AdAsia: Indra Nooyi’s answer to uncertainty, creative adaptability

04 Nov,2011

By Akash Raha

In the current times of volatility managing business and brands is no easy task. Yet, we have the example of PepsiCo which has thrived in the New World Order though thick and thin. The final session of AdAsia captured Ms Indra Nooyi’s perspective Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo who stimulated the delegates with her ideas on how to manage business with de-averaged realities.

She said that it is indeed a difficult task for CEOs to navigate an enterprise when uncertainty is the only certainty. Especially when we have not seen such volatility that one has not seen in the last few decades, what does one do?  At such a framework, prediction is very difficult, especially when it is about the future. But the question is, hasn’t the future always been as such, as unpredictable as it is right now? But no, I do believe, she said, that there is something unnerving about the uncertainty we feel today. Be it financial sphere or the political sphere, these are the times of immense upheaval and turmoil.

At such times, it was inevitable that creativity gave way to fear and risk. There are several crises that we have faced in the recent times and from which we need to learn a lot. The first challenge she mentioned was the crisis of leadership. “One of the great tasks of leadership is to prepare when the storm comes.” And it won’t be wrong to say that several leaders of reputed companies failed to avert the tension. Hence, one of the most important things for most companies is to build strong leadership base over a long period of time. Another crisis that we faced in the recent times was the crisis of government failure. Governance of several countries around the globe failed so much so, that it has caused a crisis of expectations. Many of us don’t know or have forgotten what success looks like anymore. Financial, social and political failure all at the same time hasn’t helped the cause of anyone.

Yet there are several positives that has emerged in recent times, one of them is that of emergence of the women force in the emerging market – more than twice the size of India and China together. There are plenty to reasons to give cause to optimism. The only certainty today is, that the world is uncertain. So the question is, how can we survive and thrive in such situation? Darwin’s theory of evolution still holds good and they key in such a scenario is that to adapt. It’s not the strongest that survive, but the fittest.  As a CEO of PepsiCo, said Ms Nooyi, I have seen so much change since I joined. “All of us have to explicitly realize that we are in a new reality… I don’t think that we can plan in the way we used to plan. Volatility is not a part of our life any more, it is our life.” Hence, when you plan, make volatility an intrinsic part of the plan. “We need to plan the next plan while the ink on our first plan is still drying out”, she added.

Another important thing is that leaders have to lead for today. It’s important that the leaders and institution give something back to the society and stay relevant. Having a vision for the future is essential. Also, leaders should know about the element of uncertainty beforehand and keep it always as a variable in their scheme of things.

We see how growth is elusive in many parts of the world. This is not a time for small changes; we need big changes in to big things. There must be seamless and borderless innovation to make something big happen. “Disrupt yourselves deliberately, otherwise competition will disrupt you.  The usual way of working will not work anymore.

Lastly, it is essential to get new talent in the business and nurture them. Experience of the quality people and leaders we have in our company are invaluable. But also essential is training leaders, creating young leaders. In our company, said Ms Nooyi, we are trying to give the knowledge of East and West, about various ethnicity and cultures to all our budding upcoming leaders. Companies across boards need to rethink the whole process of leadership development.

Leaders of today have to be super visible to the organization and to the outside world. Interaction with the outside world is absolutely necessary at times such as these. One should be transparent, truthful and open. Because, if the leader does not tell them, someone else will and then there will be speculation and rumours which is absolutely detrimental to the cause of any company. Have an open door policy. It is always a good advice always, but now it is imperative. The answer to uncertainty is simple, it is creative adaptability.

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