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.
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“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 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 Coke.
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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 Pepsi.”
In 1965, Mr. Kendall agreed to another bold move—merging New York-based Pepsi-Cola Co. with Dallas-based potato-chip giant Frito-Lay Co.
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