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Business Lessons To Learn From The Conversation Between Indra Nooyi and Doug McMillon

We often talk about commencement speeches which are motivational and/or inspirational. Today we would love to share with you a fantastic conversation between Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo Chairman and CEO) & Doug McMillon (Walmart President and CEO) arranged at Stanford Graduate School of Business (Website: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu)for their MBA students.

Though it is an arranged conversation for the MBA students, you will never feel that it is a lecture, it resumes to be conversation throughout. Also the mutual respect and warmth between both of them is evidently visible. While being more experienced and elder, Indra was quite open about her views and firmly expressed it, we found Doug to be humble and equally clear about it.

Also during the conversation we have witnessed that Indra was urging Doug to visit Design Expo/Events arranged at certain places to get better idea of where market is going (in terms of design and consumer’s interest). Only an elder member of family can give such advise to her close relative. It is the best thing to visit during the conversation. This is what makes her a true leader and earns respect for her. Equally Doug was found giving her, all due respect and never found that he is a wealthy businessman who is running Walmart – chain.

When we see people working in small team of 2 persons are also trying to go ahead by following cut-through strategies in the name of competition/business; these are the ethics one needs to learn. This is the best lesson the students of any Business Management stream needs to learn.

The entire conversation (Duration: 53:38) is made available by Stanford GSB on the public domain of YouTube.

Conversation between Indra Nooyi and Doug McMillon

1. Every aspect of business is changing

As per the famous saying the change is the only constant in the universe. In India, we heard our ancestors saying that when closed within the boundaries, even the water started stinking. It remain fresh only while it is flowing. So true!

As the time changes, the requirement of people, the way of using the products and the products/services themselves are changed. If a business wants to remain successful (as it is the main purpose of any business) it have to go with the flow and keep changing.

2. Make the change before it is too late to make change

So when to implement the changes? Well, usually it’s obvious. When you start sensing that the things are not working as expected, you need to change them. Indra gave a very good example. She said that you can see the things around you and can get the obvious hints from them. It is not the thing that you require to hire experts to notice changes around you.

She gave an example of how the things happened in the board meetings. Earlier on the side table of the meeting attendees bottles of sugar drinks were placed. Eventually it was replaced with “diet” drinks. And now we seen bottle of “Mineral water” there. So you noticed the change.

She also told that it is often a myth to not to consider ourselves as a consumer. When you are going to purchase some things, and what you feel or experience or expect; is probably what other consumer is feeling.

3. Implementing changes is the toughest part

After knowing that the changes are to be done. Implementing them is very tough. In order to prepare the entire segment for the change is very tough. But, implementing it is even tougher. Sometimes you are fighting with your own team or thoughts. But so what! You have to take decisions which good for the business.

4. Constant learning is essential

Learning Is Essential

Learning Is Essential

Their conversation re-iterated a fact (however in conversation it is meant for the CEOs or top-officials, it applies equally to all of us) that; constant learning is essential. You need to keep your minds open and keep learning new things. There came the example of using social media (including Twitter) for the business running and expansion. The way the consumer used to purchase goods / complain about it, is changed significantly this days. If one wants to be at the top of the business, he/she needs to adopt the technology and learn using it. It can do marvel to the business.

5. Make connections

Running a successful business (or any other venture, or even living a quality social life) requires being connected. Not only in terms of Facebook Friends or LinkedIn connections, the real connections.

Making a new connection doesn’t conclude the task. It starts it. The quality is required to maintained as well. The relation has to be taken care of.

6. Don’t be obvious

When running business, thinking out of the box, is one major attribute to have. If you be obvious than what makes you stand out of the crowd. There may be many competitors facilitating the same products/services as you are. So why someone go for your offerings. Also during the campaign, if your move is expected, there is no surprise element there. And it make you another ordinary fellow, struggling for what he/she wants but finding it tough to get.

7. We have to collect data, make path and shape future.

And to decide the changes, imporvements and steps to be taken; you need data. The real data will help you to decide what is working and what is not. What is expected by the consumer (which was not expected earlier), or what may be expected in future. There is a proverb telling something like “you cannot start digging well (to get water) when the fire is there (you should have taken the precautionary steps earlier)“. As your today’s actions are going to shape the future, you have to be wise. And, having neeeded data in possession, help you taking decisions in better manner.

8. People hate changes

Sometimes Changes Are Unavoidable Yet Un-Welcomed

Sometimes Changes Are Unavoidable Yet Un-Welcomed

It is the mindset of majority of us to have a safe and secure life. Once we are adment to a routine, we usually like no changes there. And, with growing age, this attitude gets multi-folded.

