Statement from Chairman and CEO Ramon L. Laguarta

on Passing of Donald M. Kendall

All of us at PepsiCo are devastated by the passing of Don Kendall. Don was the architect of the PepsiCo family. He was relentless about growing our business, a fearless leader, and the ultimate salesman. He believed in business as a way to build bridges between cultures, laying the foundation of our commitment to Winning with Purpose and defining the values that we refer to today as The PepsiCo Way. In many ways, he was the man who made PepsiCo, PepsiCo.

Don was an inspiration to all of us leaders at PepsiCo, from his endless passion to live and make a difference in the world; to his creativity and entrepreneurship; his belief in building bridges between cultures through business; his capacity to connect people and build relationships; his respect for diversity; and his support for the less privileged.

My wife, Maria, and I had the privilege of getting to know Don and his wife, Bim, over the past decade, sharing many meals together in their home, and we came to know another side of Don: the loving husband, father, and grandfather. The cheerful companion. A pillar of the community. And a tremendous friend and mentor who will be deeply missed.

Don may have left us for a better place, but he leaves us with an extraordinary legacy. We will continue to celebrate his life, both through our appreciation of the work he carried out, and by doing what he did better than anyone: competing and winning in the market, while continuing to make the world a better place.

On behalf of everyone who has ever worn PepsiCo blue, I send my deepest condolences to Bim, Don’s four children, 10 grandchildren, and the entire Kendall family as they mourn the passing of this remarkable man.

PepsiCo Pays Tribute to Donald Kendall

In Memoriam

Donald M. Kendall

1921–2020


A Tribute to Our Legendary Leader

At PepsiCo’s Purchase, N.Y. headquarters, there is a pond in the shape of a “P.” At the far end of that pond is a Sitka Spruce tree, a non-native species valued for its rapid growth, longevity, and strength. It was planted more than 40 years ago by Donald Kendall, with the help of his father, who said it would remind Don of his Pacific Northwest upbringing. Much like that tree, Don Kendall set down roots a long way from home, grew tall, and became a towering symbol of strength.

Donald McIntosh Kendall served as chief executive officer of Pepsi-Cola and PepsiCo for 23 years. And although he officially retired in 1986, he remained a trusted advisor and advocate for PepsiCo leaders, serving the company a total of 39 years during his extraordinary life.  He died at age 99.

The architect of a deal with Herman Lay to merge the Pepsi-Cola Company with the Frito-Lay snack business in 1965, Kendall is widely regarded as the co-founder of the modern PepsiCo. 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. During his tenure as CEO, revenues increased almost 40-fold, from $200 million to $7.6 billion.

More than an extraordinary business leader, Kendall engaged in a diverse array of personal, political and humanitarian pursuits, all with a zeal for life and an insatiable desire to make the world a better place. His story – a story of resolve, resourcefulness and vision – inspired countless other dreamers to find greatness in themselves.

Farm-Raised Values

Kendall was born March 16, 1921 in Sequim, Wash., where he grew up on a dairy farm about 50 miles northwest of Seattle. Early on, he made hard work a habit, spending his youth milking cows and clearing land. He was a star football player in high school and earned a scholarship from Western Kentucky State College. It was there in Bowling Green that he started his career as a salesman, insisting that a shoe store pay him on commission.

Before finishing college, in 1941 he enlisted in the Navy as a pilot, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals in World War II. Despite his flying prowess, Kendall once said the most valuable skill he learned in the Navy was human relations – the people skills that would be the hallmark of his career.

Master Deal-Maker

In October 1947, Kendall walked into Pepsi’s Queens, New York, headquarters and applied for a sales position. He was hired, but his first job was working on a bottling line, followed by a stint on a route truck.

Proving himself quickly, he started selling fountain syrup to restaurants, and rose through numerous promotions based on stellar results. By the time he was 35, he was the top sales and marketing executive in the company.

