"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Did PepsiCo Give U.S.The Middle Finger?

According to a Powerline reader, Columbia Business School students receiving MBAs, along with their guests, were treated to an incredibly childish and insulting speech by Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s President and Chief Financial Officer. Snips from the Powerline post:

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.
Nooyi’s speech, apparently a take-off on "This Little Piggy", is a ridiculous analogy and interpretation of history and current world affairs. Isn’t Ms. Nooyi clever and insightful? We’ll see.

Our fingers will be dialing Pepsi to verify the contents of Ms Nooyi’s speech. If we have an accurate account of her speech, we’ll be giving Pepsi the middle finger and purchasing alternatives to Pepsi, Frito Lay, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Gatorade and their other products.

We called PepsiCo and were referred to the public relations department. The person we spoke with was not familiar with the contents of Nooyi’s speech, but promised to call us back with the facts.

Update: We just received a call from Elaine Palmer from PepsiCo. She said PepsiCo will be releasing a statement to clarify Nooyi’s speech delivered at Columbia Business School. Palmer said Nooyi’s comments were taken out of context, but yes, she did refer to the United States as the middle finger. She conceded that in hindsight the five finger analogy was childish, but was meant as a metaphor for the importance of the world working together for the betterment of all.

Palmer characterized the Nooyi speech as actually pro-American and read a portion of it that noted the middle finger as the longest and strongest of the fingers. She indicated some people misinterpreted Nooyi’s remarks and the significance of her relegating the United States to the middle digit. No disrespect was intended. We pointed out that if the finger analogy had to be used, surely the U.S. could have been the index finger, pointing the way to democracy.

Palmer tried to down play information one reads on blogs as “bubbling up from nowhere” and said she had never heard of Powerline until today. She has heard of them big time now. We told Palmer, Powerline didn’t just make up the speech or the student’s interpretation and that we looked forward to PepsiCo’s statement and release of the Nooyi speech. Releasing the actual speech and not snippets is the best way to clear up the matter.

Palmer has been placed in a tough spot, unless of course she vetted the speech, then she’s on the hot seat where she belongs. We're sure we will be reading more on this story, especially after PepsiCo releases the complete speech. Don’t hold your breath on the latter.

Executive Offices PepsiCo, Inc.
700 Anderson Hill Road
Purchase, NY 10577
(914) 253-2000

Update 2: Readers have provided this email address for PepsiCo's Board of Directors:

And Powerline has updates in their post The Strawberry Statement and Play the hand. Powerline linked to Enlighten-NewJersey and we greatly appreciate the nod. Now, if we could get people to pay a bit more attention to New Jersey's race for Governor this year, we'd be ever so grateful.

Update 3: PepsiCo has posted a message from Indra Nooyi here and the text of her speech at Columbia Business School may be read here (in PDF).

Update 4: We've posted the complete speech in html here


At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Nooyi knew exactly what she was saying, and Pepsico's refusal to release a transcript of the speech is tacit proof of that. Nooyi attended Yale for her MBA, so there is no "confused foreigner" fallback position for her to cling to. A Yale newsletter described her position as profiting her with a lordly $3.5million in salary and benefits. Pretty good for someone who finds the U.S. so "overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful," wouldn't you say?

My wife, who, coincidentally, is also Indian, was outraged and said that Nooyi should consider a position in a country she finds more palatable to her political sensitivities (edited for clarity and FCC regulations!).

One also wonders how much of that $3.5million makes it back to India and elsewhere as charity.

Bottom line: get the full transcript out, Pepsico. The refusal to do that, and the stories coming out that are contrary to the "explanations" of Elaine Palmer simply make them look like they are in the middle of some serious PR damage control.

At 6:08 AM, Blogger Appalachian Gun Trash said...

I noticed you provided a snailmail address and phone no. Like me, you probably went to their website and found that Pepsico doesn't clutter up their "How to Contact Us" page with a lot of phone numbers or email addresses. Strange, for a major US corporation.

The only other contact I could find was this email address: BoardofDirectors@Pepsi.com which I used to send my displeasure to.

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous R. C. Blackburn said...

Pepsico has a "Speak up Hotline" at 1-866-729-4888 which is intended to receive violations of the Code of Conduct.

Ms Nooyi must know that The Pepsico Code of Conduct clauses include:

p 2: There's only one way to hold together a company so big and diverse - through ... shared values

p 3: ... we strive to act with honesty, fairness ...

p 6: ... we recognize our responsibility to act in concert with the legitimate interests of the countries in which we do business.

p 6: ... respect the lawful concerns of host countries.

p 6: Our objective is to be a good corporate citizen.

p 9: ... communicate information and opinions of public concern ...

p 15: Each employee has a responsibility to understand and comply with this code.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

There's a fairly sizable segment of America that's actually proud of the idea that we're giving the rest of the world the middle finger.

