Three lessons in leadership

Last week I interviewed Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo – the most consistently highly ranked woman chief executive on the planet. We talked about the impact of her paternal grandfather: his expectation that his grandchildren would achieve exceptional results, and the imperative of working as hard as necessary to do an outstanding job. Nooyi says: “Every day I ask myself have I earned the right to be chief executive of this company? Did I add value? I have this same immigrant feeling, arriving in the US in 1978. All I had was $500 and a scholarship from Yale. I had to do an extra good job. I had to succeed – if it didn’t work out, where was I going to go? And deep down inside I think I still have that.”

A day or so later, I was talking to Carol Bartz of Yahoo about her very different roots in the USA’s rural Midwest. She grew up on her grandmother’s Wisconsin farm (having lost her mother at just eight). “My grandmother taught me the importance of hard work. Animals had to be fed. No excuses. You just got on and did it. I expect hard work – I expect people to try their best.”

And then one morning the day after, I was sitting in Cynthia Carroll’s beautiful office in London’s Carlton House Terrace, listening to her recount her early days with Anglo American, then one of the most macho, obdurately conservative companies imaginable. She had visited one of the company’s platinum mines when the manager brought her the news of a fatality. I am shutting this mine down,” she says. And did. “The shockwaves were felt not just through Anglo American in South Africa, but globally, and industry-wide. This was a big wake-up call.”

All share a sense of having fought hard to get to where they are today. There is no sense of entitlement. Indeed, as Nooyi says herself, “if it didn’t work out, where was I going to go?”

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