Meeting Indra Nooyi, CEO Of PepsiCo!NEWS | Nirasha Jaganath | September 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm
Do I get some sort of award for being the last one to write about BlogHer 11? Some posts are so full of heart that while they flow writing it, starting it is not so easy. Meeting Indra Nooyi was exactly that, easy in some ways but difficult for the intensity it aroused. When I received the invitation we were on our way to bowling with the kids, but I was bowled over already. Truth is it is only my geeky husband who keeps up with the who’s who of the business world. Not sure if that is thanks to his MBA or just his fascination with entrepreneurs and innovators. Me, I would have had no idea who the CEO of PepsiCo was except one thing, I had heard that name “Indra Nooyi” before.
When I was an engineer at a startup company in Cambridge, MA – I had decided to wear a traditional outfit (albeit a bit muted) to work to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali. While the guys in the team ooh’ed and ahh’ed my outfit while I shared with them tales of the festival, another fellow Indian female who was in the marketing team quickly quipped that she would never wear it to work. When I queried what was wrong with it, she quickly said it was ok for me as an engineer to wear it since no clients (aka important people) would see me anyway. Ouch! That stung. I felt as insignificant as a blue-assed fly sitting on a horse. I went home feeling a little deflated compared to how I left that morning. My amazing husband, after hearing my story, quickly shared with me the story of Indra Nooyi. He shared that she often attended official meetings in a sari. So if a dynamo like her could wear it why could anyone else not, without feeling like they were less than important.
That incident stuck with me. Fast forward around 8 or 9 years later and I end up sitting in the penthouse suite along with around 6-7 fellow bloggers at BlogHer 11 for a special meeting with Indra Nooyi. Sound surreal? Well it was. I looked around the room at all the other much famous bloggers and wondered what the heck was I doing here. It was an opportunity too amazing to say no to but I did wonder if I was just a token person of color (yes, after being told that for years it sometimes starts to stick in your head) but I also KNEW the one thing I loved about BlogHer attitude has always been forward thinking so there was a chance they meant me to be there. Anyway, as a firm believer in “who cares how I landed there – it is making the most of it while there that is important” I settled in.
I was comfortable in my jeans, sneakers, t-shirt and most importantly my skin. This was the “take me or leave me” attitude that blogging gave me the confidence to be. I honestly was dreading everyone give their spiel on what they did in discussions because I knew they had much more accomplished careers (in blogging) compared to me but not only was that fear baseless the topic we discussed was something that touched me deeply. For someone as famous as Indra Nooyi was she looked and acted more grounded than I could have ever imagined, yes even to the effect that we gave her the hugs we bloggers are so famous for. When she asked about our dreams and aspirations it was weird. I mean I am normally locked in a world of either bloggers (“Whose ist have you made lately?”) or non-bloggers (“Are you making money yet?”) so I was relieved to not be the first one to speak as to gather my deeply buried thoughts.
Funnily enough (not haha funny but uncannily funny) listening to my blogging peers speak of what it takes to make it all work and what their passions were, there was so much in common. Although bloggers who seem to “have the life” and always seem happy, we also work crazy hours, juggle our family life and make many sacrifices. Plus the unconventional lifestyle does not always impress extended families and is often met with “you’re so lucky to have a husband to watch the kids” (I swear I want to stick a fork in someone’s eyes when I hear that – THEY ARE HIS KIDS TOO !!! – No-one would have batted an eyelid had he been traveling)
While listening to our challenges Indra said something that stuck to me (in fact enough that there will be separate blog post speaking about this point at length)… she said something to the effect that you don’t get to be a trailblazer without paying some price. That’s what we all were/are – trailblazers! And yes, we feel the sacrifices everyday. A point made more clear when she asked her daughter who is about to start college about what her absence meant. Her daughter, like her, spoke frankly. She spoke of not having her mom around for many occasions but knowing she was a call away, she also said she knew her mom was following her dreams. Not only was Indra following her dream but she was clearing the path for many more women (and women of color) to follow.
The passion in the room was worth my crazy ticket price to San Diego and just what the doctor ordered for this jaded blogger. I privileged to be part of the amazing group and eager to make more social changes, especially with Mommy Niri Cares. After all I have many a trail to set ablaze!