Indra Nooyi, the woman who led PepsiCo for 12 years announced today she will be stepping down, after navigating the soft drinks and snacks company through a tricky climate of shifting consumer taste amid rising health concerns.
Nooyi, 62, who was born in India, will be replaced as chief executive by President Ramon Laguarta on October 3, but will remain as chair of the board until early 2019 to oversee the transition.
“Today is a day of mixed emotions for me,” Nooyi said on Twitter. PepsiCo “has been my life for 24 years & part of my heart will always remain here.”
Among the 500 companies in the S&P 500, only 25 — or five percent — are led by women, including Nooyi.
The group includes Lockheed Martin’s Marilyn Hewson, IBM’s Ginni Rometty and General Motors’ Mary Barra, who in June appointed Dhivya Suryadevara as the company’s first female chief financial officer
Nooyi told Bloomberg News on Monday that she planned to advocate for more women to serve at the highest levels of corporations, saying “my job is in fact just beginning once I leave PepsiCo because I can do things now that I was constrained to do when I was CEO of the company.”
Her tenure included sparring with activist investor Nelson Peltz and fighting against a spate of municipal soda taxes.
In October 2016, PepsiCo unveiled 2025 sustainability targets that included vows to reduce waste and to ensure at least two-thirds of its global beverage portfolio contain less than 100 calories per serving.
Even as Nooyi has stressed these long-term targets, she has been unapologetic in touting the company’s products, which include snacks under the Frito-Lay banner such as Dorito corn chips and salsa, in addition to sugary carbonated drinks such as Pepsi cola and Mountain Dew.
Analyst Neil Saunders praised Nooyi for leading during an “extremely challenging” period in consumer products, praising in particular the decision to stick with snacks.
“With demand for soda under pressure, PepsiCo can now take comfort in the fact that it has a balanced portfolio of products — including in emerging areas like plant-based snacks from its recent acquisition of Bare Foods,” said Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
PepsiCo presiding director Ian Cook hailed Nooyi as a “pioneer” among major chief executives in introducing sustainability targets into business performance and for upping its portfolio of healthier foods.