CEOs typically write letters to their employees to apprise them of the company’s latest performance, or to let them in on a new feature launch. Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, though, likes to keep things a little more personal.
“Occasionally I’ll write very personal letters to the employee base as a whole,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg. “If I felt our employees were not calling their parents often enough, I’ll write a letter about why it’s important they call their parents.”
Nooyi was born to a Tamil family in Chennai, and went to school and college in India, graduating from IIM Calcutta in 1976. She later moved to the US, and ended up becoming the CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations. But she still clearly holds on dearly to her Indian values.
“After I became CEO (of Pepsi), I went back to visit my mother who was in India at the time. I stayed at a hotel because the home was a little rugged and I wanted the comforts,” she recounted in the interview. Her mother then asked her to show up at her home at 7 in the morning. “I wondered why, but when mum gives you instructions you just follow it,” she laughs.
When she reached home, she saw a stream of visitors and random people show up. “They’d say hello to me, and then go up to my mom and say “You did such a good job with your daughter, compliments to you she’s CEO.” But they wouldn’t say a word to me.”
When she watched this interplay go on, Nooyi says she realized she was a product of her upbringing. “My parents should get the credit, what they did for me allowed me to be who I was.”
That’s when it occurred to her that she should also thank the parents of all the employees at Pepsi. She narrated the incident to her direct reports when she got back, and also wrote to the parents of 400 executives, saying “I thank you for the gift of your child to our company.”
“It opened a floodgate of emotions.” she says. “Parents started to communicate directly with me and it’s been an amazing experience. They are so delighted to receive the letter, they tell their neighbours and their uncles and their aunts.”
Nooyi says that the people who’re happiest with the letters at the Pepsi executives themselves. “The executive say my God, it’s the best thing to have happened to my parents, and the best thing to have happened to me.”
India is exporting many top CEOs to the world – and they’re taking a slice of Indian values with them.