The much awaited session of Day 3 at AdAsia 2011 was the valedictory keynote address of Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo, and she didn’t disappoint. She started off by saying, “The creativity on display here is quite awesome. You can see why I’m both honoured and full of trepidation to have the task of wrapping up three days of fresh thinking.”
She further said, “I want to sit back and ask, as a CEO, how do we navigate an enterprise through a time when uncertainty is the only certainty? Especially, when we have not experienced the kind of volatility we have today in decades.”
She noted the fact that companies needed to face reality today, where there was a new, more negative, kind of uncertainty out there. She added, “I think we are now living in the midst of three inter-locking crises. The first is a crisis of leadership. At the top of some famous companies, responsibility went missing. One of the great tasks of leadership is to prepare for events, to be ready for when the storm comes. On any measure, leadership failed that test.
This crisis of leadership was compounded by a simultaneous crisis of governance. Accountability and oversight went missing too. Nobody said stop when bad practice was developing. Governance failed and it failed badly. The result of poor leadership and even worse governance is that we are now experiencing a severe crisis of expectations. Businesses, regulators and governments are now unsure what success looks like. This complex world feels out of control.”
According to her, the solution to surviving in an uncertain world was “adaptation”. “The future has never been made by predictors or skeptics. It has always been made by dreamers and doers and innovators who embrace uncertainty, those who seize the day to shape the future and show us the way forward,” she concluded.
At the end of Nooyi’s address, John Wren, President and CEO, Omnicom came up on stage and had an engaging conversation with Nooyi. On Wren’s observation that leaders often get promoted on the basis of what they have done in the past, not what they are going to do in future, and query as to how Nooyi gets leaders at PepsiCo to embrace the necessary disruption that she talked of earlier, Nooyi said, “I’m not sure we have got it right, we are still working on it. We are a $65-66 billion company, 300000 employees in 200 countries... a large enterprise. We constantly have to make sure that we are developing a leadership cadre to keep this company growing and successful. What we have done from the CEO’s office is that we have identified the 300 positions in the company that are key and lined them up for intensive training and new challenges. We have identified a backup person for each of those 300, plus three employees who can grow into that role in the next three to five years.”
Wren wanted to know how a company like PepsiCo led by managers from the West leverages its operations in India. Nooyi replied that India is a unique market, and has thrown up its own dynamics. “In fact, I look at the India business as a great learning lab to replicate this model in the West,” she added.