PepsiCo's president and CFO, Indra Nooyi, has been forced to apologise for remarks she made whilst speaking to the 2005 graduating class of Columbia University's Business School in New York City last Sunday.

In her speech, Nooyi likened the US to the middle finger of a hand, an analogy that has caused some offence in the country.

In a statement following the speech, Nooyi said: "I chose to speak about the powerful role that America, and we as Americans, hold in the world today. I hoped to encourage these graduates to be sure they make a positive and personal difference as representatives of our great country.

"In my comments, I used the analogy of a human hand to illustrate that people in countries around the globe need to join together to make the world work in harmony - just as all the fingers of a hand work together. It is an illustration that I learned when I was a student, and that I have shared with others on many different occasions."

As part of this illustration, she assigned five of the world's continents to the different fingers and thumb. She refered to North America and particularly the US as the middle finger because it is the longest and anchors every function the hand performs.

However, she added that if used inappropriately - just like the US itself - the middle finger can convey a negative message and get us in trouble.

"The point of my analogy was to emphasise America's leadership position. Equally critical is the need for each of us as citizens to take a constructive role in whatever we choose to do in life to ensure the US continues as the world's 'helping hand'," the statement said

"Unfortunately, my remarks at Columbia University were misconstrued and depicted in a different context as unpatriotic. Although nothing could be further from the truth, I regret any confusion or concern that I may have inadvertently created. As I shared with the audience at Columbia, this country that I am proud and honoured to call home is a "promised land" that I love dearly. I would never say or do anything to detract from our great nation and its people who have done so much for so many, including myself."