Indra Nooyi Birthday Special: The Business-Leader who volunteered to spend the Night in Jail  

Business Powerhouse Indian- American, Indra Nooyi is currently riding high on the success of her bestselling book “My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future”.


Known to the world as one of the most admired business leader, listed in the Times list of 100 most influential people in the world. Padma Bhushan Awardee, Recipient of 15 honorary degrees and even been named an “Outstanding American by choice” by the US State Department.

Known for her transformational leadership style that shaped PepsiCo, Indra, herself believes that leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder.

On her birthday this 28th October, we celebrate one of the most admired business leaders by revisiting a  funny incident that happened in the early years of her career.

It truly showcases her grit and how adaptable she is in the face of challenging circumstances. When I first got to know about this incident, I wondered what I would have done in such circumstances.

It seems really funny now. But it wasn’t the case when she was faced with the situation. It truly is a great example of critical decision making and thinking on your toes like a true leader.

The following real life story is an excerpt from Indra Nooyi’s digital interview for the Jaipur Lit Fest.

Indra Nooyi had gone to Wisconstin with a client. There was an air show going in the town and she could not find a hotel room. The closest place to find a room to stay was 40 miles away in another town. The other option was to drive back home to her husband in Chicago and come back the next day.

She thought the latter was the better choice and started speeding back home. She was stopped by the cops and was given a ticket for speeding. The amount was on the higher side above 150 dollars. The cop only accepted Visa or Cash and Indra with an Amex card didn’t have either. So the cop asked her to follow her to the Police State Department Precinct.

While he was still wondering what to do with her, Indra spotted the jail cell at the Precinct .It was beautiful, brand new, had an attached bath and a closed door.

Without taking any further time, she asked the officer to let her stay the night in the cell and her husband would come in the morning with the money. Funny as it seems it was quite audacious of her and really brave.

Imagine wanting to voluntarily spend the night in a jail cell? The cop realized how genuine she was and let her go. He asked her to come back the next day to pay the fine, which of course she did.

This incident is something to laugh about now. But it was a tough one then and Indra faced it head on with grit and the calm mind of a leader.

Indra Nooyi is full of surprises and now post her PepsiCo leadership she still has a lot of surprises up her sleeve. Her book is already a bestseller and she continues to advise organizations across the private, education and government sectors.

On a lighter note, did you know while growing up, she was the lead guitarist in an all girls’ band and also played cricket? She continues to be a karaoke enthusiast till date and a great one at that.

Indra’s mother had instilled a superpower in her and her sister early on in childhood. Every night they were made to compete against each other by writing speeches. The topics would be what they would do if they were president, chief minister or prime minister. Her mother was creating leaders right at their dinner table.

Her words on greatness are so inspiring and inclusive in nature and I quote: “Greatness comes not from a position, but from helping build the future. We have an obligation to pull others up”.

Indra ma’am, In keeping with the spirit of greatness you believe in, on your birthday as a fellow Indian, I request you for a return gift.

I know in the past both India and America have claimed you as their own. It’s your turn now to claim India as your own and yes it pulls it up. The wonderful IIM in India gave you your first grounding into the business world.

Now, India calls with your business prowess to help build its bright future.

I know the jail cells here aren’t that fancy (hahaha!)!  But what better place to put into action what your book embodies than your own motherland?

Your thoughts on how society can blend work and family and advance women in the 21st century are most relevant to India today. More and more women face these challenges in an ever growing India inching towards becoming a superpower.

Indra ma’am, the Indian boardrooms and the many women in them those waiting in the wings or even working in small supermarkets call on you to shake up Indian society and the economy with your signature style.

Ghar aaja pardesi tera desh bulaaye re!

To the many avatars of Indra Nooyi, wishing you a very Happy Birthday ma’am!