Leadership

Indra Nooyi shared a work regret on her last day as PepsiCo CEO

Indra Nooyi attends The Madison Square Garden Company Announcement.
Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Indra Nooyi attends The Madison Square Garden Company Announcement.

Indra Nooyi stepped down as the CEO of PepsiCo Tuesday. As she did, the outgoing exec reflected on career lessons learned in a special 'goodbye' letter to employees. In this LinkedIn post, she encouraged her staffers to set goals, listen openly to feedback and pursue lifelong education. Most crucially, she told them: "Think hard about time."

Nooyi was PepsiCo's first female chief executive and boosted revenue 80 percent during her tenure. Still, she said there are times she wished she had prioritized family. "I've been blessed with an amazing career, but if I'm being honest, there have been moments I wish I'd spent more time with my children and family."

Finding balance is one of the top struggles for any worker. Nooyi's observation is key to anyone seeking top leadership positions and coping with the specific challenges those roles face.

Nooyi has been open about the difficulties she saw raising a family and running a Fortune 500 company. Nooyi's daughter once protested when she heard her mother's desk would be replaced during a renovation, the former exec recalled on a panel for Women in the World in 2016. Nooyi's daughter explained she'd slept beneath that desk while growing up and asked her mother, "How can you give this desk away?"

Reflecting on that moment, Nooyi said: "My god, what a memory for her to have."

This daughter also wrote her mother a letter when she was just 4 or 5 years old. The letter said, "Dear mom, Please, please, please, please please come home. I love you, but I'd love you more if you came home."

Nooyi kept the letter to remind herself what she's lost, she said at the 2016 panel.

Nooyi's responsibilities at home were often in conflict with her success at work. The night she was promoted as PepsiCo's president, her own mother asked her to run out for milk before she could tell her the big news, she writes in a 2017 LinkedIn post.

Nooyi did, despite the fact it was after 10 p.m. and others in the household, including her husband and the family's hired help could have run the errand. When Nooyi returned from the store, she was "hopping mad" and slammed the milk onto the counter. She told her mother the news, that she'd just been named the president of PepsiCo and her mother just wanted her to go out for milk.

Nooyi's mother explained she was not a CEO at home. "When you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother," Nooyi recalled her mother saying. "Nobody else can take that place."

Her mother added: "Leave that damn crown in the garage."

Nooyi acknowledges it's "rarely possible" to be the perfect mother, wife and worker at the same time. Understanding this conflict is the first step to finding solutions.

Building a network of support is key. "If you don't develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work," she said. "You know, stay-at-home mothering was a full-time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full time jobs rolled into one."

Important too, is understanding that each choice is its own sacrifice and that it will be impossible to "have it all."

"Make the most of your days and make space for the loved ones who matter most," she advised in her goodbye letter yesterday.

"I encourage you: be mindful of your choices on the road ahead."

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