Asked about the presidential election result, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi claimed:
“I had to answer a lot of questions from my daughters, from our employees. They were all in mourning. Our employees were all crying. The question that they are asking, especially those who are not white ‘Are we safe?’, women are asking ‘Are we safe?’, LGBT people are asking ‘Are we safe?’.”
Nooyi went on to “assure everybody in the U.S. that they are safe.” Of course, the only purpose to such an assurance is to allow such an inane and inflammatory statement to be made in the first place. Nooyi’s comments are inappropriate for the CEO of a major corporation. She should resign.
This is not the first time Nooyi has made controversial statements that betray a particular mindset. In 2005, she gave a commencement speech in which she asserted that our nation’s foreign policy has been characterized by America giving “a middle finger” to the rest of the world.
Nooyi is 61 years old. She grew up in India and began her career working for multinational companies there. She came to the United States to attend Yale School of Management as a young adult and later became a U.S. citizen. She is a successful executive who advanced quickly through the ranks, becoming PepsiCo CEO in 2006.
You would think that her personal story would result in unbounded affection for this country. The fact that a woman from south Asia could hit the shores of America as a young adult, and by her 51st birthday be heading a company known for one America’s most iconic brands, would seem to undercut her present notion of America as a dark, threatening place. Apparently not.
It is tempting to call her as an ungrateful immigrant, which she clearly is, but the problem is a deeper one. The Fortune 500 companies are headed by executives, many of whom attended elite liberal universities and came of age during the late 60s and 70s. Many of them are not particularly sympathetic to free enterprise or traditional American values.
Nooyi does not live in the real America. Already on the Yale fast track when she arrived from India, she spent little time here. Instead, she’s lived in the bubble of wealth occupied by corporate executives, far removed culturally from the rest of America.
The cultural divide is manifested most starkly in the embrace of political correctness by the CEO of virtually every major company, typified by Nooyi. She may not know the real America very well, but she knows something about self-preservation and how to get ahead in corporate America. She knows that political correctness is an acceptable substitute for real leadership, and that as long as she says the right things and kowtows to the right interest groups, it is unlikely she will ever lose her job
Throwing in with the Left also provides convenient insulation against criticism of sky-high compensation levels now enjoyed by CEOs, even as the wages of their employees have fallen or stagnated for at least two decades.
In 2015, Indra Nooyi’s pay package was $26.4 million, an 18% increase over the year before. Nooyi’s net worth in 2014 was reported to be $144 million.
Donald Trump received more than 60 million votes. He won counties that had voted for Barack Obama twice. These are places where very few people got an 18% raise last year, if they had a job at all. Does Nooyi have any idea what is going on?
These 60 million are also her customers. PepsiCo is an incredibly efficient marketing machine. The company knows, parses and continually collects the minutest details of the spending habits of middle America. But Nooyi is clueless as to who these people are. All she sees are racists and bullies.
Nooyi’s claim that “all” PepsiCo employees are in mourning is telling. Either none of the 60 million work at PepsiCo (unlikely) or she has so politicized the company that no one dares admit it (likely). Even more likely is that no one in the executive suite voted for Trump, and that Nooyi has little contact with ordinary employees.
Under Nooyi, PepsiCo has embraced a host of political causes. The company bankrolls Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. It was all in early for global warming alarmism and gay marriage. The company seldom funds or allies itself with groups promoting free enterprise.
I tried to do something about this several years ago through a series of shareholder proposals. At the 2009 company’s annual meeting, I told shareholders:
PepsiCo’s should stick to ITS core mission. The company is not a political organization, but it acts like one. Yesterday, I had a member of my staff go through this — Performance with a Purpose 2009 (PepsiCo’s annual report).
The word “green” appears 3 times.
“Climate change” 6 times.
“Carbon” 12 times.
“Sustain” or “sustainability” 23 times.
“Environment” or “environmental” 40 times.
Conversely, the words “consumer choice” or “consumer preference” appear 5 times
“Freedom” 0 times.
“Free Enterprise” 0.
“Free choice” 0.
At the time, Nooyi was gracious enough to meet with me and hear me out, but PepsiCo did not change. Just as the American people are saying no to the political status quo, it is time to say no to the status quo of Left-wing corporatism. There was nothing gracious in Nooyi’s most recent comments. She crossed a line. She should go.