In 1957, Kendall was named president of Pepsi-Cola International, a defining career experience that would shape his lifelong focus on global growth and free trade. By the time he left that role, Pepsi-Cola was sold in 103 countries.

Kendall became president and CEO of the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1963 and made immediate changes to the management team to improve relationships with Pepsi bottlers. Less than two years later, he led the merger with Frito-Lay, based on the simple truth that most people eating chips are enjoying a beverage at the same time. Today, the mantra of “Better Together” is still at the heart of PepsiCo’s global business model. Throughout Kendall’s tenure, PepsiCo continued to flourish, acquiring complementary brands and delivering strong performance over two decades.

Pairing Pepsi & Politics

Kendall had a keen interest in political affairs and formed relationships with multiple U.S. presidents and many foreign dignitaries, including a long-term friendship with former President Richard Nixon.

In 1959, then-Vice President Nixon visited Moscow to attend the American National Exhibition as part of a cultural exchange with Russia. As a favor to Kendall, Nixon guided Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev to the Pepsi display, where Kendall was waiting to serve Khrushchev the first cola he had ever tasted. Fourteen years later, Pepsi became the first U.S. consumer product to be made and sold in Russia.

Coupling his international business interests with world politics, over the years Kendall became a well-traveled “corporate statesman,” making countless trips abroad both to further the PepsiCo agenda and serve his country as a business ambassador.

He believed wholeheartedly in the human benefits of free trade, saying that international commerce “provides jobs, raises standards of living, and builds bridges of communication between people.”

A Philosophical Leader

Kendall viewed his success, and indeed all business success, as driven by four things: a competitive spirit, risk-taking, executional excellence, and a unique people-centered philosophy of management. He demonstrated his values time and again. He said on several occasions that PepsiCo would not be where it was had its competitors not been there to challenge it. 

That led to taking competitive risks such as the Frito-Lay merger, the acquisition of Mountain Dew and the introduction of Diet Pepsi. He insisted that the best-laid plans were useless without first-rate execution. And that was best achieved by hiring outstanding people and empowering them to carry out a guiding vision and mission.

Ahead of His Time

In the mid-20th century, at a time when “equal opportunity” and “environmental sustainability” had yet to enter the business lexicon, Kendall defied cultural norms and raised the bar for corporate responsibility.

In 1962, with Kendall’s support, Pepsi-Cola appointed Harvey Russell the first African-American vice president of a major U.S. corporation. And when the Ku Klux Klan organized a boycott of Pepsi, Kendall responded by hiring a second African-American executive.

He was also an environmentalist, passionate about preserving the outdoors. For all his travels, his favorite place on earth was his ranch in Wyoming’s high country, where he relished fly fishing and horseback riding with his family.

Long before “being green” was en vogue, he chaired the National Center for Resource Recovery in the early 1970s, and was a founding member of Keep America Beautiful. His personal involvement led to early developments in recyclable packaging, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water conservation.

Kendall was also a fervent supporter of community causes benefiting education, charitable giving, and the arts. He was Chairman of the American Ballet Theatre in the 1970s, where one of his most notable successes was recruiting ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov to lead the organization.

Kendall’s love of art and the environment is still on display at PepsiCo’s flagship campus.

In 1970 he relocated the headquarters from a Manhattan skyscraper to a bucolic swath of land in the suburbs. Intimately involved in the campus’ design, he envisioned a blend of natural beauty and modern architecture to “inspire and enrich all those who worked there or visited.”

Today, the breathtaking landscape, featuring 45 sculptures hand-picked by Kendall, is open to the public and hosts more than 100,000 visitors per year.

There are picnic tables near the P-shaped pond. And as visiting families enjoy a Pepsi and a bag of Lay’s on a warm summer day, they can look across to that big Sitka Spruce and know that the spirit of Don Kendall lives on.

Mr. Kendall is survived by his wife of 55 years, Bim, his four children and ten grandchildren, and his family of hundreds of thousands of current and former PepsiCo employees.