With Indra Nooyi exiting PepsiCo as its longtime chief executive, the circle of CEOs in the Fortune 500 is losing one of its highest profile women.
Nooyi, who was born in India, is a rarity on Wall Street as a woman and a minority leading a Fortune 500 company. She oversaw PepsiCo during a turbulent time in the industry that has forced food giants including Coca-Cola Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Oreo maker Mondelez International Inc. to adapt to changing tastes. All those companies changed CEOs in roughly the last year.
At PepsiCo Inc., Nooyi stressed the company’s move toward “good for you” options that people don’t feel as guilty eating, such as Baked Lay’s potato chips and Naked juices made of fruits and vegetables. The company has not abandoned sugary sodas or more indulgent snacks.
Nooyi, 62, has been with PepsiCo Inc. for 24 years and held the top job for 12.
Another PepsiCo veteran, Ramon Laguarta, will take over as chief executive in October, the company said Monday. Nooyi will remain as chairwoman until early next year.
“Growing up in India, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to lead such an extraordinary company,” Nooyi said in a statement Monday.
Nooyi began her career in India with positions at companies including Johnson & Johnson. She later attended the Yale School of Management.
The percentage of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 has climbed slowly over the years and broke the 5 percent mark just last year, according to Catalyst, which promotes women in the workplace. The Fortune 500 includes the largest companies based on revenue.
In the S&P 500, an index that includes companies from different sectors, there are currently 25 female CEOs including Nooyi, according to Catalyst. That also represents around 5 percent of CEOs.
Within the food industry, Nooyi is the latest female chief executive to step down, following Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld last year and Campbell CEO Denise Morrison earlier this year.
The packaged food industry has been undergoing major changes through acquisitions, spinoffs and mergers as big companies look for ways to revive slumping revenues.
Nooyi, who took over as chief executive of PepsiCo in 2006, has resisted calls by an activist investor to spin off the company’s beverage business, which has struggled in North America, from its better-performing Frito-Lay snacks business. Some of PepsiCo’s other brands include Mountain Dew, Tropicana, Gatorade and Quaker Oats.
Nooyi hands the reins to the 54-year-old Laguarta, who has held a variety of positions in his 22 years at PepsiCo over more than two decades. He currently serves as president, overseeing global operations, corporate strategy, public policy and government affairs. He previously served as CEO of the Europe Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Laguarta will be the sixth CEO in PepsiCo’s history, with all of them coming from within the company.
Shares of PepsiCo, based in Purchase, N.Y., rose more than 1 percent in early trading Monday.
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