We have seen that the children are more adoptive to the changes than the elders. Unless, you develop habit of expecting and following changes, you will start hating it. And it is not good for you or the business.

9. Experience your business from consumer’s eye or retailer’s eye

Rather than just sitting in an AC office in some apartment and running everything from there, you also need to visit the business places. Visiting actual stores will help you to understand the retailer’s as well as the consumer’s perspective in much better manner.

Both Indra and Doug shared that they have habit to visit their storefronts in various cities around the world during their visit. Based on their habits, the local management used to arrange their visit to a 2-3 locations nearby. And they used to follow the arrangements. Later they started picking the locations randomly to see the real scenario – rather than the prepared one. It used to give them the idea about what are their strengths and what are the attributes which require efforts, based on the real feedback.

So getting authentic and real data is quite essential.

10. Design is something you implement in product or service to make it romance with consumer.

While functionality is essential, the packaging and the representation have it’s own importance. And it cannot be ignored. We don’t like un-groomed people, dirty places and similar stuffs. But, we are attracted to well groomed fellow and admire the beauty of something or someone attractive.

Same applies to the product.

Indra gives an example of a fast food item, shares her analysis about how men eats it and how women eats it. And what design changes she think in that scenario for the product packaging.

Her insistence towards attending Design Expos is really worth following.

11. Emotional bondage between consumer and product.

A product or service can perform better in the market when consumer is emotionally attached towards it.

It is not a rocket science, some quite simple steps can make difference.

I suggest you to read answers on Quora about customer experiences (usually comparison between two E-Commerce giants FlipKart and Amazon – in India). You will find out why people are more emotionally attached towards Amazon.

12. You should respect heritage and culture of the business but you need to welcome changes.

As emotions are essential, a boundary is inevitable as well.

Just talking about great heritage and following the traditional path may not be the solution always. On the contrary, in some scenario, it is opposite.

13. Make the break with the past.

When welcoming changes, you have to be prepared to get rid of something being done since very long. The stuff might have given some fantastic results in past. But, we have to think about present and more importantly the future.

14. We have no time, we need to make the change.

Do The Right Changes On Right Time

Do The Right Changes On Right Time

And often, we need to take harsh decisions. Some of them might not be welcomed by the seniors or the founders. But, what is right for the business has to be done. And, it has to be done before it’s too late.

15. Brute actions: Either you are in or out.

Who else is going to make the changes, if the Decision Makers don’t? And if people are not ready to be part of the change than? Then you have to make sure that if the decision is right, then the team have to follow it. If the team doesn’t follow the leader’s guidance, then how can you call it a team?

16. Explore the market, not prepared for you. Explore it how it is setup for consumers.

As mentioned in Point 9, the staged experience and real experience are two different things. You can get to know about the shortage of certain product, improvements needed in certain product, and other similar real feedback from the consumers and retailers when you actually visit them. As they are paying for your product/services, they will tell you truth, rather than just trying to please you.

17. Social responsibility (environment + employee)

Social responsibility and some fantastic works done by several NGOs in that arena is hailed by both Indra and Doug.

They are the whistle blowers who keeps the businesses alert for their environmental and HR responsibilities.

While business is all for profit, one cannot sideline Human Resources for and with which it is running and the environment which produces resources to the entire planet. You have to forget your personal likes and dislikes and do what is essential for these two.

18. Don’t be too nice.

Indra shares her experience with the meeting with a great visionary – Steve Jobs. We suggest you to hear it from her.

He advised Indra that it is not necessary to be nice everytime. When the things are not done the way it is expected to be done, you have all right to show your anger. People should know that you didn’t like the poor execution.

If you think it deeply, it seems to be right.

External links:

If you are keen to read the transcript of the entire conversation (it is worth reading for sure, even after watching this video and reading this article), you can visit:


Doug started the conversation by making the environment of the hall lighter. It is very good to have humble and joyous environment while learning great lessons of life. The talk between Indra and Doug shows their human attributes quite well. You will see how they use the topic of cricket in first few minutes to setup the right environment.

Definitely worth watching conversation which is very educational as well.

All the views and reviews we have presented about is our takeaways from the speech in our words.

External links:

If you are keen to read the transcript of the entire conversation (it is worth reading for sure, even after watching this video and reading this article), you can visit:

Over to you:

While we have shared the lessons we have learnt from it, we would like to know, what is your take on it. We invite you to share your thoughts about the conversation.

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