SEQUIM — A Sequim native who led PepsiCo/Pepsi-Cola for more than 20 years has died.
Donald Kendall died of natural causes on Saturday at age 99, family members said. He was the architect behind the deal to merge the Pepsi-Cola Company with the Frito-Lay snack business in 1965 and is widely regarded as the co-founder of the modern PepsiCo.
During his tenure as CEO, the business’ revenues increased almost 40-fold, from $200 million to $7.6 billion.
Kendall’s family confirmed his death in a news release.
“Our family is heartbroken, but also incredibly proud of the truly epic life he led,” family members said. “From the dairy farm in Washington where he was born and grew up, he went on to serve his country with distinction as a Naval aviator in World War II and then joined the Pepsi Cola Company as a management trainee and route salesman.
“The fact that he climbed to the top and grew PepsiCo into the global enterprise it is today is a fitting testament to his legendary work ethic, drive, optimism, competitive spirit and love of people.”
Kendall has said his life on the family’s Sequim dairy farm in the 1920s and ’30s taught him the value of hard work. He got up early to milk cows. If he missed the school bus, he had a 2-mile walk. When school was out, it was off to cut and rake hay.
“I had a work ethic — spending long hours — 12 hour days,” Kendall recalled in a 2015 profile in the Greenwich Sentinel (Conn.).
“I don’t think you get a job working eight hours. You keep going with 12-hour days.
“I frequently had customers out on weekends. You stay involved — you get to know your people, and you get to know your customers.”
Kendall is survived by Bim, his wife of 55 years, along with four children and 10 grandchildren.
He had served as chief executive officer of Pepsi-Cola and PepsiCo for 23 years, and although he retired in 1986, he remained a trusted adviser and advocate for PepsiCo leaders, serving the company a total of 39 years, the company noted.
Among his works was a tribute to his father, Carroll Kendall, for whom the Carroll C. Kendall unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula was named.
“We’re heavy-hearted here,” said Mary Budke, executive director of the agency, which also has a unit in Port Angeles.
“He was a mentor; he called and checked on the kids quite often. Several times a year.”
During a capital campaign to build the Sequim club’s present home at 400 W. Fir St., Sequim Rotarian Cecil Dawley — one of Kendall’s former classmates — contacted the former PepsiCo CEO and suggested his family support the youths in Sequim, said Rochelle McHugh, a Sequim Noon Rotary member and co-chair of the campaign.
Kendall agreed and offered $500,000 in PepsiCo stock for the campaign to honor his father, an award-winning dairy farmer, McHugh recalled.
“(A) super generous man,” McHugh said. “We are hoping his legacy will continue on.”
The Kendall family plans a small funeral in the coming days and a memorial service to celebrate his life after the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.
In lieu of flowers, the Kendall family asked that donations be made to the Carroll C. Kendall Boys & Girls Club (see bgc-op.org/CCK-sequim or call 360-683-8095).
The fact that the family asked to have donations go to the club rather than another organization is telling, Budke said.
“He said the way he was raised here (in Sequim) gave him the foundation for his success,” she said.
Life in Sequim
Born March 16, 1921, in Sequim, Donald McIntosh Kendall became a star football player in high school and earned a scholarship from Western Kentucky State College in Bowling Green, Ky., according to a memorial page posted on the PepsiCo website.
He started his career as a salesman in Bowling Green, first getting paid on commission at a shoe store.
In 1941, before he finished college, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a pilot to serve in World War II.
By war’s end, he had earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals.
In 1947, after he left the service, Kendall joined Pepsi’s Queens (New York) headquarters for $400 a month, taking a job on the bottling line. That was followed by a stint on a route truck.
By the time he was 35, he was the top sales and marketing executive in the company, according to the company biography.
Kendall became president and CEO of the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1963. Less than two years later, he led the merger with Frito-Lay as the company became PepsiCo.
Kendall also had a strong interest in political affairs, forming relationships with several U.S. presidents (Richard Nixon, in particular) and foreign dignitaries.
“Nixon worked for me as a legal advisor in the 1960s before he became President,” Kendall told the Sentinel. “We opened things up around the world. He traveled with me all over the world.”
According to PepsiCo, Kendall in 1959 served Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev the first cola he had ever tasted and, 14 years later, Pepsi became the first U.S. consumer product to be made and sold in Russia.
Kendall also was instrumental in bringing Pepsi products to China after the country resumed diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1979.
Kendall worked to diversify PepsiCo’s staff, the company said. In 1962, with Kendall’s support, Pepsi-Cola named Harvey Russell the first African American vice president of a major U.S. corporation.
When the Ku Klux Klan organized a boycott of Pepsi, Kendall responded by hiring a second African American executive.
In 1986, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund honored him with the first Equal Justice Award, citing his commitment to workplace equality.
“All of us at PepsiCo are devastated by the passing of Don Kendall,” Ramon L. Laguarta, current PepsiCo chairman and CEO, wrote on the company’s website.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].