Monday, May 23, 2005


Over the weekend I studied Indra Nooyi's speech, took it apart, re-read it, and then decided to turn away from her words and think about her reason for giving such a speech. If you consider motivation alone, it will reveal more than the words are able to. The fact that Nooyi devoted the bulk of her speech to the "finger/hand" analogy, and not business, jumped out at me.

Ask yourself this: If you were invited to speak to a graduating class, what would you talk about and why?

Well, I figure you'd talk about something you're familiar with, a topic you believe in, and above all, something you're passionate about. This is exactly what Nooyi did when she spoke to the graduating class at Columbia. Her words were not "unintentional," they were not "misconstrued," and certainly they were not the product of a "thoughtless gesture or comment." Nooyi didn't pull a "Jimmy the Greek," she clearly put much effort and thought into her speech. She said what she felt.

Nooyi's choice of using the "finger" analogy is equally obvious in its intent; she may not have invented this analogy, however, its message and meaning are universal. A meaning so clear, a child of five could see it from across a playground. I doubt Pepsico has any five-year-olds on the payroll.

The story of how the "middle finger" anchors every function the hand performs isn't correct, anyway. If you take the time to examine your hand and its digits, you'll soon realize the only digit you can't function without is the thumb. Lose a thumb and you're handicapped.

If Nooyi assigned the "thumb" to America, she could've used the "thumbs-up" analogy, but its meaning wouldn't have projected her true feelings about America's behavior around the globe. If Nooyi didn't harbor these feelings about America, she would've spoke to the class about the state of business, globalization, Pepsico, and what the graduates can expect in the future, now that they're about to embark on new careers.

Pepsico is a global corporation. A corporation that seems to have pulled up its roots from America's soil. Nothing, I predict, will happen to Indra Nooyi over the blow-back from her speech. She hails from India, a nation with about a billion consumers, and Pepsico will do nothing to upset that applecart. Pepsico wouldn't relish having the kind of troubles Coca-Cola is currently having there.

So, "one thumb down" for Indra Nooyi, and "two thumbs down" for Pepsico. And, just so they're not misconstrued, "thumbs down" is meant in the negative sense.

I wonder what his opinion would be?

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