National Post (Latest Edition)
Built Pepsico into giant corporation
FRIEND OF NIXON PIVOTAL IN ALLENDE’S OVERTHROW
Donald Kendall, a former fountain- syrup salesman who engineered the merger of Pepsi- Cola and Frito- Lay, then built Pepsico into one of America’s largest companies while selling soft drinks to the Soviet Union as part of a Cold War gambit, died Sept. 19 at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 99.
As president and chief executive of Pepsi- Cola and its successor company, Pepsico, Kendall turned a middling beverage business into a globe- spanning rival of Coca- Cola. From 1963 until his retirement in 1986, he brought Pepsi to China and the Soviet Union; acquired Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken; and helped pioneer the modern diet pop with the development of Diet Pepsi.
Kendall became a global ambassador for American business, chairing groups including the National Alliance of Businessmen and U. S. Chamber of Commerce. He also developed close ties with presidents and foreign dignitaries.
For all his interest in politics and the arts, he remained deeply focused on his company’s day- to- day operations, espousing and embodying a combative “Pepsi spirit” while growing revenue from US$ 200 million to US$7.6 billion.
Kendall had a Pepsi at breakfast, avoided saying the word “Coke” whenever possible and, when waiters told him Pepsi was not on the menu, pitched them on his company’s flagship product.
Kendall was perhaps an unlikely warrior in the cola wars that began in the 1970s, when Pepsi emerged as a serious rival to Coca- Cola. A self-described farm boy from Washington state, he served as a naval aviator during the Second World War, came home with a case full of medals and started his business career at Pepsi- Cola, working on a bottling line and selling fountain syrup to restaurants in Atlantic City, N. J.
Over the next decade, he rose to oversee U. S. sales, marketing and overseas operations, securing his status as a young soda- pop star when he travelled to Moscow in 1959. Kendall set up a Pepsi booth at the American National Exhibition, a diplomatic trade show that served as the setting for political debates between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, who was U. S. vice president at the time.
“I went to Nixon the night before, at the embassy, and told him I was in a lot of trouble at home because people thought I was wasting Pepsi’s money coming to a Communist country,” Kendall told The New York
Times in 1999. “I told him that somehow, I had to get a Pepsi in Khrushchev’s hand.”
The next day, Nixon brought his communist counterpart over to the Pepsi booth, where photographers took pictures of Khrushchev sipping Pepsi, including rival samples made from American and Russian water. The Soviet-made version was delicious, Khrushchev declared in a publicity coup for Pepsi. Coca- Cola was nowhere to be seen.
In 1972, Kendall made Pepsi the first U. S. consumer product produced and sold in the Soviet Union.
In exchange for selling Pepsi in the Soviet Union, Pepsico distributed Russian Stolichnaya vodka in the U.S. Nearly two decades later, Kendall struck an even more unusual deal with Moscow, agreeing to buy the equivalent of a small navy — including 17 Russian submarines and three old warships, all resold for scrap — in exchange for opening more than two dozen plants in the Soviet Union, where foreign companies often found it difficult to get paid.
Kendall was jubilant in a subsequent conversation with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush. “We’re disarming the Soviet Union faster than you are,” he joked. (A 1990 deal he put together as Pepsico’s chairman, valued at more than US$ 3 billion, fell apart after the Soviet Union collapsed the next year.)
Colleagues described Kendall as a perfectionist, with little tolerance for poor performance. He reportedly acquired the nickname “White Fang” after reorganizing the company early in his tenure ( the moniker was partly a nod to his prematurely white hair), and drew the anger of Hollywood star and Pepsico board member Joan Crawford, whose late husband had led Pepsi, when Kendall dropped her as the business’s longtime spokeswoman.
Kendall effectively replaced Crawford, giving frequent interviews and garnering a stream of publicity.
His connection with Nixon was firmly established by the fall of 1970, when Kendall met with the president on behalf of another associate, Agustín Edwards Eastman, a conservative Chilean media magnate who owned a Pepsi bottling plant, along with the country’s largest newspaper. Salvador Allende had just been elected and was preparing to take office on a Marxist platform, endangering Edwards’ business interests and spurring him to leave the country.
In an Oval Office meeting with Nixon, Kendall “relayed Edwards’ message that the United States had to intervene to stop Allende,” said Peter Kornbluh, director of the Chile Documentation Project at the Washington- based National Security Archive. He added that Kendall’s overtures to Nixon spurred a meeting between Edwards, national security adviser Henry Kissinger and CIA Director Richard Helms.
The next day, the president ordered the CIA to prevent Allende from being inaugurated or, if that was not possible, to overthrow the Chilean government, according to documents published by the National Security Archive.
Allende was ousted by the Chilean military in 1973 and died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds during the coup.
Donald Mcintosh Kendall was born in Sequim, Wash., on March 16, 1921. After returning from the war, he joined Pepsi rather than return to school.
After being named Pepsi- Cola’s president and CEO in 1963, Kendall oversaw the merger with snack giant Frito-lay two years later. He went on to oversee Pepsico as it expanded into industries as varied as trucking and sporting goods.
His first marriage ended in divorce. In 1965 he married the former German Baroness Sigrid Rüdt von Collenberg, known as Bim. She survives him, as do two children from his first marriage, two children from his second marriage and 10 grandchildren.
I WENT TO NIXON ... AND TOLD HIM I WAS IN A LOT OF TROUBLE AT HOME BECAUSE PEOPLE THOUGHT I WAS WASTING PEPSI’S MONEY COMING TO A COMM UNIST COUNTRY. I TOLD HIM THAT SOMEHOW, I HAD TO GET A PEPSI IN KHRUSHCHEV’S HAND. — DONALD KENDALL
WE’RE DISARMING THE SOVIET UNION FA STER THAN YOU ARE.