NEW DELHI (AFP) -Indian newspapers have welcomed Indra Nooyi as the new CEO of PepsiCo even as the firm along with Coca-Cola faces charges in the country that their sodas have toxic pesticide levels.
The English-language daily Hindustan Times called the Indian born and educated Nooyi, “Iron Woman,” a nickname she reportedly earned after a friend rewrote a song called Iron Man by the British rock group Black Sabbath to capture her no take-no-prisoners management style.
The Times of India noted the 50-year-old teetotaller “plays a mean electric guitar”.
Nooyi joins a growing list of Indians who graduated from top management schools in the country to lead some of the world’s biggest companies, including Arun Sarin, head of mobile phone giant Vodaphone, and Rajat Gupta, managing director of global consulting firm McKinsey and Co.
Her contacts back home may come in handy after an environmental group claimed that Pepsi and Coke sell sodas that contain toxic levels of pesticides, leading to full or partial bans in six Indian states.
The Hindustan Times said that solving the dispute in India will be one of her first tests as chief executive and the job may be difficult because of public anger over the pesticide report.
“It remains to be seen what she can do for her company in India, where pesticides have returned to haunt Pepsi,” the newspaper said.
Pepsi leads Coke in India with the firms holding a combined 95 percent of the market for soft drinks, according to industry figures.
But both companies have lost money since re-entering India in the 1990s after being effectively banned in 1977 by a socialist government.
Coke has invested more than one billion dollars in India since re-entering, according to published reports, only to end up writing off 405 million dollars off the value of its bottling operations in 2000.
Pepsi has also posted millions of dollars in losses, according to local regulatory filings.
A native of the southern city of Chennai and graduate of the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata as well as the Yale School of Management, Nooyi said she was humbled to be chosen as CEO by the PepsiCo board after serving since May 2001 as president and chief financial officer.
Analysts said a Nooyi-led restructuring that saw PepsiCo lessen its reliance on fizzy drinks to move into fruit juices, through its purchase of Tropicana, and healthier snacks may be the right move for India.
The newly affluent middle-class Indians prefer juices and bottled water, said Abhijeet Kunda, a consumer goods analyst with Indian brokerage Prabhudas Lilladher.