Leadership

Steve Jobs to PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi: Don’t be too nice

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PepsiCo CEO: Steve Jobs taught me why it was okay to throw tantrums

When Indra Nooyi first took the reins as PepsiCo's CEO in 2006, she reached out to tech titan Steve Jobs. She wanted his insight on how he ran and transformed Apple.

"He graciously agreed to spend some time with me, Nooyi recalled in a 2016 panel at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the two talked for nearly three hours.

The lessons he shared with her were "phenomenal," she said, and she implemented many throughout her tenure as PepsiCo's chief exec.

Nooyi is one of just a few women of color running a Fortune 500 company. She will step aside on Oct. 3 after 12 years leading the food and beverage giant.

Here are three takeaways she learned from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs.

1. Stick to your guns

One of the most critical lessons Nooyi learned from Jobs was the importance of staying true to your vision.

He taught her how to "take something that you truly believe in and stick with it," explained Nooyi, "as opposed to changing your point of view because the outside world wants you to change."

That way of thinking empowered Nooyi and helped her push for new thinking at PepsiCo. She began to see the company as hers and that as its leader she had the right to implement any changes as she saw fit.

This allowed her to put down roots within the organization and stay on as CEO for many years, she told Stanford students. "I came in started to shake the status quo from day one," she said.

2. Own your legacy

The first question Jobs asked Nooyi was how she intended to make her mark on PepsiCo, she said at a 2016 DealBook Conference in New York City.

For Nooyi, design was top priority since she understood its importance to connecting with customers' lives. She envisioned changing the way products were packaged and even how they were placed on store shelves.

She shared this goal with Jobs, who responded, "if design is important to you, it has to report to you because it's a new skill that you have to build in the company."

"If you don't show CEO support for that function, don't even get started on that journey," Jobs told her.

The late Steve Jobs, Apple founder and former CEO, introduces the iPhone at a conference in 2007.
Getty Images

Nooyi immediately heeded his advice. During her first few years as CEO, she went to the grocery store every week, took photos of PepsiCo products and sent critiques to her design and marketing teams.

She also instructed her team to take photos of anything that they thought constituted good design over a period of three months, she recalled at the Stanford panel.

The results horrified her. Some people didn't turn in an album at all, some had their wives complete it and others hired a professional designer. The exercise helped show her where the company could improve and how to reshape the way employees viewed product design.

3. Be a little mean

Jobs was clear with Nooyi: "Don't be too nice."

The founder told her: "When you really don't get what you want and you really believe that's the right thing for the company, it's okay to throw a temper tantrum [and] throw things around."

For Jobs, such stunts were a way to get attention for things he cared about. Nooyi recalled the late founder telling her, "People will talk about it and they'll know it's important for you."

Nooyi later talked to Jobs' agency partners who confirmed that the late Apple founder was no stranger to outbursts. If someone showed him a campaign or design for a product he didn't like, "he would throw the papers across the room and make them work all night," the PepsiCo CEO said at the DealBook conference.

While she stopped short of throwing papers, Nooyi admitted that she learned to pound tables and raise her voice more than she ever had before.

"It shows the passion that I have for what I'm doing," she said.

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