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Ex-Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi once called Vladimir Putin a ‘great leader’

PepsiCo’s ex-CEO privately called Vladimir Putin a “great leader” at a high-level meeting in Switzerland shortly after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 — rankling fellow business leaders even as she cultivated unusually cozy ties with the Russian president, The Post has learned. Indra Nooyi — who ran the Purchase, NY-based soda-and-snacks giant from 2006 to 2018 — raised eyebrows more than once as she aggressively sought to build ties with Putin’s Russia. Her bold investments began to unravel on Tuesday as the company, along with archrival Coca-Cola, said it was suspending soda sales and advertising in Russia. Pepsi shares dipped 2.7%. In October 2011, shortly after PepsiCo paid $5.4 billion for Russian dairy-and-juice conglomerate OAO Wimm-Bill-Dann, Nooyi gave a gushing review of Putin’s leadership. “I have been in meetings with many, many world leaders,” Nooyi told the Moscow Times. “But when it came to Foreign Investment Advisory Council attendees, the issues and the comments they made, Prime Minister Putin was on top of every issue.” In May 2014, just weeks after Russia had taken the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in a military invasion, Nooyi told PepsiCo analysts the company had “great relationships” with Russian officials, according to the Wall Street Journal. But a few months later on Sept. 14 of the same year, sources said Nooyi took it a step further as she praised Putin at a meeting of 16 top US, Western European, Russian and Ukrainian business leaders that had been called in Geneva, Switzerland to address the crisis in Crimea by Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum. “She said to me and a colleague from Ukraine that Putin was a ‘great leader,’” a source told The Post, noting that Nooyi had offered her candid praise of the former KGB agent during a coffee break. Get the latest updates in the Russia-Ukraine conflict with The Post’s live coverage. “She said she was very sorry about the war,” the source said, but “she was very clear that she thought he was an extraordinary leader.” “I was shocked, disgusted and surprised,” the source added, noting that Nooyi had praised Putin in front of Ukrainians whose countrymen had just been killed and tortured by Russian forces. In the end, the Geneva group settled on 10 weak, watered-down proposals to address the crisis — partly because of the urging of Nooyi, the source added. “We were all sent home with a version in which we would have to take out every critical word about Russia,” the source griped. PepsiCo declined to comment. Nooyi, who no longer has a position with Pepsi, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nooyi had goosed Pepsi’s Russian expansion in 2008, when PepsiCo and The Pepsi Bottling Group paid $1.4 billion for Russia’s leading branded juice company JSC Lebedyansky. A year earlier, PepsiCo and PepsiAmericas paid $542 million for Ukrainian juice company Sandora, beating a competing bid from rival Coca-Cola. (Coke tried to catch up in 2010, paying $1.4 billion for Russian juice maker Nidan Soki.) But Pepsi’s Russian roots date back well before Nooyi to the height of the Cold War. Former Premier Nikita Khrushchev famously drank a Pepsi in 1959 at a Moscow convention featuring American products. In 1974, the soda became the first US consumer product sold in the USSR on a mass scale. When former PepsiCo CEO Don Kendall, who had given the Pepsi to Khrushchev, celebrated his 90th birthday in 2012, the party was held at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, according to a source who attended the event. In 2011, Kendall became the first foreigner to receive the Russian Order of Honor. “Until now, the tolerance of reputational risk in Russia has been surprisingly high,” Ed Verona, the president of the US-Russia Business Council from 2008 to 2013 told The Post referring to PepsiCo and other Western businesses. “The profits in Russia were so good and the public awareness of, or sensitivity to, the atrocities of Putin’s regime was so low, that the threshold of corporate moral outrage was never crossed.” In 2021 Russia was still PepsiCo’s third-biggest market (behind the United States and Mexico) generating $3.4 billion of revenue — more than Canada, China or the United Kingdom, according to public filings. PepsiCo, maker of sodas and Frito-Lay snacks, on Tuesday said the Ukrainian conflict is a “tragic war”. The Russian military, PepsiCo said privately, has taken over its Ukrainian facilities while it still operates in Russia producing milk and other dairy offerings, baby formula and baby food. Some investors see a risk that Russia will retaliate for the US boycott of its goods by seizing assets of US companies including PepsiCo, which has a dairy plant in Moscow and a food plant in Kashira, Russia. see also PepsiCo told investors privately last week it will take a restructuring charge soon because of its Russian business representing 4.5 percent of its overall revenue, and it should not impact its forecasts, a hedge fund manager told The Post. “They said they manufacture milk, water, food and stuff that’s needed. For those reasons, they are continuing to operate,” the hedge fund manager said of the Russian businesses. Pepsi confirmed Tuesday it would continue to offer essentials in the country, such as milk and other dairy offerings, baby formula and baby food even as it stops selling soda pop and ends all capital investments. Last week the head of New York’s state pension said PepsiCo needed to consider whether doing business in Russia was worth the risk during this extraordinarily volatile time. In November, Nooyi, who in October 2018 surrendered the helm to current Pepsi Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta, told the Harvard Business Review that CEOs should consider their impact in countries in which they operate. “We cannot make money at the expense of some other [person] being exploited,” Nooyi said. “So Environmental, Social and Governance has got to be taken personally.”

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