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THE CHOICE OF A NEW GENERATION

One of the longest-serving female CEOs is being replaced by a man

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi
Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Indra Nooyi lasted longer than most.
Edmund Heaphy
By Edmund Heaphy

Contributing writer

This article is more than 2 years old.

And then there were 24.

PepsiCo has announced that Indra Nooyi—one of the exceedingly few women who lead S&P 500 companies—will step down as CEO later this year, after 12 years at the helm. She will be replaced by Ramon Laguarta, a 22-year veteran of the company.

Nooyi, who has spoken candidly about her life as a working mother, may have been stoic over the years in saying that women can’t have it all—but she’s had far more of it than most. When she moves on in October, she’ll have handily surpassed the average tenure (7.2 years) of S&P 500 CEOs. (The median is just five years.)

To survive in the role this far, she’s done battle with more than a few men. Over the past decade, Nooyi was one of the more than 25% of female S&P 500 CEOs to fall into the crosshairs of activist investors. In 2014, investor Nelson Peltz tried to strong-arm Nooyi into splitting PepsiCo into two companies—one formed from its snacks division, and another from its beverages businesses.

The company stayed together, though, and organized its offerings into three categories: those that are good for you, better for you, and fun for you. The push into healthier products—PepsiCo introduced hummus and kombucha products, and spent $13.4 billion acquiring Quaker Oats—saw mixed results. Though total annual revenue has increased 81% during her years at the helm, the company has been outperformed by both Coca-Cola and the S&P 500 in general. She also courted controversy for plans to introduce special snacks designed for women.

Nooyi prescinded from the share price-obsessed practices associated with most conglomerates—and instead said she was focused on making PepsiCo the kind of company that would deliver a “lasting impact” to society. ”Nobody’s going to remember you for delivering earnings to stockholders,” she said in 2009.

Nooyi’s successor, a Barcelona native who has served as PepsiCo’s president since September, has deep experience with PepsiCo’s business in Europe and Africa. His appointment was well-received on Wall Street.

But his promotion means there will be one fewer woman in the ranks of CEOs running large companies.

For a sense of how critical these replacement decisions can be in terms of gender diversity, consider what Equilar found when it studied turnover at S&P 500 companies: Although more than 280 S&P 500 CEOs had left their positions between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of women CEOs climbed by just 1.9 points in that period.

There are now just 25 female CEOs running S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst. That statistic includes Nooyi, and accounts for the departures this year of Meg Whitman from HP Enterprise and Denise Morrison from Campbell Soup Co.

Contingent on no other departures or promotions that alter the balance, the number of female CEOs will jump back to 25 in January 2019, when Kathy Warden takes over as CEO of US defense contractor Northrop Grumman.

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