening.
It is an open secret that Nepali youth are compelled to work under difficult and, at times, inhuman conditions in these countries. One can only expect our embassies to protect the interests of our workers there. As of now, large-scale return is not an option. But if turmoil escalates in West Asia, then our migrant workers may be forced to come home. Considering the fact that the majority of our workers abroad hail from Madhesh region, their return may have serious socio-political implications.
Skill enhancement of potential Nepali migrants is called for. The government needs to act expeditiously. Small and medium enterprises need to be incentivised. Modern agriculture and agri-business techniques need to be introduced to optimise the potential in the farm sector.
But how can all this happen fast enough? Through a change in mind set! Nooyi’s third but most important suggestion was to help others rise.
“Greatness does not come from a position but from helping build the future. All of us in positions of power have an obligation to pull others up. As I stand here today I do not look at it as an honour but as a challenge, responsibility and an obligation to make it possible for people who are younger to come up and achieve levels of greatness.”
Easier said than done! Yet imperative!
Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)