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Pepsi CEO who served the soft drink to Nikita Khrushchev at the height of the Cold War dies

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Donald Kendall, the Pepsi CEO who once served up soda to Nikita Khrushchev and began the ‘Pepsi Generation’, dies at the age of 99

  •  CEO of Pepsi died of natural causes on Saturday aged 99, his family has said 
  • He famously served Nikita Khrushchev in 1959 at an exhibition in Moscow
  • Also oversaw launch of the slogan ‘Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation’

By Ian Noble For Mailonline

Published: | Updated:

Former Pepsi CEO Donald M Kendall who famously served soda to the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow at the height of the Cold War has died. 

Kendall, who was the chief executive officer of Pepsi for 23 years, died of natural causes on Saturday aged 99. He was at home with his wife of 55 years and surrounded by family.

He grew up on a dairy farm in Washington and served with distinction as a naval aviator in World War Two in New Guinea and the Philippines.

It was, however, his work with Pepsi which gained him and the soft drink worldwide publicity. 

He had already been involved with expanding the soft drinks empire into the Soviet Union and China before he met the Soviet Premier.

Mr Kendall was Pepsi-Cola’s head of international operations when a US official recruited him to take part in the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.

Donald Kendall who made Pepsi a famous worldwide brand has died aged 99

Donald Kendall serves Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev watched by then Vice President Richard Nixon

He had a team of American students who could speak Russian, a supply of Pepsi fountain syrup and carbonation machines with him.

He was under orders from then Vice President Richard Nixon that the trip needed to be a success.

Then on July 24 1959 Nixon and Premier Khrushchev toured the exhibition. The two stopped at the Pepsi stand where Mr Kendall gave the Soviet leader cups of the drink.

Mr Kendall said at the time: ‘I wanted to show him that we could make a product in Moscow that was just as good as what we made in the US.

‘If I’ve learned one thing,’ he wrote, ‘it is that Russians and Americans have far more in common than most people would ever guess.’ 

Pictures of the culture clash incident were carried round the world in newspapers.

According to Mr Kendall Khrushchev said at the time: ‘Drink the Pepsi-Cola made in Moscow. It’s much better than the Pepsi made in the US.’

It was in 1974 that Pepsi finally broke into the Russian market when it opened its first bottling plant there.

In return Pepsi agreed to expand its distribution of Stolichnaya vodka and other Soviet drinks.

Four years later the company and the USSR agreed to expand both operations.

Mr Kendall became a regular visitor to Russian, a friend of Richard Nixon and co-chairman of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council. 

The current Russian president Vladimir Putin has also welcomed Donald Kendall to Russia

After the Second World War he joined Pepsi and sold fountain syrup. By 1952 he had become vice president in charge of national sales.

He was head of Pepsi International between 1957 and 1963 during which time he doubled the number of countries in which Pepsi did business and tripled overseas revenue.

He oversaw the launch of the famous slogan – Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation and met the current Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kendall and his wife of 55 years, Bim, had two children. He also had two children from a previous marriage.

After stepping down as Pepsi’ chief executive officer in 1986 Mr Kendall served as chairman of the board’s executive committee until 1991.

Current chief executive officer and chairman, Ramon Laguarta, said Mr Kendall 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.’

Donald Kendall who was a regular visitor to Russia thanks to his work with Pepsi

In a tribute Mr Kendall’s family said: ‘Our family is heartbroken, but also incredibly proud of the truly epic life he led.

‘The fact that he climbed to the top and grew Pepsi into the global enterprise it is today is a fitting testament to his legendary work ethic, drive, optimism, competitive spirit and love of people.

‘He believed passionately in the ability of commerce and relationships to bridge cultures and heal divides.

‘Bringing Pepsi to the Soviet Union as the first Western consumer product sold there, and following up with the historic openings of China, India, Iran and many other countries to trade is probably his proudest legacy.’

 Donations, in lieu of flowers, are requested to the Carroll C Kendall Boys & Girls Club in Sequim, Washington.

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