Pepsi rewarded for promoting purple cow

Earlier this week, Pepsi Co, a long standing client of Fleishman-Hillard, announced that their CEO, Steven Reinemund, was retiring and that he would be replaced by one of his closest lieutenants. 

That’s big news in itself (even I could have got some coverage with that announcement!) and was covered by a broad swathe of media worldwide.  However, I was really surprised by the depth of coverage that the announcement received. 

Most, nay all, of the stories I saw contained pictures of the incoming CEO and a remarkably detailed, almost blow-by-blow, account of their resume.  MBA, another Masters from Yale, previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group, an executive with Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri. 

So why was the story covered so deeply?  Well, because it was remarkable.  Pepsi has recently (end of 2005) overtaken Coca-Cola for the first time, in terms of market cap, and it would have been an easy decision for the board to appoint a white, anglo-saxon protestant male (W.A.S.P. in U.S. political terms). 

They didn’t, and they were rewarded for not taking the easy way out; for choosing a candidate Wall Street may have torn its collective hair out over; for taking a chance and for appointing a lady as its new CEO. 

And not just a lady, a lady with an Asian education and from a visible minority no less. 

They, as Seth would say, the board saw they had a purple cow in their midst and they used it to their advantage.  

Congratulations to Indra Nooyi for being so remarkable, for being so talented and for standing out in a sea of wasps.  And congratulations to Pepsi for not taking the safe option, for recognizing that talent comes in all forms and for not resting on its laurels. 

Now, I’m not  advocating some sort of reverse discrimination to balance the lopsided ethnic make-up of CEOs, even as an ethnic minority myself.  What I am advocating is a move away from the “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” mentality. 

Companies can learn their lessons from Indra Nooyi’s appointment that by hiring from outside the traditional model of the CEO, they will be rewarded.  Rewarded by overwhelmingly positive media coverage that will no doubt impact the price of their stock and rewarded with a reputation for being an innovative, forward thinking company. 

I’m sure a solidified relationship with on of the world’s fastest growing economies and brightest graduates won’t hurt Pepsi’s future either. 

Do you represent a laptop manufacturer or retailer?  Do you want your logo here?  If you do, please email me!  


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