The Five Things it Takes to Become a CEO, According to Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi

Born to a middle-class Tamil-speaking family in Madras, Indra Nooyi has risen to become one of the most powerful women in the world.

The Pepsi CEO has 5 pieces of advice for any other leadership aspirants out there, though the first may seem a little counter-intuitive to the more rabidly ambitious.

1. Don’t start by saying you want to be CEO. Nooyi recently told LinkedIn’s Influencer series that succeeding in your current role won’t be possible if you don’t give it your full, unbridled attention. “The minute you get obsessed about wanting to be CEO you forget what you have to do, because you’re more focused on the next job as opposed to doing the current job very, very well.”

2. Have a hip-pocket skill. Fellow employees should be able to rely on you to handle at least one particular task, she said. “If you have a competency that nobody else has, you become more valuable.”

“If we have more courage and people stand up for their ideas and their values, I think companies and societies will become better places.

And what’s Nooyi’s special skill? She says it’s an ability to simplify the complex, even for subjects she previously knew little about. For example, when Pepsi bought Quaker Oats, Nooyi, who was CFO at the time, was asked by then-CEO Steve Reinemund to handle the antitrust approval process, because he wanted it demystified.

3. Be courageous. CEO aspirants will be respected if they have the courage to speak up and defend their ideas, Nooyi said. “If we have more courage and people stand up for their ideas and their values, I think companies and societies will become better places.”

4. Be a good communicator. If you want to be a leader and you can’t communicate effectively forget it, Nooyi said. And that doesn’t mean occasionally posting stuff on Twitter. “You’ve got to stand in front of employees and get them to go to places they never thought they needed to get to.”

5. Have a compass. Defining your own moral code and sticking to it is crucial, Nooyi said. “Your ethics are really important, because you can be courageous, communicate effectively, have a competency—but if you’re downright unethical, nobody will follow you.”

By focusing on these 5 building blocks, Nooyi said a CEO job offer may well come—though she has one last piece of advice to offer: steer clear of office politics, whenever you can. “Be aware of the politics of the company. [And] don’t play the politics of the company,” she said.


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