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."
Most Big Companies Outsource
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 Her Hometown
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.
The move to America, and her steadily successful integration into the world of American business, failed to alter Nooyi's commitment to her culture and heritage. Even after becoming the highest-ranking Indian woman in American business when she was named PepsiCo's CFO in February 2000, the company's No. 2 position, she often attended company events wearing a sari, which consists of a single cloth wrapped around the body.
After holding the post of CFO for the last five years, and an employee of PepsiCo since 1994, she will be the fifth CEO in the company's 41-year history. Before joining PepsiCo, Nooyi held positions at Boston Consulting Group, Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri Inc.
Along the way, she built a solid reputation within the industry.
"I think she's a very, very smart strategic thinker, and most of the way the portfolio is positioned and the company is laid out has her fingerprints on it. She's going to be a great CEO, she's ready," said Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Greenberg.
Before her involvement, the company had focused largely on its American markets. That has changed dramatically in recent years as PepsiCo expanded its presence in Asian and Latin American markets.
PepsiCo and its other brands, including Frito-Lay, Quaker and Gatorade have begun marketing their snacks as nutritious and healthy: They've eliminated trans-fats, used the fat substitute Olestra, reduced sugars, and offered more sugar-free alternatives. The new "wellness" marketing campaign has been popular with people concerned about their own waistlines as well as the health of their children.
"She's been a big advocate of improving the taste and quality and nutritional value of the portfolio. She deserves credit for all those things," Greenberg said.
A 'Step Forward,' but 'A lot of Work to Be Done'
Nooyi's accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by the minority communities she represents.
"She's been contributing wonderfully to PepsiCo," Singh said. "The profits have been rising. It's doing well. Especially in the business community, I know we're all proud to have her there as a representative."
Shirley Myrick, national president of the American Business Women's Association, believes Nooyi's promotion was important in representation of minorities.
"If the largest portion of our workface is a minority population, it demonstrates fairness and competition in our workplace, regardless of their background," she said
Both women agree, however, that this is only a step in what needs to be a much larger movement of women and minorities to the pinnacles of business.
"I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done. But I think most of the work that needs to be done is in the area of mentorship," Myrick said. "The onus is often on ourselves to educate ourselves, to stay up on and aware of business trends, market trends and the technology of our fields."
Singh agreed: "Women make all the important decisions -- staying at home, whether education, health …so I don't see why they can't be at the forefront of corporate America as well."