Indra Nooyi, former CEO and chairman of PepsiCo, is no stranger to leading a team during uncertainty and disruption. On Jan. 13, Nooyi chatted with Sara Eisen, “Closing Bell” anchor, CNBC, as part of her Navigating Disruption keynote during NRF 2021: Retail’s Big Show.
The women started out the session by discussing the current climate and what it’s like for business leaders at this time. Nooyi noted that it’s “perhaps one of the most troubling times she’s seen in the world” between the COVID-19 health crisis, the economic crisis, and the political crisis happening all at once.
Nooyi’s first piece of advice for business leaders was not to panic. “You can’t panic your way out of this because these things don’t lend themselves to panic actions,” she said. “They lend themselves to going back to basics.”
Nooyi added that leaders should work towards figuring out how to stabilize their companies, giving employees a true sense of what’s going on, and then crafting a plan that addresses the pandemic first. After addressing the pandemic, businesses should “acknowledge the political crisis, but you can’t really influence it as a business leader because that’s beyond your realm of responsibility, and [then] hope that you can play a part in the economic revival.”
During the pandemic, Nooyi was asked by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont to co-chair the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board with Dr. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology and medicine; department chair, Yale School of Public Health. The thought behind pairing up a leader in the business world with a leader in the world of healthcare was for the duo to articulate the fine line between lives and livelihoods. Nooyi explained that the biggest learning she gained from the pandemic response was that in times like this, leaders have to become students too.
“Go back and study exactly what the issue is,” Nooyi advised. “Make sure you understand enough to be able to talk to the scientists, to be able to talk to your business leaders and everybody in the country.” Nooyi encourages business leaders to let the science lead when facing a crisis of this magnitude, but to still weigh in on livelihoods.
Lastly, Nooyi shared a final piece of advice for business leaders dealing with crisis management: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Don’t be hesitant on calling on people when you need them,” Nooyi said. “At PepsiCo, when we had a food safety problem […] and we had to take action, we’d bring in all the experts that we needed and say, ‘Let’s address it right away.'”