The Columbia Spectator has stopped publishing until next fall, so we are unable to verify or supplement the report of reader Wes Martin, Columbia MBA 2005. Martin wrote us late last night:
At yesterday’s recognition ceremony for newly minted Columbia Business School MBAs, we had the president/CFO of PepsiCo as our distinguished guest speaker. After beginning her speech with words of praise and recognition for the graduates and their families, Ms. Indra Nooyi began to make the political statement du jour. After talking of her childhood back in India, Ms. Nooyi began to compare the world and its five major continents (excl. Antarctica and Australia) to the human hand. First was Africa – the pinky finger – small and somewhat insignificant but when hurt, the entire hand hurt with it. Next was Asia – the thumb – strong and powerful, yearning to become a bigger player on the world stage. Third was Europe – the index finger – pointing the way. Fourth was South America – the ring finger – the finger which symbolizes love and sensualness. Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) – yes, you guessed it – the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world. According to Ms. Nooyi, we cause the other finger nations to cower under our presence. But it is our responsibility, she continues, to change the current state of world opinion of the US. It is our responsibility to make the other fingers rise in unison with us as we move forward. She then goes on to give a personal anecdote about some disrespectful US business women in an Asian country and how that is typical of Americans overseas. No talk of what the US has done for the world throughout its history. No discussion about the ills that have been cured and the rights that have been wronged by the US. Just how wrong we are for the way we are perceived and how right they are in their own perceptions of the United States.
Now to say that I expected something different from such a liberal institution would be a stretch, but a guy can dream, can’t he? Stay tuned…the former President Bill Clinton is rumored to be speaking at commencement on Wednesday…
UPDATE: I have spoken to Wes Martin and put in requests to the Columbia Business School, Pepsico corporate public relations, and Ms. Nooyi’s office itself for a copy of the speech. I have received no response to our requests, but a reader writes:
I confirmed from two people who attended the event that Indra Nooyi did make comments similar to those in your note. No one could remember the exact words. All were “dismayed and disappointed.” Called a Pepsico PR person, [name and number omitted], she is saying the Indra loves America (her adopted country) and that her speech was meant to reflect what many in the World thought of America not her own opinion. From the emails I received from friends, that