PepsiCo's Jon Banner on departing CEO Indra Nooyi's 'signature achievement'

As Nooyi prepares to step down on October 3, after 24 years at the company, Banner reflects on her relationship with PepsiCo's comms team.

Jon Banner
Jon Banner

It was less than a year into my PepsiCo career when I realized how truly fortunate I was to have my job.

Our chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi—who on August 6 announced she was stepping down after 12 years at the helm—was addressing the global communications team at an internal town hall, and she told us in no uncertain terms what she expected of us.

"It’s time the world hears what we stand for," she told us that day. "It is time to tell our story, and tell it with pride."

Ever since, I’ve always known [Nooyi] to appreciate the value of telling a good story. In that sense, there has been no better partner for a communications director.

Her appreciation for stories was particularly important when it came to her signature achievement, Performance with Purpose, an initiative she launched in 2006 almost immediately after becoming CEO. Performance with Purpose is PepsiCo’s vision for delivering top-tier financial performance, while being responsive to the needs of the world around us and embedding sustainability into everything we do.

While the thinking behind the initiative may sound like conventional wisdom in 2018, back then there were plenty of skeptics, both inside and outside the company. [Nooyi] knew she had to win them over, and she traveled the world talking about Performance with Purpose as passionately and relentlessly as she could.

To be successful, she knew she couldn’t tell our story alone. She borrowed an idea from Woodrow Wilson, whose administration enlisted volunteers to deliver short speeches across the country in support of America’s efforts in World War I. [Nooyi] enlisted her own army of PepsiCo associates to tell the story of Performance with Purpose. And they told anyone who would listen why it was not only the right thing to do, but the right thing for our business.

Ultimately, her strategy prevailed. Today, Performance with Purpose is widely recognized as not only the engine that drives our success, but the heart and soul of our company. 

[Nooyi] understood that, in addition to being good for our communities and good for our bottom line, Performance with Purpose was also an ideal vehicle for communicating the broader value of our company as a good corporate citizen. And she knew that if we told our story, and told it well, we would reap the benefits by inspiring associates to deliver strong results over both the short term and long term, attracting talented young people, and building goodwill in communities around the world that would continue to see us as partners in their growth and prosperity.

Even beyond Performance with Purpose, [Nooyi] was intimately involved in our communications strategy, always pushing the team to think creatively about how we could tell a better story using every tool at our disposal.

She led by example. [Nooyi] understood the importance of the CEO as a spokesperson, both internally and externally. In nearly every global market she toured, she engaged our associates in large town halls and small group meetings, while also sitting for interviews with local press and, occasionally, posting on social media.

[Nooyi] saw the value in everything we do as communications professionals and invested in the development of our function, from rapid response, to content creation, analytics, integrated brand communications, and any number of other critical capabilities. If more CEOs took her approach to communications—committing to tell their story and tell it with pride—I believe both they and their organizations would be better off.

[Nooyi] not only viewed communications as a critical function, she cared for us as colleagues and people, getting to know our families, and encouraging us to tend to our responsibilities as spouses, parents, children, siblings, and friends. As she prepares to turn over the reins this fall, I thank her for her years of leadership, her friendship, and, above all, her unwavering support for our team.

Jon Banner is EVP, global comms and president, PepsiCo Foundation

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