Kitchen Table Economics

The Road to CEO: Indra Nooyi

Running a business isn’t easy, especially when it has 264,000 employees. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, is in charge of launching new products and expanding into foreign markets—on top of overseeing thousands of workers.

But her impressive career began without much fanfare. Nooyi left her home country of India to study business at Yale University. With only $500 on hand, Nooyi could barely afford a dress for her job interviews, a major obstacle for someone trying to start a career in business management. To solve her problem, Nooyi took a job as a receptionist in her college dorm. She worked the graveyard shift—midnight to 5 am—because the job paid 50 cents more per hour, even though it meant going to class, studying in the evening, and working until dawn. Nooyi often waited to serve students who never even showed up.

Being a receptionist, however boring, brought out Nooyi’s legendary work ethic. “I always had this urge, this desire, this passion,” Nooyi explains, to “settle in the United States.” Nooyi is famous for coming to the office at 7 am, staying until after 8 pm, and taking home bags of mail to read overnight and prepare for the following day. She reportedly wishes that there were 35 hours in a day in order to do more work.

That mindset has served Nooyi—PepsiCo’s first female CEO—very well on the corporate ladder. But it all started with hard work and just enough money for a nice dress.