The most surprising thing about Indra Nooyi's autobiography is the delightful stories she relates. They cover her life and career, but also vividly describe her personality and emotions. And she clearly has a knack for storytelling. That is what makes My Life in Full such fun to read.
The best is one she has told several times before. It is about her mother's reaction when she came home "bursting with excitement" because she had just been promoted to president of Pepsico. "I have the most incredible news!" she began. "The news can wait" was her mother's response, "I need you to go out and get milk."
Raj, her husband, had got home earlier, but he was not asked to buy milk because "he looked tired". So Nooyi drove a mile and bought a gallon of the stuff. She was "hopping mad" when she returned and slammed the milk on the counter. Then, speaking loudly, she told her mother she had become president of Pepsico.
"Listen to me", her mother replied. "You may be the President or whatever of Pepsico, but when you come home, you are a wife and a mother and a daughter. Nobody can take your place. So you leave that crown in the garage."
This is one of the most dramatic stories, and it is recounted with a sense of theatre. There are others that are told more sotto voce. Yet, they are just as revealing. My favourite is about how she and Raj Nooyi decided to get married.
At the time, Indra was a student at Yale, but on an internship in Chicago where she met Raj. This is how she describes him: "He was incredibly smart, well-read, and worldly. He was also good-looking."
On a particular Friday night, they went to see a Gene Wilder movie called Silver Streak. "We loved it," she writes and adds, "then we walked to a restaurant and, by the end of dinner, decided to get married. Who proposed to whom? Who broached the subject? … I do not know. 42 years later, we are still debating this issue!"
When I interviewed her, I asked if she would tell me. She did not. But I sense she was the one who popped the question. It would be in keeping with her personality.
A third story is from the 13 years she was CEO of Pepsico. It is, perhaps, the most surprising. Whenever rage or frustration would swell inside her, she would lock herself in the bathroom and have a thoroughly good cry. "I would go into the little bathroom attached to my office, look at myself in the mirror, and just let it all out. And when the moment had passed, I would wipe my tears, re-apply a little makeup, square my shoulders, and walk back into the fray, ready, again to be 'it'." Incidentally, that is how she thought of her chief executive status.
To be honest, there are also a few discordant notes. For someone who is so careful about what she is writing, and how she is conveying it, I cannot fathom how they crept into the book.
The first is about her mother, who spent years living with her and Raj, and brought up their daughters. No Indian would find that surprising. What did take me aback was the following sentence: "Raj and I paid for everything in my mother's life when she lived with us but did not give her a salary for the childcare, cooking, cleaning, and thousands of other small tasks she did to keep our household going over the years."
The other is, actually, an admission of the truth. It features at the end in acknowledgements. "This book was shaped and written by Lisa Kassenaar… she took all my stories, facts, anecdotes, and pages of edits and weaved them into beautiful chapters, each with core lessons… every author needs a Lisa to bring their ideas to life." But, then, in what sense is Indra Nooyi the author? And should Lisa's name not be on the cover as well?
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil's Advocate: The Untold Story
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Hindustan Times, and is published by special syndication arrangement.