“A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey

For many in my generation, mention of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI) in the United States, brings memories of J Edgar Hoover. He was Mr FBI for citizens of the US and indeed many other parts of the world as he held that position from 1947 to 1972. After Hoover there have been many Directors of the FBI but I, and most others, don’t know much about them. In more recent times, a FBI Director who was very much in the news was James Comey. You may recall that he was fired by President Donald J Trump when he was the seventh Director of the FBI.

Mr Comey has written about his stint as the FBI Director and this incident in a book called, ” A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership “ published by Flatiron Books in April 2018. I read this book recently and found it quite interesting. The essence of the book is Mr Comey’s argument that those holding high office in the US Federal Government owe allegiance to that office and not to whoever happens to be the President of the United States at that point in time. He served as the FBI Director from 2013, when he was appointed to the post by President George W Bush till 2017 when he was unceremoniously fired by President Donald J Trump.

Comey was not a career FBI officer in that he did not start as a FBI Special Agent. He did his Masters in Law from the Chicago Law School then joined the Department of Justice as the US Assistant Attorney in New York. As US Attorney he successfully carried out many cases against organized crime in the New York area, including the dreaded Mafia. Apart from many years in Govt service, Comey also worked for private enterprises such as Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater Associates. He was selected by the Bush administration to become head of the FBI. He writes at length about the personalities he had to deal with during the Bush and the Obama administrations.

Before and during the 2016 Presidential election, Comey was investigating the Hillary Clinton emails case and came under criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike! The Republicans felt he was going soft on the Senator from New York and pressed hard for quicker action against her, while the Democrats felt he wasn’t aggressive enough in defending her in a case which was no longer relevant. Comey explains his role quite candidly and gives us more information than we knew before. Even to this day people believe this case did influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential elections.

During the Trump Presidency, Comey felt he was being directed to be loyal to the President as an individual, which he could not bring himself to do. The book has Mr Comey’s lessons on ethics and leadership. It gives a comprehensive insight into the politics of high office, especially in such a sensitive role as Director of the FBI.

“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Being an unabashed fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s, I loved “Unaccustomed Earth” a collection of short stories, first published by Albert A. Knopf in 2008. I had the pleasure of reading this recently. Ms. Lahiri was not a new author for me as I had read her famous novel, “Namesake” in the past, as also her first anthology of short stories, called ” The Interpreter of Maladies” some years ago.

You may recall that at age 32, she gained immediate fame for the debut ” The Interpreter of Maladies” in 1999. This collection of short stories received popular acclaim. She received the coveted Pulitzer Prize and it was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for long. The stories were typically set in the East Coast of the United States. I guess all the stories had a common theme. They were about the lives of Indian Americans and the challenges faced by first generation immigrants. The author knew this part of the US the best having grown up there. Ms Lahiri’s parents migrated from India to the UK in the 1960’s and when she was three, moved to the US. She then grew up in the State of Rhode Island.

This collection of short stories, titled, “Unaccustomed Earth” coming as it does, about a decade later, shifts focus somewhat to the second generation of Indian American immigrants. Their lives have been vastly different from that of their parents. Their parents had to struggle to balance between two cultures, the Indian culture which they were born and brought up in, and the one they had voluntarily embraced with their new lives in a different country. For the second generation of Indian Americans, the issues were rather different. The ties with India were not so strong or fading away with time. They faced a new set of challenges being Americans -but of Indian origin.

As always, Ms Lahiri writes in a simple yet elegant manner. Her choice of words, and the descriptions of people and places are deft. They make her characters come alive to the reader. The book has eight short stories, each one more engaging than the other. They have a tinge of sadness that one has come to associate with many of Lahiri’s stories. As always, the characters are primarily Bengali though the stories are set in different places such as Seattle, and Cambridge in the US and London, Rome and Thailand outside of the US. Naturally, the Rumas, the Pranabs and Kaushiks of the stories belong to a world with which Lahiri is so familiar.

It is widely acknowledged that short stories are very difficult to write. Her mastery over this craft is so evident in her writing. Highly recommended for anybody who appreciates excellent writing. This is short story writing of the highest order.

“My Life In Full” by Indra Nooyi

I would recommend this book to every Indian student of business and practicing professionals as well for it was an absorbing read. The full title is “My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future” and it was first published by Portfolio in September 2021.

This is the story of Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi – a middle class Tamil girl born in Chennai, India in 1955, who we now know for having been the CEO of PepsiCo– one of the largest business corporations in the world. There were many firsts in her career. Ms Nooyi was the first woman to become the CEO of PepsiCo , the first person of colour and an immigrant to reach the highest position in a Fortune 50 corporation. For many years, she featured in the list of The Most Powerful Women in the world.

Like most middle-class families in Chennai- if not everywhere in India- the focus of her early life was on attaining a good education. She says in her conservative Brahmin family, “education was everything”. Naturally, from a young age she was accustomed to striving for excellence- a high priority for her family. In her early life, she looked up to her paternal grandfather, apart from her parents, for guidance and support in all that she did.

Nooyi speaks at length about their house in Chennai. We get considerable detail about her life- growing up with her elder sister, younger brother, parents, and grandfather -in a large house where many traditions were followed. She shone in her studies at the Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, run by Irish nuns, and later at the famous Madras Christian College. In both places, she was an excellent debater and took part in many extra-curricular activities. In those years, it was unheard of to have an all girls rock band but she was part of one!

She then did her Post Graduate Degree in Management from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta . Here she was one of the very few girls in the class, as also one of the few fresh graduates who did not have work experience. On graduation in 1976, she worked with Mettur Beardsell and Johnson & Johnson in India before leaving for the United States for a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management at the Yale University’s School of Management in 1978.

She was selected by the Boston Consulting Group in 1980. Even to this day she rates her experience there very highly. Then followed stints with progressively higher responsibilities at Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri, where again she achieved considerable professional success. She then joined PepsiCo in 1994. While still in her early 30s, she was in the Executive Group of a major US corporation. She became the President and Chief Financial Officer in 2001 and was appointed as the CEO in 2006. She held that high office till 2018. During her years at the helm of PepsiCo, the business revenues grew by 80 % to $ 63 billion. There were many strategic initiatives she introduced including her much admired Performance with Purpose program.

Ms. Nooyi is candid enough to admit that she had lucky breaks in her career. Fortunately for her, she had mentors who saw the potential in her and helped her develop skills by pushing her towards challenging assignments.

She got married in 1980 to Raj Nooyi. In the book, she writes at length about the struggles they had managing their careers and their growing family of two daughters. Here too she is quick to give credit to her support system by way of family, especially her mother, and other relatives from her husband’s family who pitched in to help them out. By the way, I never knew that Nooyi is a small village in the Dakshina Kannada district of my home state of Karnataka.

She is often asked about how it was to become a woman in the top echelons of corporate life. All over the world, the infamous glass ceiling frequently restricts women from progressing in their careers. Seldom do they reach the very pinnacle as Ms Nooyi did. In this book she shares her views and suggestions, based on her own experience and her observations after interacting with a wide cross section of women at work across all parts of the world.

Overall it was an interesting book. I admire Ms Nooyi for her candidness in describing her career, her family, and the organisations she worked for and led.

Her story is inspirational indeed!