On the day she received word that Pepsi was slated to name her its president, Indra Nooyi left work early (about 10 p.m.) to go home and share the thrilling news with her family.
Her mother stopped her at the top of the stairs. “Let the news wait,” Nooyi remembers her saying. “Can you go out and get some milk?”
Even though Nooyi’s husband had been home for hours (“He’s tired,” her mother reasoned) and the family employed several housekeepers at the time, she dutifully went to the store and returned shortly thereafter, slamming the carton on the kitchen counter.
Finally spitting out news of her promotion and balking at the errand, Nooyi’s mother remained nonplussed. “Let me explain something to you,” Nooyi recalls her saying. “You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage.”
This exchange typifies the elusive balance between career and motherhood that she still struggles to navigate every day, Nooyi said in a candid interview on Monday at The Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colo.
“Motherhood is a full time job. Being a CEO of a company is three full-time jobs rolled into one,” she said. “How can you do justice to all?”
Having been married for 34 years with two daughters, Nooyi says she has concluded that women simply can’t have it all. “If you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom,” she conceded.
But in order to achieve a functioning balance, Nooyi explained, the lines between home and work must be meticulously blurred. When her daughter calls her at the office to ask permission to play Nintendo, for instance, Nooyi preps her secretary with a set of questions, including “Have you finished your homework yet?” After going through the checklist, the secretary then leaves Nooyi a memo recounting the exchange and noting that she’s granted Tyra, say, a half-an-hour of play.
“So it’s seamless parenting,” Nooyi explained with a laugh. “But if you don’t develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work.”
Seamless though it may seem, striking this balance has been a lifelong conflict, Nooyi says — made no easier by her gender or Indian heritage. Growing up, for instance, Nooyi’s mother encouraged her to dream big in the same breath that she threatened to marry her off at age 18.
Ironically, however, it was the men in her family that emphasized the importance of a career from an early age. “My grandfather and my father basically put their foot down and said, ‘I don’t care if it’s girls or boys, they all have to have an equal shot at being what they want to be.’”