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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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.