John Compton leaves PepsiCo, Abdalla named president

Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:54pm EDT
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By Martinne Geller

(Reuters) - PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N: Quote) President John Compton is leaving the company to head truck-stop operator Pilot Flying J Oil Corp, narrowing the pool of likely candidates to become the soft drink and snack giant's next CEO.

Zein Abdalla, president of PepsiCo Europe, will succeed Compton as president of PepsiCo, effective immediately. Enderson Guimaraes will take over from Abdalla in Europe, the company said late on Tuesday.

The news was a surprise, as Compton was just named president in March. Some on Wall Street saw him as the most likely successor to CEO Indra Nooyi, who has been at the helm for five years and came under fire late last year for a stagnant stock price and a North American drink business that lagged Coca-Cola's (KO.N: Quote).

Even though Compton cited personal reasons for his departure, one could view it as a sign that he saw a rise to CEO as unlikely, said Bernstein Research analyst Steve Powers.

The promotion of Abdalla, who has extensive international experience, now "clearly positions" him as a leading CEO candidate, said Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

"Furthermore, it seems to suggest a further shift away from a U.S./beverage centric leadership," Herzog said.

Another, possibly less likely, successor is Brian Cornell, head of the Americas Foods business, Powers said. He added that any immediate departure by Nooyi seems less likely now, since Abdalla and Cornell lack the experience of Compton.

"PepsiCo could have transitioned to John (Compton) relatively seamlessly, whereas transitioning to Zein (Abdalla) or Brian (Cornell) at this point would be a tougher sell," Powers said.   Continued...