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The Straight Story

An American soldier tries to get PepsiCo to answer a simple question.

12:00 AM, Jun 3, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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WHEN THE HARVARD-YALE FOOTBALL GAME was played in Cambridge last fall, Yale students pulled off one of the great college pranks of all time. During the game a fake Harvard pep squad wearing red and white face paint distributed 1,800 pieces of construction paper on seats covering the Harvard side of the stadium. When turned over in unison by the occupants of the seats, they were purportedly to spell out "Go Harvard." Instead, they spelled out "We suck." (See the Harvard Sucks website for the back story and multimedia presentations.)

The Columbia Business School MBA recognition ceremony took place at Madison Square Garden on May 15. Those in attendance might have been forgiven for wondering if they were the victims of a similarly inspired prank. The commencement speaker was PepsiCo president and chief financial officer Indra Nooyi. Nooyi's speech didn't rise to the level of sophomoric genius achieved by the Yale pranksters, but it was incredibly sophomoric.

In her speech, Ms. Nooyi likened the seven continents of the world to the five fingers of the hand. It was a funny start for the chief financial officer of a major American corporation, but she was just warming up:

This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents 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. You know what I'm talking about. In fact, I suspect you're hoping that I'll demonstrate what I mean. And trust me, I'm not looking for volunteers to model.

Discretion being the better part of valor . . . I think I'll pass.

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 is 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.

At Power Line we first posted reports of the speech sent to us by audience members on May 17 and contacted PepsiCo vice president of external relations Elaine Palmer to ask for a copy of Ms. Nooyi's speech. At that time Palmer declined to release the text of the speech, but sent us the following message:

Thank you for checking with us on Indra Nooyi's speech at Columbia. We saw the item on your blog and are shocked to see that you took Ms. Nooyi's comments to be anything but pro-American and supportive of the United States and its role as a global leader. The characterization of Ms. Nooyi's remarks could not be more off the mark. No one is prouder of the U.S. than Ms. Nooyi, who has elected to make this country her home. Ms. Nooyi was simply encouraging the U.S, and Americans to be all they can and should be, which is something we all strive towards.

In her remarks Ms. Nooyi stated:

"This analogy of the five fingers as the five major continents 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 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 1 . . .

"This land we call home is a most-loving, and ever-giving nation -a 'promised land' that we love dearly in return. And it represents a true force that--if used for good--can steady the hand--along with global economies and cultures."

We encourage you to set the record straight and explain that Ms. Nooyi was talking to the students about the necessity of working together in the world.