Roger Enrico, former 'Cola King' at PepsiCo, has died

This exec's secret to success: Killing Pepsi's Britney Spears ads
This exec's secret to success: Killing Pepsi's Britney Spears ads

Former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico, who led the company during the so-called "cola wars" with Coca-Cola, has died at age 71, the company said.

PepsiCo (PEP) called Enrico one of its "most revered leaders. CEO Indra Nooyi called him "one of the true legends of our company and our industry."

He earned the title of "Cola King" during the 1980s, when he was in charge of Pepsi-Cola marketing and worked on the famous "Pepsi Challenge" ads.

Enrico made the blind taste test ads a national marketing sensation. In 1985, Coca-Cola (KO) panicked and even changed its 100-year old recipe to taste more like Pepsi. The "New Coke" product was a disaster.

Enrico capitalized on the blunder, and continued to aggressively competed against his rival even after Coca-Cola recovered.

He became president and CEO of PepsiCo Beverages and Foods in 1983, and was CEO of various operating divisions and businesses within the company including Frito-Lay during the next few years. In 1996, he took the top job as CEO of PepsiCo, a position he held for five years.

During his tenure as CEO, Enrico acquired Tropicana from Seagram for $3.3 billion, beat Coca-Cola in acquiring Quaker Oats, and recruited Michael Jackson for an ad campaign in 1983. It was during a shoot for a commercial the following year when Jackson's hair accidentally caught on fire, burning his head.

He also reorganized the company's restaurant businesses, spinning off the $7 billion bottling business and the struggling Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut chains. He also ramped up the company's emphasis on snack foods, not just beverages.

"Roger Enrico was, quite simply, one of the most creative marketers of his or any generation," said Nooyi, in a prepared statement. "He was a risk-taker, never afraid to challenge the status quo or make bold moves to get ahead."

Enrico retired in 2001 but continued to serve the company as chairman of the board until 2003. He was also chairman of the board for Dreamworks Animation and was a board member of the National Geographic Society, the Environmental Defense Fund and the American Film Institute, according to PepsiCo.

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Enrico, the son of a factory worker who was born in Minnesota in 1944, had been with the company for more than 30 years. He joined Frito-Lay in 1971 as a brand manager for Funyuns, after graduating from Babson College in Massachusetts on a full scholarship and then serving as a Navy fuel transporter in Vietnam.

Pepsi said his service in the Vietnam War taught him the value of "delivering precious liquids to his consumers." In 1998, he donated his annual salary of $900,000 to fund scholarships for the children of employees who made less than $60,000 a year.

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