Pepsi CEO Says Work Kept Her from Being There for Her Daughter

In an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday, PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra K. Nooyi dropped some real talk about the unique work-life balance challenges that come with being a pioneering businesswoman. Her observations were frank and sad.

First, she related a story about the night she got promoted to CEO. Nooyi decided to go home from work "early" (i.e. 10 pm) to share the news with her family. But when she arrived, her mother dismissed the news and sent her out to buy milk.

Via Business Insider:


I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, "what time did he get home?" She said "8 o'clock." I said, "Why didn't you ask him to buy the milk?" "He's tired."

...I banged it on the counter and I said, "I had great news for you. I've just been told that I'm going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?"

And she said to me, "let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother. You're all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don't bring it into the house. You know I've never seen that crown."

And, when asked the ever-pressing question, "BUT CAN WOMEN EVER HAVE IT ALL!?!?!!?!??!" Nooyi's answer was straightforward. Nope. Not if you want to be a CEO, you can't. You can have parts of "it all," cobbled together into something special, but you physically cannot be at your office and at your kid's school.

I'll tell you a story that happened when my daughter went to Catholic school. Every Wednesday morning they had class coffee with the mothers. Class coffee for a working woman — how is it going to work? How am I going to take off 9 o'clock on Wednesday mornings? So I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list off all the mothers that were there and say, "You were not there, mom."

The first few times I would die with guilt. But I developed coping mechanisms. I called the school and I said, "give me a list of mothers that are not there." So when she came home in the evening she said, "You were not there, you were not there."

And I said, "ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn't there, Mrs. So and So wasn't there. So I'm not the only bad mother."

You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt. My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

While Nooyi expresses guilt at being a "bad mother," she doesn't condemn her choices. She's proud of her accomplishments and fulfilled by them. She has a staff, a supportive husband, her "coping mechanisms" to and she makes it work. There's more to being a "good mother" than showing up to class coffee.


And while work-life balance in the American workforce is in dire need of attention (for people of all genders), it's also clear that "having it all" is a semantic booby-trap intended to stifle women's ambition and success. There are as many different kinds of "it all" as there are women.

Image via Getty.