Why PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi Can't Have It All

I'll tell you a story that happened when my daughter went to Catholic school. Every Wednesday morning they had class coffee with the mothers. Class coffee for a working woman—how is it going to work? How am I going to take off 9 o'clock on Wednesday mornings? So I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, "You were not there, mom."

The first few times I would die with guilt. But I developed coping mechanisms. I called the school and I said, "give me a list of mothers that are not there." So when she came home in the evening she said, "You were not there, you were not there."

And I said, "ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn't there, Mrs. So and So wasn't there. So I'm not the only bad mother." 

You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt. My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years. 

And that's the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you (laughing). They need you too. What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they're aging. So we're screwed. We have no... we cannot have it all. Do you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train people at work. Train your family to be your extended family. You know what? When I'm in PepsiCo I travel a lot, and when my kids were tiny, especially my second one, we had strict rules on playing Nintendo. She'd call the office, and she didn't care if I was in China, Japan, India, wherever. She'd call the office, the receptionist would pick up the phone, "Can I speak to my mommy?" Everybody knows if somebody says, 'Can I speak to mommy?' It's my daughter. So she'd say, "Yes, Tyra, what can I do for you?" 

"I want to play Nintendo."

So she has a set of questions. "Have you finished your homework?" Etc. I say this because that's what it takes. She goes through the questions and she says, "Okay, you can play Nintendo half an hour." Then she leaves me a message. "Tyra called at 5. This is the sequence of questions I went through. I've given her permission." So it's seamless parenting. But if you don't do that, I'm serious, if you don't develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work. You know, stay at home mothering was a full time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can't. The person who hurts the most through this whole thing is your spouse. There's no question about it. You know, Raj always said, you know what, your list is PepsioCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me. There are two ways to look at it. (laughing) You should be happy you're on the list. So don't complain. (laughing) He is on the list. He is very much on the list. But you know, (laughing) sorry, David. 


* The Atlantic co-hosts the Aspen Ideas Festival with the Aspen Institute. PepsiCo is an event sponsor.

 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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