Book Review: My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future by Indra Nooyi

The review of this book has been long, long overdue! And when someone like Nooyi writes a book, it deserves to be written about.

The life that Nooyi led is definitely extra ordinary – almost “having it all” – the career, the travel, a great husband, 2 lovely daughters and support from family in bringing them up.

(Even though she was caught in the storm stirred by her comments about how women cannot have it all)

Her story of being raised in a traditional middle class joint family and moving up the highest ladders of corporate America is inspiring. I guess that’s what makes her “Indra Nooyi”

Her struggles as an immigrant and trying to fit in is something that many can identify.

Her lack of sartorial sense and how she made her wardrobe work in a limited budget through mix and match gives us a glimpse of her early life in the US.

She did well when she moved up the ladder. Her initiative to write letters to the families of employees thanking them for their contribution in the company’s success was so unique. This is something few employers do.

Despite all this, I still find the book to be a bit of a let down. Pepsico’s former CEO overcame all challenges despite being a woman of colour in corporate America and yet her book fails to connect.

Also, Nooyi’s note at the beginning says the book is “shaped and written by Lisa Kassenaar” acts as a dampener. I don’t know if there was any need to openly confess that it was ghost written.

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Here are a few reasons why the book doesn’t work for me:

The narrative is a little too centered around her work 

While the book indeed chronicles her life and times, I think she is lost in her own narrative.

There are hardly any moments when we, as readers, get to participate or identify ourselves with the leading lady.

Not just us, even her family is a mere blip that appears in different parts as mentions. Somehow we never get to see the curtain pulled back properly and get a glimpse of her personal life, the person she is apart from her work title.

She attributes her entire support system to luck!

“somehow it all worked out” – she says in her book.

She says having a great husband at home and supporting mentors at work is just her luck.

And I’d concur to some extent – from her grand father who supported her move to the US to her father-in-law who encouraged her to continue working after her wedding – she had the blessings of the very patriarchy that other women have to bump against and fight.

This isn’t something we are all lucky to have.

And when. you get support from all around that there is no need to interrupt the professional journey, I think the heights she reached become but natural.

READ: Book Review: Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

She doesn’t seem to take a stand

When her child is being bullied in school, she just chose to put her in a different one instead of fighting it our or doing something about it.

Maybe this is not the whole story but, as usual, Ms. Nooyi moves on to talk about other work related stuff.

Even at work, she’s not involved in creating or inspiring other groups of women. She carved a path for herself and stuck to it.

There doesn’t seem to be any work-life balance

With people around to take care of her house and children, she has it all covered. From back to back travel to late night email sessions, there isn’t much work-life balance.

Her success is the result of 5 hour sleep cycles.

I expected to see someone find gaps for family and her children – I am not judging at all. I am just saying that I expected her to be a better role model.

When she talks about an erratic work schedule without warning the others that this isn’t a good thing – at least in hindsight – it sends the wrong message.

She took up new roles with no pay raise and never thought about it

I think this could be a moment of what-not-to-do for other women.

At one point, Nooyi handled 2 departments and never thought of asking for a raise. She was doubly occupied but being paid for one job.

The inspiration I lack missing here is adding a caveat for the other women to not do that. To stand up for what they are worth  – otherwise it seems like she’s sanctioning working more for less pay.

And that’s not the lesson that women should be learning from her memoir.

The narrative lacks vulnerability 

I am not saying this because it’s the life of a woman. But as women, we want to know that others also went through the same stuff we did.

It’s an unspoken bond that binds us through the struggles of life changes and motherhood.

The book is more of a factual account of her life. This could be because her writer was given life events that she put together chronologically.

If Nooyi had written it herself, she’d look back, ponder and have feelings associated with those times that she’d want to share with her readers.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings about the book.

On the one hand, it is impossible to disregard the momentous life she has led, the milestones she has achieved – as a woman of colour in a foreign country – and the example she has set for a whole generation of women.

On the other hand, I think it’s the book that doesn’t do justice to all that went in the making of “Indra Nooyi”. And it’s sad because that’s one thing that could have shone light on what went in the making of this business tycoon.

Have you read the book? What did you think?

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