Donald Kendall learned the value of hard work early, getting up early to milk cows on his family’s dairy farm in Sequim in the 1920s and ’30s. If he missed the bus to school, that meant a 2-mile walk. When school was out, it was off to cutting and raking 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.”
The peninsula native and former PepsiCo/Pepsi-Cola CEO for more than 20 years who turned the company into an international consumer products juggernaut, died of natural causes on Sept. 19, family members said.
Kendall, who was 99, is survived by Bim, his wife of 55 years, along with four children and 10 grandchildren.
Kendall served as chief executive officer of Pepsi-Cola and PepsiCo for 23 years, and through he officially retired in 1986, he remained a trusted advisor and advocate for PepsiCo leaders, serving the company a total of 39 years, the company noted this week.
The architect behind the deal 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, the company said. During his tenure as CEO, the business’ revenues increased almost 40-fold, from $200 million to $7.6 billion.
Kendall left behind a tribute to his father Carroll Kendall, establishing the Carroll C. Kendall Boys and Girls Club in Sequim
“We’re heavy-hearted here,” said Mary Budke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula organization.
“He was a mentor; he called and checked on the kids quite often. Several times a year.”
Founded in 1986, the Boys & Girls Club in Sequim quickly outgrew its facility at the old Masonic Lodge on North Sequim Avenue and then the nearby Trinity United Methodist Church before its current spot on Fir Street.
During a capital campaign to build the club, located at 400 W. Fir St., Sequim Rotarian Cecil Dawley — one of Kendall’s former classmates — contacted the former PepsiCo CEO and suggested his family might want to support the youths in Sequim, said Rochelle McHugh, a Sequim Noon Rotary members 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 is planning to hold 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 www.bgc-op.org/CCK-sequim or call 360-683-8095).
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.
The first donation in Kendall’s memoriam, Budke said — quite a large one — came through Monday.
Kendall’s family confirmed his passing 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.”
Veteran, international salesman, visionary
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 finishing college, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a pilot to serve in World War II.
Kendall recounted to the Greenwich Sentinel that his plane was shot down and he landed in the water off the Philippines, eventually being rescued by a submarine.
By war’s end he had earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals.
In 1947, after leaving the service, Kendall applied for and gained entry in the Pepsi’s Queens (New York) headquarters for $400 a month. He took a job on the bottling line, then got a stint on a route truck. By the time he was 35, he was the top sales and marketing executive in the company, the biography notes.
But 1957 he was president of Pepsi-Cola International and flourished in that position as well: 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. Less than two years later, he led the merger with Frito-Lay as the company became PepsiCo.
He retired as chairman and CEO in 1986.
“Throughout Kendall’s tenure, PepsiCo continued to flourish, acquiring complementary brands and delivering strong performance over two decades,” the biography notes.
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 1960’s 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 would also be instrumental in bringing Pepsi products to China after the country resumed diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1979.
“He believed wholeheartedly in the human benefits of free trade,” the PepsiCo biography records, “saying that international commerce ‘provides jobs, raises standards of living, and builds bridges of communication between people.’”
Kendall also worked to diversify PepsiCo’s staff, the company said, defying 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. 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 this week. “
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.”