Indra Nooyi is stepping down as a chief executive officer of food and beverage giant PepsiCo Inc., handing the reins to a top lieutenant in a transition that will draw attention to the dearth of prominent female CEOs in corporate America. Nooyi, 62, will leave the role in October and remain chairman until early 2019. Ramon Laguarta, 54, who has been a candidate to take over since a promotion last year to the president, will be just the sixth CEO in the 53-year history of the company.
Nooyi, who is from India, is the first foreign-born CEO of Pepsi and the first woman to lead the chips-and-soda behemoth, whose revenue topped $63 billion last year. Her departure thins the ranks of female CEOs running S&P 500 companies and comes at a time when Pepsi’s North American beverage unit is stagnating amid a general decline in soda consumption. In 24 years at Pepsi, including 12 as chief executive, she has helped the Frito-Lay unit grow in a challenging industry and added healthier drinks and snacks to a portfolio that includes Cheetos and Mountain Dew.
Nooyi is leaving the top job at Pepsi at a time when overall soda consumption has dropped to its lowest level in more than 30 years as consumers try to avoid sugary drinks. That’s led Pepsi and competitors to try to diversify into new products perceived as healthier and to market zero-sugar versions of their soft drinks and retool their diet beverages.
Nooyi has also worked to appeal to modern snacks. Frito-Lay has versions of 11 core chip brands without artificial ingredients, aiming to break out of the traditional snack aisle and get into organic grocery stores. Products such as Sabra hummus and guacamole, Naked cold-press juices and Lipton Pure Leaf tea have bolstered results.