May 20, 2005

Pepsico in damage control mode behind foot-in-mouth gaffe

PepsiCo president and chief financial officer Indra Nooyi, an Indian-born woman, shoved her foot deep down her throat last weekend during a speech to the graduating class at the Columbia Business School in New York. The speech included what many felt was an anti-American attack.

"I'm going to take a look at how the United States is perceived in global business," Nooyi told the audience, saying she'd use the human hand as a model.

Nooyi then went on to say the five major continents in the world can each be represented by a finger on the hand.

She said Africa was the pinkie, because of its place on the world's stage, having yet to catch up to her sister continents.

"And yet, when our little finger hurts, it affects the whole hand," Nooyi stated.

She said our thumb is Asia, "strong, powerful, and ready to assert herself as a major player on the world's economic stage."

Europe was compared to the index finger, the cradle of democracy which "pointed the way for Western civilization and the laws we use in conducting global business."

South America, including Latin America, was likened to the ring finger, symbolizing love and commitment to another person.

She said her analogy "leaves the long, middle finger for North America, and in particular, the United States. As the longest of the fingers, it really stands out. The middle finger anchors every function that the hand performs and is the key to all of the fingers working together efficiently and effectively. This is a really good thing, and has given the U.S. a leg up in global business since the end of World War I.

"However, if used inappropriately – just like the U.S. itself, the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble," Nooyi said, noting she would not demonstrate, nor was she looking for volunteers. "Discretion being the better part of valor, I think I'll pass."

She continued:

What is most crucial to my analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents, is that each of us in the U.S. – the long, middle finger – must be careful that when we extend our arm in either a business or political sense, we take pains to assure we are giving a hand, not the finger. Sometimes this very difficult. Because the U.S. – the middle finger – sticks out so much, we can send the wrong message unintentionally.

Unfortunately, I think this is how the rest of the world looks at the U.S. right now. Not as part of the hand – giving strength and purpose to the rest of the fingers – but instead, scratching our nose and sending a far different signal.

As you can imagine, the audience was shocked by Nooyi's statements.

Some quarters are calling for a boycott of Pepsi products, while Pepsico in general, and Nooyi in particular are left with tap dancing.

Unfortunately, my remarks at Columbia University were misconstrued and depicted in a different context as unpatriotic. Although nothing could be further from the truth, I regret any confusion or concern that I may have inadvertently created.
The "mea culpa" wasn't enough to staunch the criticism, so Nooyi was left to issue a formal apology.
Following my remarks to the graduating class of Columbia University's Business School in New York City, I have come to realize that my words and examples about America unintentionally depicted our country negatively and hurt people.

I appreciate the honest comments that have been shared with me since then, and am deeply sorry for offending anyone. I love America unshakably – without hesitation – and am extremely grateful for the opportunities and support our great nation has always provided me.

Despite the formal apology, the criticism continues. I'm guessing we'll hear more within the next week or so.
(More coverage from PowerLine & others)

Posted by mhking at May 20, 2005 06:02 PM

It is impossible that this woman was unaware of how her remarks could be taken. Either that or Pepsico is in the practice of placing morons into very high paying, influential positions. If you want to write to the board as I have the email is
Go for it.

Posted by: BobG at May 20, 2005 11:23 PM

For what it's worth...This is bound to present something of a problem for Jeff Gordon, as Pepsi is a usually a secondary sponsor, but during some races, Pepsi is shown more prominently than DuPont. It will be interesting to see his paint job at Charlotte these next two weekends.

Posted by: joe-6-pack at May 21, 2005 01:45 AM

Jeez, are her comments really that bad?

Posted by: princec at May 21, 2005 11:01 PM

From reading that and the actual article listed no its a perfectly reasonable and accurate analogy.

But oh my God the notion that the US could EVER act inappropriately. UN PATRIOTIC, BRING BACK HUAC.
To those getting their knickers in a twist over the analogy. Grow up.

Posted by: Nick Saunders at May 22, 2005 03:51 AM

You have to be some kind of a moron not to understand what she was saying. And there was nothing remotely anti-American about it.

Posted by: Haywood at May 22, 2005 10:49 PM

I have to agree with Haywood. I don't see the anti-Americanism in her statements. Cautionary speak on our behavior in the world is not anti-Americanism. You may disagree with her but she his hardly a raving anti-American.

Posted by: Solomon Mason at May 23, 2005 10:57 AM

I thought the example of the ugly American she came up with was particularly stupid; some hotel in Beijing didn't have toilets, just a hole in the floor so some American businessmen griped about the facilities. I tend to agree with the businessmen; it's not as if this were some place out in rural China.

Posted by: Brainster at May 23, 2005 06:52 PM

Hope that businessman never goes to a french roadside station. Hole in the ground is an exact description of the toilets there.

Posted by: Nick Saunders at May 24, 2005 06:12 PM

Gotta admit that I'm with Nick and Haywood on this, too. I read an analogy with a cautionary message, not an anti-American rant. She advocated a clarity of message lest our mission be perceived by others -- as it clearly is -- as arrogance and wanton domination.

Pro/anti-Iraq war aside, her message was a good one, imo.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 24, 2005 10:57 PM

I don't think her comments were too bad. She said we have the most reach an influence, while providing a central balance for the world.

Of course we can do good and evil. This was a neutral statement.

I'm going off to drink a diet Pepsi.

Posted by: Bee Jiggity at May 25, 2005 01:16 PM
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