A top executive at PepsiCo compared America's position in the global marketplace to a middle finger during a speech to the graduating class of Columbia Business School.
Many of those in attendance viewed the comments Sunday evening by the president and chief financial officer of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, as insulting and unpatriotic.
"My family had flown a great distance and spent a large sum of money to come celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and were quite disturbed that the president and CFO of a U.S.-based company made such a comparison at a business school ceremony," one graduate, Wes Martin, said.
Ms. Nooyi described the world's five major continents as being like the five fingers on a human hand.
For example, she said, Africa is the pinkie, because it's smaller and less significant economically.
North America and, in particular, the United States, the India-born Ms. Nooyi said, stood out as the middle finger and anchor for the functions of the hand.
"This is a really good thing," she said in her speech, referring to the nation's leadership position in global business.
But if used inappropriately, she continued, America risks conveying a negative message to the world.
"What is most crucial to my analogy ... 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 the hand ... not the finger," she said, according to transcripts of the speech.