That aside, some companies have learned to see corporate communications as the very serious matter they are. Apple's Steve Jobs won't conduct a media interview without an Apple media consultant present at all times. This incident with Pepsi is exactly why.

You just can't let these titans of industry run around saying whatever pops into their head. Not only do their statements often get the company in trouble, they show these guys for the naked emperors they too frequently are. And when the company is run by Bozo, how much could the stock actually be worth?

Wasn't it GE's Jack Welsh, a couple of years ago, who made an extemperaneous remark about 'when did you stop beating your wife?' I think it was him. It was on TV -the interviewer took a few moments to compose herself (I believe it was a female) and changed the subject.

I wonder if there's a web site out there somewhere focused on corporate communications gaffes. If not, there should be.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

While I'm here - wasn't it the Columbia School of Journalism that hosted a speech by a New York Times executive last year, in which he said blogs were the equivalent of 'looking at the world through a pinhole'?

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Sluggo said...

Congratulations on the Powerline link. You boys are moving on up.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Moore said...

I emailed the fine folks at Pepsi using the email address provided by Gun Trash:

I hope I am only one of many.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sent an email to the board at Pepsi. My only regret: I wish I'd thought to add !Viva! Coca Cola! at the end of the note.

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read the speech. It wasn't anti-American at all. It said that as the middle finger, America can be a source of strength, but also that the world can see this strength as offensive. What's untrue about this? That we don't need to be culturally sensitive?

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Enlighten said...

Thanks for the congrats Sluggo!

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

Thanks to anonymous for providing the speech. Now that I have seen it, it seems more clumsy, limp and aimless than anything else. Whoever wrote it clearly knew they were just begging for an unflattering interpretation on someone's part. How could they not? Especially these days, when this kind of thing hits the 'net 5 minutes after it's spoken. So, why do it at all? Why ask for trouble? Write another speech, or re-read the Gettysburg Address (which is exactly what many politicians did after 9/11). Tell us why Ken Lay is bad and Warren Buffet is good. Read my post on Anal Douche, even. Anything but THIS. Dumb.

(well, ok this might be marginally better than the anal douche post)

At 6:20 AM, Blogger writpetition said...

I have read the speech Ms. Nooyi delivered at Columbia University. I
have also read the reactions to the speech - or shall I say,

The speech was humorous, if anything, and simultaneously an honest
appraisal of the US's strengths and weaknesses. I do not understand
why America and Americans must react so negatively to the speech. Is
it because they are so full of themselves that they cannot bear to
hear anything even vaguely negative said about them? Are Americans SO
vain? Did this vanity take Ameica to the heights it has achieved? Or
is this a reaction against someone who is 'profiled' (racially, if you

If anything, this vanity (and, yes, I think of it is as just that) is
symptomatic of the downward spiral that America is about to initiate.
Pride comes before fall - and, there's a lot of that around - more
than ever before.
I have admired many (though not all) things Amercian and I would hate
to see the fall of this mighty nation.

However, if America and Amercians move along this newly chosen path,
I'm afraid, I will live to see their downfall.

America - reclaim your greatness - with deeds, not mere words! And, if
Indira Nooyi was wrong, prove it with your actions! Don't react! ACT!

At 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writpetition, you've missed the point. This reaction has little to do with Nooyi's subject as it has to do with Nooyi's characterizations. She comes up with convoluted desciptions of the other continents to conclude the US is properly the middle finger because its taller. Then she continues to let you know she is aware of the connotation and contiues to use this negative image to the very end of her address. Can you explain to me why the President & CFO of a major US company, while speaking to the graduating class of Columbia Business School could not be little less childish and lot more adult-like in her address. She is asking these students be more mature in business while she herself is speaking as if from the backseat of her boyfriend's car in high school.
We all know the lessons of pride, though not all will learn from from others experiences. But to say American businessmen are all ugly Americans is simply not true. Her point has been a major subject of American business since the beginnings of international trade. All she's has made clear to me is that this is the way she sees most if not all American business people and maybe America herself. And maybe 'though you protest to much' so do you too.
One can teach another how to do something or how not to do something. The first way incourages good behaviors, the other is punishment.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fact is Nooyi (and or her speechwriter) goofed and big time. I doubt she intended to slander the US. Her anti-Bush leanings got the better of her - how the world sees us is by now trite given how often it is repeated by the Democrats - It is pathetic given that all terrorist activities including 9/11 were initiated when supposedly "sensitive" Bill was POTUS. Nooyi should have known better but her speech reveals she did not intend to depict the US in the typical manner that middle fingers are used when elevated

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Aakash said...

Well, there was another reason that I found, a few years back, to avoid Pepsi-Cola (though I haven't been doing that), but when I looked up the current info about this matter, as well as that from past years, I see that The Coca-Cola Company is also now on that list - even higher up that Pepsi! (types while Coke is on desk, next to him)

You just can't seem to get around all this stuff, can you?

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