27 Sep 2021 12:38 IST

Indra Nooyi: Students have mobility today to study, work abroad

Photo by Dave Puente

Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on her learnings at Yale and why the MBA curriculum needs change

Former PepsiCo Chairman & CEO Indra Nooyi’s storied career is legendary. A chemistry graduate of Madras Christian College and an MBA from IIM Calcutta, Nooyi went on later to earn another MBA from the Yale school of management in the US. Nooyi would later go on to head one of American’s iconic corporations, PepsiCo, as its Chairman and CEO. Nooyi has penned her autobiography, My Life in Full: Work, Family, and our Future, published by Hachette India.




In an interview preceding her book launch, Nooyi talks about her learnings at Yale and why the MBA curriculum needs change and also gives advice to young Indians seeking to go abroad to study. Read on:

What were your biggest learnings at Yale? Does the fact that Yale has a Madras connect influence you? (Elihu Yale was a former Governor of Madras when India was controlled by the British)

I don’t think that it had anything to do with my coming to Yale. I will tell you that when I came to Yale for the first time, to me it was a brand new experience. It was terrifying; I was lonely but somehow powered through it.

I also learnt so much at Yale. How discussions happen. How arguments are framed. Our classroom discussions were rich and the professor was one of us. They were willing to push the boundaries of thinking and the reading … it was a whole different experience than the classrooms in India. Remember, I went to some of the best institutions in India so I have nothing against MCC or IIM Calcutta. They were fantastic. But Yale took it to a whole new level. I learnt so much. I grew so much and the way the professors encourage you, support you, meet you outside classroom hours to give you some more coaching. I was a beneficiary of all of that.

And so I think, when I came to the country, and when I say I am a product of the world’s largest and the world’s oldest democracy, I’m also a product of various educational institutions in this democracy that stepped up to help me, and Yale was number one in them and the various professors who stepped up to say … Oh! There is something here in this lady. Let me see how we can give her a little bit more, so that she can do even better. They coached me for interviews, and they taught me how to dress; so many things that Yale did for me. I am deeply in Yale’s debt.

You referred in your book to how you messed up your dress for your first interview from Yale?

It was pathetic. I had nobody to tell me what to do and I never asked them. I didn’t know who to go to and I was very embarrassed. I’ve had interesting experiences with clothes all my life.

You’ve done a lot for MCC — the women’s lounge and contributed to the labs as well. Do you plan anything for Madras as your legacy?

I don’t know how to work with the political system, but I want to do everything I can. I rebuilt all the labs at Holy Angels, the chemistry labs at MCC, all of those look fantastic. The women’s lounge looks great.

There is one thing that I would like to think about in working with some of the other senior executives in India, is thinking about the Anganwadi system that exist in india and taking one community and designing an Anganwadi 3.0 or 4.0 which could serve as a backbone for childcare, for people who are not so well off. I have to think about how to do it. So that’s one topic that’s intriguing to me and I want to see how I can help give back that way.




You talk about your meeting with Steve Jobs and design thinking inputs which are important. Do you think today’s MBA curriculum needs to be changed to have more design thinking in that? Because in your book you also talk about the importance of design when you hired the Italian designer for Pepsi, Mauro Porcini.

I think so much has to change in the MBA curriculum. It’s not just design. Its thinking about how different disciplines come together to solve business issues. Business issues never are narrow business issues … political issues, environment issues, economic issues, legal issues ... how do you bring that all together? There’s a lot that has to change with what we teach the business schools. I think that the conversation has started. Changes are happening in the market but at some point we have to think about re-designing the curriculum and I spoke at the association of MBA directors and I shared some of my thoughts with them. I think there is an opportunity to re-make the curriculum so we develop students for the future so that we can have even more responsible citizens as we face the issues that are inevitably going to strike us … whether they are privacy issues, cyber-security issues, pandemics or outbreaks or whatever.

What would your advice be for young Indians who are seeking out, to come to the US to study and perhaps to work? Or would you say that today in India the opportunities have opened up far more and would you advise them on continuing to be here?

I think the big difference now is you don’t have to come to the US to study and work here. You can study and work in India and travel to the US and go back to India. So you’ve got this incredible mobility that’s come in now. Those days you were given $500 and that’s it and you know travel was limited. Now the world is your oyster. So you can study from India, from US institutions because of online learning, you can travel any time you want … so think hard before you cross the ocean and go to a different country to study and work. Think hard about what you’re giving up before going there and think hard about what you’re going to get when you go there. Again, it’s an individual’s choice but also understand all the challenges of going to a new country and starting over.

So as long as you go there with your eyes open and you’re ready for all the challenges, you make your choice of which country you want to be in. But India is a different place now than it was when I was growing up and the world is more open these days. So the opportunities in front of everybody today are fantastic.


Watch the video here.