Indra Nooyi is the queen of pop

The No. 1 Most Powerful Woman, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, talks about a recent trip to China, the "age of thrift," and why operating experience is overrated.

By Patricia Sellers, editor at large

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo

(Fortune Magazine) -- How has the global downturn impacted Pepsi's strategy?

The age of thrift is here. You have to do innovation at both ends -- premium innovation and innovation for the value consumer.

Are you managing differently now?

Being visible is incredibly important. People need to know that the CEO cares about them and has a realistic vision for the world. I've been traveling as much as I can and doing as many videos as I can.

Is there a quality that a strong manager has to have today?

Adaptability. You have to be willing to think destructively. You have to be able to say, "There's a great model in Brazil. Who cares that I didn't develop it? Let me lift and shift."

In June you spent 10 days in China. What did you learn?

The Chinese are very comfortable about themselves and China's place in the world scene. I spent some time at a university for traditional Chinese medicine. There's a resurgence of people eating according to traditional Chinese medicine. So our challenge is, How do you marry traditional Chinese medicine with PepsiCo's products?

What do you think of the worries about too much stimulus -- a bubble in China?

We should worry about it in the West rather than worry about China. They take long-term strategic planning to a new level.

I was in a city in Inner Mongolia -- Baotou, a city of 2.5 million people. For China that's a small city. The city had four-lane highways, beautifully laid-out streets, modern buildings, modern supermarkets. I didn't expect to see this at the edge of a desert in Inner Mongolia.

Rather than say, "Go to the frontier and settle down," the Chinese government says, "We'll settle the frontier for you. Come and join us."

Why are you investing $1 billion in Russia?

Because the oil price bubble gave them a lot of wealth and the Russian consumer still has a lot of money to spend. But China and Russia are very interesting contrasts. In China any amount of investment is not enough. In Russia you've got to think, Are we overinvesting?

Your two predecessors atop the Most Powerful Women list are going into politics -- former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is running for governor of California. And it looks as if former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina plans to run for the Senate.

More power to them! They can take the spotlight. I'm not that deft a politician. Give me a thorny issue. I'll go work on that issue to get to the right answer. Then [someone else] can decide how to spin it.

Before you became CEO, Fortune wrote that Indra Nooyi would probably never get the top job because she'd never held an operating position. What did you think of that?

The most overrated skill is "running a business." To me, the single most important skill needed for any CEO today is strategic acuity. [Former PepsiCo CEO ] Roger Enrico believed that.

When I was going to run the European business in 1996, he said, "I'm pulling that. You're going to stay back." I said, "Why? I put my kids in school. I rented a house. Why do you want me to stay back here?" He said, "I can get operating executives to run a P&L. But I cannot find people to help me reconceptualize PepsiCo (PEP, Fortune 500)." That's the skill in shortest supply. To top of page

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