Barely 2 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, and a similarly small number are foreign born. Newly appointed PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi is both.
At a time when more and more U.S. companies outsource jobs to less-developed countries to take advantage of cheap labor, PepsiCo took the opposite track with its new CEO -- hiring the Indian-born and Indian-educated Nooyi to fill the company's top job. When she assumes the position on Oct. 1, she'll become only the 12th female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
As such, the company's executive suite will get a dose of Indian culture mixed in with the traditional American working mom. Though now an American citizen, Nooyi, a 50-year-old mother of two, continues to hold strong ties to her native country and has been known to wear traditional Indian saris to company functions.
Her ascension to the company's top spot has been hailed by some as a beacon for American businesswomen.
Seema Singh, president of the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce, believes more women are ready to assume major power roles. The key, she says, is to encourage "men to let women take these positions on. They're there and smart and are ready, but we need to encourage men to allow the opportunity."
The growing rate of outsourcing of "human-interaction" jobs, such as telemarketing or technical support, by American corporations to cheaper overseas companies has drawn a lot of attention recently. The trend, highlighted in Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman's recent book "The World Is Flat," is one of the signs of an expanding world market and growing global job competition.
The term "outsourcing" has become a buzzword as politicians banter about the fate of the American worker and labor unions fight to keep jobs in the United States.
The reality is that today outsourcing happens at thousands of American companies, including PepsiCo, Nooyi's employer, which owns such brands as Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker, Gatorade and, of course, the soft drink Pepsi. In June Pepsi caught flak from labor unions when it threatened to move manufacturing jobs to Jamaica.
But little attention has been paid, outside the science research and medical communities, to the in-sourcing of executives who are foreign born and foreign educated.
"The Indian community has been contributing to the economic, cultural and political fiber of the United States for years. It's the educated class that's been moving from India to the United States, and women are also coming to the forefront. It's a growing trend," Singh said.
Other Indian women, including Naina Lal Kidwai, vice-chairman and managing director of HSBC Securities, were educated at prestigious universities in the United States (Kidwai went to the Harvard Business School), and then returned to the Indian subcontinent to continue their careers.
Nooyi took the opposite path.
Born and educated in Madras (now called Chennai), India's fourth-largest city, Nooyi stayed in the southern Indian city and attended Madras Christian College and later the prestigious Indian Institute of Management. In 1978, she moved to the United States to earn a master's degree in public and private management from Yale University. She has lived in the United States ever since.