By Mike Esterl and Jennifer Maloney
Donald M. Kendall, who built PepsiCo Inc. into a
snack-and-beverage juggernaut and introduced the Soviet Union to
American cola at the height of the Cold War, died Saturday. He was
99 years old.
The executive, who grew up milking cows and finished just three
semesters of college, became chief executive of Pepsi-Cola Co. in
1963 at age 42 and presided over the company until his retirement
in 1986. During that time, sales grew nearly 40-fold through
acquisitions and the "Pepsi Challenge" -- its high-profile
marketing assault on the dominance of rival Coca-Cola Co.
"He was relentless about growing our business, a fearless
leader, and the ultimate salesman," said PepsiCo CEO and Chairman
Ramon Laguarta. "In many ways, he was the man who made PepsiCo
Shortly after Mr. Kendall became CEO, the company launched its
"Pepsi Generation" campaign that cast Pepsi as the hip, upstart
cola for young people and Coke as staid and old-fashioned. PepsiCo
put its flagship brand name on Diet Pepsi, which catapulted diet
soda into the big time, as a more cautious Coke stuck with its diet
offering, Tab. And under Mr. Kendall, the company conducted its
"Pepsi Challenge" taste tests pitting Pepsi directly against
Mr. Kendall famously said both companies benefited from the
"cola wars, " a rivalry that continues to this day. "They brought
out the best in us," he said. "If there wasn't a Coca-Cola, we
would have had to invent one, and they would have had to invent
In 1965, Mr. Kendall agreed to another bold move -- merging New
York-based Pepsi-Cola Co. with Dallas-based potato-chip giant
Born on a farm in Sequim, Wash., a young Mr. Kendall accepted an
athletic scholarship to Western Kentucky State College and worked
part time as a shoe salesman. In 1941, he enlisted as a Navy pilot
during World War II, flying combat missions in the Pacific,
according to a company biography.
He joined Pepsi-Cola in 1947, first working in a bottling plant
in New Rochelle, N.Y., and then on a delivery truck, before
becoming a fountain-syrup salesman. Five years later, at 31, he was
promoted to vice president of national sales. Mr. Kendall headed
the international division from 1957 to 1963, nearly doubling the
number of countries that sold Pepsi, according to the company.
In 1959, Mr. Kendall organized a booth at the American National
Exhibition in Moscow. With the help of Vice President Richard
Nixon, he offered Pepsi to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who
agreed to several refills and declared it "refreshing." Photos of
the exchange were published around the world.
Pepsi didn't open its first plant in the Soviet Union until
1974, and only after agreeing to a complex barter arrangement
involving Stolichnaya vodka. Still, that was several years earlier
than Coke, which had expanded into more than 100 other countries.
Mr. Kendall boasted that Pepsi was the first American consumer
product to be sold in the Soviet Union.
Mr. Kendall came to know several heads of state, none more than
Mr. Nixon, who was a legal adviser in the 1960s and played piano at
Mr. Kendall's wedding in 1965. In 1968, after being elected
president, Mr. Nixon asked Mr. Kendall to get some advice from
departing President Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Johnson relayed that the
audio-taping system he had installed was a helpful organizing tool
-- advice Mr. Nixon later regretted when recordings helped drive
him from office during the Watergate scandal, according to several
Mr. Kendall also was close friends with the ballet dancer
Mikhail Baryshnikov and the godfather of one of his children. As
chairman of the American Ballet Theatre Foundation, he recruited
Mr. Baryshnikov to become artistic director in 1980, according to
He was on less-friendly terms with the actress Joan Crawford,
who had married Pepsi-Cola CEO and Chairman Alfred Steele and
joined the company's board after Mr. Steele died in 1959. Ms.
Crawford and Mr. Kendall clashed frequently, with Ms. Crawford
nicknaming him Fang, according to several published accounts.
In 1982, as Mr. Kendall was approaching retirement, PepsiCo was
hit by a major scandal after executives falsely inflated profits
for five years at the company's Mexican and Philippine bottling
businesses. According to a company biography, Mr. Kendall's pay was
cut 40% and he canceled bonuses and borrowed $1 million to buy
By late 1983, though, Mr. Kendall gave the green light for Pepsi
to sponsor a Jacksons reunion concert tour with Michael Jackson for
a $5 million price tag -- regarded as an astronomical figure at the
Mr. Kendall retired as CEO in 1986, remaining on PepsiCo's board
until 1991. He kept an office at the company's headquarters in
Purchase N.Y., just a few miles from his home in Greenwich, Conn.,
and was a frequent visitor. He also traveled widely as a PepsiCo
ambassador -- including to Russia, where he received an Order of
Friendship medal from President Vladimir Putin in 2004.
Despite a two-decade grip on the company, Mr. Kendall carefully
avoided involvement in his successors' decisions but always made
himself available for counsel, Michael White, PepsiCo's former
international chief, wrote in a lengthy tribute in 2009.
Mr. Kendall died of natural causes at home, his family said. Mr.
Kendall is survived by his wife, Sigrid, known to friends as Bim,
and four children, Edward, Donna, Donald Jr. and Kent.
Write to Mike Esterl at email@example.com and Jennifer Maloney
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 20, 2020 18:18 ET (22:18 GMT)
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