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Book Excerpt "My Life in Full" by Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman & CEO, Pepsico

The following is an excerpt from "My Life in Full", the autobiography. of Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman & CEO, Pepsico


Europe India Centre for Business and Industry (EICBI) is pleased to be the industry partner for the book launch of My Life in Full, the autobiography of Indra Nooyi.


In August 1974, I arrived in Calcutta, then a city twice the size of Madras and among the most densely populated places in the world. Calcutta, now called Kolkata, is a political center, the first designated capital of the British in India. My father and I, with my two small suitcases and an old handbag, took a ramshackle taxi from the train station to the campus. The city was congested. Buses and cars whirred by on crowded roads. I heard Bengali, the local language, for the first time. Everyone and everything felt loud.


IIM Calcutta – unlike the IIM Ahmedabad campus designed by the master architect Louis Kahn – occupied a few low-lying build­ings on the Barrackpore Trunk Road, an ancient trade route that was now a busy four-lane highway. The classrooms were in nonde­script, gray buildings, with peeling paint on the walls, scuffed fur­niture, and creaky fans overhead. The library was in a worn- out nineteenth- century mansion on the grounds called Emerald Bower. The whole place flooded to ankle-deep water during the monsoon season. Not a very aspirational setting.


I was one of six women in the eleventh class, or “batch,” in the master’s business program. Our little group lived with the six women of the tenth batch, doubled up in plain, simply furnished dorm rooms with a common bathroom at the end of the corridor. We ate in a big dining hall, together with the two hundred men in the program, on a strict schedule of three meals a day with no snacks. Once in a while, students escaped to little local restaurants for coffee or sweets.


The drab setting and food at school in Calcutta, however differ­ent from our home in Madras, didn’t bother me. I was at IIM Calcutta – famous educational institution in India – and I was pumped.


I had my three-year chemistry degree from MCC and a well-honed sense that I could learn anything if I worked hard enough. I also felt I simply couldn’t fail and bring that shame to my family. It would be a tough slog, but I had to figure it out.


I was a girl of just eighteen, and many of my classmates were in their early twenties. Most were engineers from the famous Indian Institutes of Technology and had already finished five-year programs. Their social backgrounds weren’t too different from mine – middle- class kids, mostly from big cities, who spoke excellent English and had been prodded from birth to excel at school. We had all attended elite undergraduate colleges, and almost no one had work experience. I found the guys cheerful and erudite, dressed in jeans and T‑shirts, hanging out together, playing guitar, or talking politics. They listened to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple; played cards; drank; and smoked a lot of grass, which seemed to be widely available.


IIM Calcutta was very ambitious. It was set up by the Indian government in 1961 with the help of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was steeped in high-level math and statis­tics. I had grown up in socialist-leaning India, but the country was keen to groom the next generation in schools like this for a future of democracy and capitalism.

The subject matter at IIM Calcutta was classic MBA – two-year programme with required courses in the first and electives in the sec­ond. We studied finance, marketing, operations, strategy, econom­ics, team dynamics – all taught with a huge dollop of quant. We learned supply-chain management, modelled factory schedules, reset production plans for multiple distribution centres, and prepared the routing system for a complex truck fleet. The faculty were renowned in their fields and were terrific teachers, too. They built a great rap­port with the students.


One mandatory course was computer-board wiring. I’d never used a computer, and Calcutta had just two System/ 360 main­frames, the then- conic IBM systems that helped globalize comput­ing. We’d get a three‑by‑three-foot sheet of paper with dots and grids and had to solve a problem, first creating a flowchart, then writing a program in FORTRAN and translating it into a wiring diagram for a computer board. For the electrical engineers, this was second nature. For me, it was gruelling. Our solutions were taken across town to the System/ 360 at the Indian Statistical Institute. If the diagram was right, we got an answer; if it was wrong, no credit. I have no idea why that course was useful at all.


While I struggled in some classes, I was well prepared in others. I’d grown up in a swirl of conversation and learned to argue philo­sophical questions in front of a crowd.


As a teenager in Madras when I was in high school, I’d also been invited to three more important student conferences sponsored by the Indian government or international development groups. I don’t know how I made these lists, but I suspect I was recommended by R. K. Barathan, the CEO of a chemical company who judged our student debates in Madras. He had sometimes pulled me aside and given me tips on how to improve my performance, so I presume he saw something in me. I can’t think of another connection that would have elevated my name in this way. In March 1971, I was one of two students from India to participate in the Asian Youth Semi­nar on National Youth Policy in New Delhi. It involved classes and discussion on the future of health, education, Asian integration, and youth involvement, with delegates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, and several more countries.


On the last day, we went to India’s presidential palace – the glo­rious, enormous Rashtrapati Bhavan – for tea with the president, V. V. Giri. I still have the invitation, embossed in gold with the state emblem of India, and my name, Miss Indra Krishnamurthy, hand­written at the top.


Later that year, I was selected to attend the Leslie Sawhny Pro­gramme of Training for Democracy, held in a lush rural military cantonment area in Deolali. That involved more classes and discus­sions on India’s history, the constitution, free elections, and the me­dia. Experts, including the constitutionalist Nani Palkhivala, stuck around after their talks. I particularly remember Brigadier John Dalvi, who knew so much about what it took to draw the line be­tween India and Pakistan in the mid- 940s. He was handsome and stern and chain- moked while recounting stories of the struggles of partition. It all made for wonderful chats around an outdoor fire.


I was also picked to attend a National Integration Seminar in New Delhi, focused on issues related to governing one united In­dia. What issues were state issues? Which ones were federal issues? Why is unity of the country important? The highlight of the week was tea with Indira Gandhi, the prime minister.


Each of these seminars attempted to train future Indian leaders on principles related to rule of law, capitalism, and national cooper­ation. They were very forward-looking and badly needed in the days when India was slowly transitioning to being a full-fledged free market democracy. These experiences gave me a broad per­spective and the foundational knowledge to better understand the country and my place in it.


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Excerpted from My Life in Full by Indra Nooyi. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown Book Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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