Chennai: The $35-billion turnover PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra K Nooyi's press conference in a nondescript Pammal municipality in Chennai was positively different.
In recent times, global chiefs of telecom, automobile and other companies have met the Chennai press, many of them smaller than PepsiCo. And though they head companies smaller than PepsiCo, the Chennai media has seen them display a haughty demeanour.
There have been instances where some visitors have actually said that while they would not answer any media questions in Chennai, they would like to pose for photographs!
Often they have abruptly terminated press conferences as soon as they found questions leaving them hot under the collar. Pleasantly, nothing of the kind happened at Nooyi's media meet. Perhaps her media meet is also akin to the corporate slogan `performance with purpose.'
Performance with purpose
She gave a good introductory speech where she spoke about the responsibility of corporates to society, citing Bhagavad Gita and the conflict between two moral positions of Lord Krishna and Arjuna.
Krishna's stand, she recounted to the Chennai press, was do your duty regardless of the outcome, while Arjuna argued that the outcome should be beneficial.
Nooyi said that at PepsiCo she had to try to resolve both - giving out good financial performance to the shareholders while being a responsible corporate citizen pursuing the company's motto of `performance with purpose'.
"One's life and work do not exist in separate compartments. A company is more than financial performance," she reiterated.
Adding further, she said, "Performance with purpose is based on one crucial insight about modern business: that unless you are ethically good you will not be good commercially for long."
Towards a purposeful existence
Hailing from Chennai, which faces endemic water shortage, Nooyi understands the importance of water. She says PepsiCo was working towards achieving positive water balance in all its facilities by 2009.
In India she said, PepsiCo has chosen three areas to focus on environment sustainability - converting municipal waste to wealth, replenishing water and partnering with farmers.
She said PepsiCo-Exnora waste to wealth partnership is impacting more than 1 lakh people in the Pammal, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Tenkasi and now in Panipet.
"We expect to impact another 1 lakh people by 2008. We are also setting up a PepsiCo and Exnora environmental training institute- Expeeti- in Pammal to codifying the model and spread the message to other municipalities.
It was refreshingly different from the usual wishy-washy answers the media has routinely been used to receiving from the cola companies, including PepsiCo's Indian subsidiary.
"Two years form now, PepsiCo will replenish more water in our plants and in our communities than the total water we use in India," she declared. According to her, all PepsiCo's plants use just one third of the water than what they did five years ago.
This comes at a time when cola company plants are facing an increasingly hostile reception from villagers for pumping out excessive groundwater that makes agricultural land fallow over a period of time.
In the field of water replenishment she said PepsiCo has been working towards achieving positive water balance in all its facilities by 2009.
PepsiCo has initiated a comprehensive watershed management programme in partnership with The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) to rejuvenate water bodies in places like Neelamangala, Karnataka and Jusho Bakro in Uttarakhand.
She also said PepsiCo would propagate the advantages of direct seeding in paddy cultivation as against the traditional system of transplantation.
Referring to PepsiCo's agro programmes in Punjab where the company provided technical inputs to the farmers to increase the potato and tomato yields, Nooyi said the company would like to make India as a global source for orange juice concentrate like Brazil or Florida.
PepsiCo and the Punjab government have initiated a citrus development programme and established a large nursery to grow six million saplings. If successful, the citrus project would also benefit PepsiCo India as it currently imports all its fruit concentrates.
The company has imported 32 varieties of germplasm for cultivation in India and farmers can select up to 16 varieties of rootstock and 32 varieties of citrus to grow on their land for Pepesi India.
According to Abhiram Seth, executive director, exports and external affairs, Pepsi Foods Private Limited, "Our nursery can produce 6 million saplings. Farmers can select 16 varieties of rootstock and 32 varieties of citrus."
He said the company was in dialogue with various state governments to propagate citrus fruit cultivation so that would also help farmers improve their incomes by undertaking contract cultivation for the soft drinks maker.
The citrus project, if it succeeds, would benefit PepsiCo's Indian operations meet its fruit concentrate needs, which it currently imports.
PepsiCo has taken over a 400-tonne per day fruit processing plant at Hoshiarpur in Punjab on a job work basis.
The company will soon start procuring kinnow across Punjab and also initiate contract-farming arrangement with Punjab's farmers for tomatoes and other crops to replicate its efforts in increasing potato yield in the state for its processed snacks business.
During the question and answer session she fielded questions ranging from the pesticide content in the carbonated drinks, the reason for the company switching from injurious palm oil to rice bran oil in making the Frito-Lay's snack food, how the company is going to meet the challenge of changing customer preference towards healthier drinks, her own assessment of her performance as a CEO, the reason to buy an apartment in Chennai and even who her favourite carnatic music artist.
The answers were precise and to the point.
Nooyi proudly proclaims that she is the product of the Indian and American education systems. She also added that it was the meritocracy system that prevails in the US corporations enabled her to reach the current position.
"I wouldn't have reached such levels had I been in India."
Perhaps other CEOs, some Indian and most from foreign companies, should imbibe candour from her down to earth style while flying high professionally.
(See: PepsiCo to launch milk, soya drinks: Indra Nooyi)