Donald M. 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 soda to the Soviet Union as part of a Cold War gambit, died Sept. 19 at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 99.
His family announced the death in a statement but did not give a precise cause.
As president and chief executive of Pepsi-Cola and its successor company, PepsiCo, Mr. 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, broadened the company’s portfolio by acquiring fast-food chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and helped pioneer the modern diet soda with the development of Diet Pepsi.
Mr. 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, staying at Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s dacha, donating money to Richard M. Nixon’s presidential campaigns and helping focus Nixon’s ire on Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was soon ousted in a coup.
In 1972, Mr. Kendall made Pepsi the first U.S. consumer product produced and sold in the Soviet Union, developing an agreement with Soviet authorities that he called “a culmination of our work” in the country.
In exchange for selling Pepsi in the Soviet Union, PepsiCo distributed Russian Stolichnaya vodka in the United States. Nearly two decades later, Mr. 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.
Mr. 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 $3 billion, fell apart after the Soviet Union collapsed the next year.)