The man who built the 'modern-day' PepsiCo has died

Donald Kendall, the former PepsiCo CEO who turned the company into a...

Posted: Sep 21, 2020 1:35 PM

Donald Kendall, the former PepsiCo CEO who turned the company into a global consumer products powerhouse, has died. He was 99.

The company confirmed his death on a memorial page, which pays tribute to his contribution as the CEO of PepsiCo for 23 years.

"Under Kendall's direction, PepsiCo became one of the world's largest consumer products companies and elevated some of the world's best-selling food and beverage brands to iconic status," the company said. "During his tenure as CEO, revenues increased almost 40-fold, from $200 million to $7.6 billion."

Kendall reportedly said that Coca-Cola "brought out the best" in PepsiCo, referring to the "cola wars," which he said benefited both companies. That rivalry continues to this day and has seen the companies take aim at each other in sometimes controversial advertising campaigns.

Born in Sequim, Washington in 1921, Kendall grew up milking cows on a dairy farm about 50 miles northwest of Seattle. He earned a football scholarship to Western Kentucky State College, but left before finishing his studies in 1941 to enlist in the Navy as a World War II pilot.

His first job at Pepsi was working on a bottling line, followed by a stint on a delivery truck. Kendall quickly proved himself, selling fountain syrup to restaurants before rising through the ranks to become the company's top sales and marketing executive.

He was named president of Pepsi-Cola International in 1957 and by the time he left that role six years later, Pepsi was sold in 103 countries.

In one particularly famous incident, Kendall served Pepsi to Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev in 1959 at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. Kendall was a friend of then Vice President Richard Nixon, who guided Kruschev to the Pepsi display. Fourteen years later, Pepsi became the first US consumer product to be made and sold in the Soviet Union, several years earlier than Coke.

Kendall was appointed CEO in 1963 and less than two years later he sealed a deal to merge Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay, creating the "modern-day" PepsiCo, on the basis that "people eating chips are enjoying a beverage at the same time," according to the memorial page.

He retired in 1986, but was "a trusted advisor and advocate for PepsiCo leaders, serving the company a total of 39 years during his extraordinary life," the company said.

Kendall's family confirmed in a news release that he died at home Saturday of natural causes.

"All of us at PepsiCo are devastated by the passing of Don Kendall," said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon L. Laguarta in a statement. "Don was the architect of the PepsiCo family. He was relentless about growing our business, a fearless leader, and the ultimate salesman."

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