Business

‘We have to rethink how we support women in the workplace.’ Indra Nooyi speaks in Miami

Indra Nooyi tells stories of balancing being a mother, wife and the PepsiCo chairwoman at a Women United Miami breakfast for the United Way at the Watsco Center at the University of Miami on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.
Indra Nooyi tells stories of balancing being a mother, wife and the PepsiCo chairwoman at a Women United Miami breakfast for the United Way at the Watsco Center at the University of Miami on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. emichot@miamiherald.com

It’s been four months since Indra Nooyi, 63, stepped down as CEO of PepsiCo, and just a few weeks since she relinquished her post as chairman. After 12 years at the helm of the Fortune 500 food-and-beverage giant, she’s been considered for positions from World Bank president to CEO of CBS. But Nooyi has taken her first slice of free time in more than a decade to spend time with family and friends, including some time at her condo in Coconut Grove.

On Friday, she shared lessons from her career and advice with 1,200 women leaders of United Way Miami at the group’s annual breakfast at the University of Miami campus, urging women to solidify the sisterhood of professonal women by trusting one another more — “we don’t take feedback well,” she said — and pulling each other up.

Nooyi also urged women to be clear about their own priorities. “Dream big but think about how you want to balance your life,” she said.

Her regret from her decade-plus years at PepsiCo’s helm was not spending more time with her family, she said — though her mother was clear about Nooyi’s role. The day Nooyi was appointed CEO in 2001, her mother, who was visiting, wouldn’t let her share the news with the family until Nooyi had gone out to get the family milk. Her mother told her, “When you enter this house you are a mother, daughter, wife. Leave your crown in the garage,” Nooyi told the group.

The 18th annual event, for women who give $1,000 or more, raised a record $400,000. Miami Herald Publisher Alexandra Villoch serves on the United Way board.

We interviewed Nooyi prior to the event via email.

How do you like Miami? What do you plan to do while you are here?

I love Miami. It’s an eclectic, vibrant city and I love spending time here. At this point, my husband and I along with our two daughters are getting to know the city — its neighborhoods, gathering places, institutions and cultural life. We have a lot of wonderful friends here in Miami. We love getting together with them. We are in a beautiful discovery process!

Why have you chosen to speak at United Way of Miami-Dade’s Women United Breakfast?

The United Way is an incredible organization and it has hosted such a remarkable array of women speakers at the annual breakfast. I am honored to have the opportunity to support the United Way of Miami as it works to create meaningful changes when it comes to education, financial stability, and helping people live healthier lives.

In recent months, media outlets have reported you’ve been considered for several jobs, from World Bank president to CEO of CBS. Do you have any plans for the future you can share with us?

Being CEO of PepsiCo was a 24/7 job, and while it’s humbling to be considered for another job, I am enjoying my first real break in 12 years. I recently took my mother on a trip back to India, and my daughters are now seeing much more of me. I have many requests for my time. I am in the process of sorting through all of them.

When it started to look like Amazon’s HQ2 in New York was not going to work out, the governor of Connecticut enlisted your help in attracting the corporation to that state. How do you think cities can find a balance between offering tax breaks to companies like Amazon when city services like public transportation and schools need investment?

Governor Ned Lamont is a very dear friend. We have known each other for a long time. Connecticut is my home and happens to be a great place to do business in America. I have a bit more time on my hands and I am glad to help the governor get the word out. I understand what drives companies to locate in specific locales. Finding the balance between incentives to lure companies that offer good paying jobs and other priorities in state budgets is doable. Connecticut hasn’t been at the top of the list of the best cities/states to do business, but it should be. I will do what I can make to that happen.

More women than men are now earning college degrees, yet few women rise to the role of CEO as you did. What do you think needs to change so that we see more women CEOs? What do companies need to do? And what is the role of government?

It is bad for business and bad for society that women aren’t better represented at the highest ranks of corporations. We have to rethink how we support women in the workplace. Companies need to be better at eliminating unconscious bias and offering women the kind of support they need — from paid leave, to child care and flexibility — to meet ALL their responsibilities. And governments at all levels need to support policies that will help women succeed in the workplace and drive economic growth.

Miami Herald Business Editor Jane Wooldridge contributed to this report.
Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.
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