PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi says her colleagues help her raise her kids

Balancing act
Balancing act
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has famously made the case that it’s possible for women to both lean in to their careers and have a happy and successful home life. PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi acknowledges that’s a real struggle, one in which she enlists her colleagues for help.

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, Nooyi said that women “cannot have it all,” and that “the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with one another. Total and complete conflict.”

Having a successful career and children is an exercise in hard choices, compromise, depending on other people, and coming up with coping mechanisms, she says:

“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years and we have two daughters. Every day you have to make a decision of whether you’re going to be a wife or a mother—in fact many times a day during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom.”

It means sometimes learning to cope with guilt, and building a network of people around you to help. But there’s simply a fundamental conflict between the biological and career clocks.

“When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just when 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… Your parents need you because they’re aging. So we’re screwed, we have no hope, we cannot have it all. So you know what? Coping mechanisms. Train people at work. Train your family.”

When her youngest daughter had restrictions on playing videogames, she would call Nooyi’s office for permission to play on her Nintendo, no matter where in the world her mother was for work at that moment. The PepsiCo receptionist would run through a list of questions she’d been given by Nooyi. The questions included “Have you done your homework?” and so on—and eventually the receptionist could give permission for half an hour or so of videogame play. She’d then leave a message for Nooyi about the conversation with her daughter and its result.

“It’s seamless parenting” Nooyi jokes. “But if you don’t do that, if you don’t develop mechanisms with your secretary, with the extended office, with everyone around you, it cannot work.”

There are consequences to the juggling, says Nooyi.

“Stay-at-home mothering was a full-time job,” Nooyi says. “Being a CEO of a company is three full-time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can’t. The person that hurts the most with this whole thing is your spouse.”

“Raj always says to me,’Your list is PepsiCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me,'” Nooyi says.

That’s one way to look at it, Nooyi jokes. The other is that her husband should be happy to be on the list.

The interview with Nooyi starts two minutes into the video below, and the portion on “having it all” starts at 22 minutes and 15 seconds in.