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Roger Enrico dead; PepsiCo hero in cola war with Coke was 71

Roger Enrico, president and CEO of Pepsi Cola

Roger Enrico, president and CEO of Pepsi Cola USA, at a news conference in New York on May 6, 1989, announces long-term sponsorship and advertising between the soft drink company and pop star Michael Jackson. Credit: AP

Roger Enrico, who as chief executive of PepsiCo Inc. used a sponsorship deal with Michael Jackson to nearly pull even in the marketplace with Coca-Cola, has died. He was 71.

He died on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal, which didn’t identify the source of its information. His death occurred while snorkeling in the Cayman Islands, where he had a residence, the Cayman Compass reported, citing local police.

Before leading the upstate Purchase-based company as CEO, Enrico was head of its Pepsi-Cola USA division and oversaw a marketing strategy that positioned the soft-drink maker as “the choice of a new generation.” The campaign, beginning in 1983, helped spook Coca-Cola Co. into changing the formula for its market-leading product. The 1985 introduction of “New Coke” is often cited as one of the great marketing blunders of all time.

“After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked,” Enrico wrote at the time in a memo to his staff.

“Roger Enrico was, quite simply, one of the most creative marketers of his or any generation,” Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO said yesterday in an emailed statement. “He was a risk-taker, never afraid to challenge the status quo or make bold moves to get ahead.”

With PepsiCo for most of his career, Enrico got his start in 1971 as an associate brand manager for Funyuns, an onion-flavor snack, in the company’s Frito-Lay division, according to a 1998 article in Beverage World. At different times, he led each of PepsiCo’s three major units, Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola, and restaurants, which included Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC.

Roger A. Enrico was born Nov. 11, 1944, in Chisholm, Minnesota, according to Marquis Who’s Who. As a teenager he worked at an independent bottling plant washing bottles and putting on labels. Later he sold pots and pans door to door, according to a 1985 profile in the Chicago Tribune.

In 1965, he received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

He had an early job at General Mills Inc., served in the U.S. Navy, and then returned to General Mills as assistant brand manager for Wheaties.

Enrico was PepsiCo chief from 1996 to 2001. He was chairman of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. from its inception as a public company in 2004 to 2012.

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