In its profile (subscribers only) of new Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi yesterday, the Wall Street Journal briefly took note of Nooyi’s June 2005 Columbia University busines school commencement address:
Her brash style has sometimes backfired publicly. Last year in a commencement address at Columbia University’s business school, Ms. Nooyi compared five major continents to her hand with the U.S. representing the middle finger. In that talk, she said: “Each of us…must be careful that when we extend our arm in a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand…not the finger….Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S.”
Once posted online, those comments unleashed a torrent of criticism in Internet chat rooms and blogs. Critics felt Ms. Nooyi was being anti-American. She was forced to post an apology on Pepsi’s Web site in which she said, “I have come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively and hurt people….I love America unshakably.”
Given her new prominence, Nooyi and her speech are worth pausing over again. It seems to me that Nooyi presents a pluperfect example of the “transnational professional class” that Michael Barone has discerned as the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party.” Victor Davis Hanson took a look at Nooyi’s comments in his May 2005 NRO column “Our spoiled and unhappy global elites.” We served up our readers’ views of Nooyi’s speech in “The raspberry statement.” In “Pepsi’s moving finger,” I compared the advice Nooyi offered Tuck School students in a 2002 speech with Pepsi’s dodging and weaving in response to our inquiries concerning Nooyi’s 2005 speech. Paul Mirengoff commented:
When a corporation like PepsiCo offends a racial minority (or at least offends Jesse Jackson), it customarily pays a monetary tribute by funding one of Jackson’s organizations. Maybe PepsiCo can make good on its apology by finding a way to assist the brave Americans who have sacrificed during America’s efforts to extend a hand (not a finger) to those who have suffered from oppression in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe PepsiCo can extend its own hand to the liberated but still suffering people of those countries.
Using an incident involving Pepsi, I asked how the United States or Pepsi itself should respond to offenses such as those that Nooyi addressed in her Columbia University speech in “Middle fingers: A case study.” For some reason, I noted, the presumption among those such as Nooyi is always that the United States is the malefactor guilty of insensitivity and worse.
UPDATE: Reader James Siegler reminds me of a point that I had meant to make and overlooked in my haste this morning:
Just a comment regarding the WSJ article on Ms. Nooyi. The first “scene” in the story is her introducing Harry Belafonte at a Pepsi diversity function. THAT tells one a whole hell of a lot about her and Pepsi. Belafonte is one of the worst race baiters and lovers of despots around. Based on his public statements about our president and the US, his world view fits in rather nicely with Ms. Nooyi’s “middle finger” beliefs. Her Columbia address was not some aberration, but it reflected exactly who and what she is.
Needless to say, I drink Coke. I love Propel and am very conflicted now that I found out that it is a Pepsi product.