Asian woman named CEO at Pepsi

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PepsiCo has promoted its chief financial officer, Indra Nooyi, to become chief executive of the drinks manufacturer, making her one of the most powerful women in corporate America.

Ms Nooyi, who was born in India, will take over immediately in a surprise reshuffle, cementing her position after several years in which the board has fought to keep her from leaving for a senior job elsewhere.

She replaces Steve Reinemund, who will take early retirement after five years in which he has pushed PepsiCo into new, non-carbonated drinks and won market share from the company's rival Coca-Cola. He will stay on as chairman until May.

PepsiCo becomes the largest company by market value to be run by a woman, and Ms Nooyi becomes only the fifth chief executive in its 41-year history.

She said: "I am humbled by the opportunity to lead PepsiCo. Steve has steered the company to a strong and enviable position, and he will be a continuing source of wisdom and perspective. I am equally fortunate to have amazing partners, not only on the board and executive team, but in the 157,000 bright, talented colleagues around the world who deliver the results every day."

Mr Reinemund said: "After 22 years with PepsiCo, more than five of them as chairman and CEO, I have decided that my family is entitled to more time from me than the responsibilities and obligations of continuing as PepsiCo's CEO requires and deserves. It was, in many respects, the toughest and easiest decision of my life."

The timing of Mr Reinemund's departure was a surprise, but Ms Nooyi has been heir apparent for several years, after adding the title of president to her role as chief financial officer. She has been involved in the strategic decision behind PepsiCo's push into healthier options and its acquisitions of Tropicana juices, Aquafina water and the wholegrain Quaker Oats Cereals.

PepsiCo has shown its determination not to lose Ms Nooyi, who joined from Motorola in 1994. In 2004, she was one of two executives to be given multimillion dollar share awards that she can cash only in if she stays until 2009. The other was Michael White, the head of PepsiCo's international operations and the only other likely challenger for the chief executive job.

Ken Harris, a partner in the consulting firm Cannondale Associates, who used to work with Ms Nooyi, said she brings several important qualities to the chief executive's job. "Number one, she's smart, smart, smart," he said. "The next is that she is a very good people manager."

Ms Nooyi swells to a dozen the number of female bosses of Fortune 500 companies in the US. She takes the helm as PepsiCo faces a serious public relations disaster in her native country. The drink is accused of having been contaminated with pesticides, and Pepsi and Coke have been banned in several regions.