PepsiCo announced the departure of John Compton on Tuesday

PepsiCo announced the departure of John Compton on Tuesday

PepsiCo's announcement on Tuesday (11 September) that president John Compton has left to take over a truck-stop and travel-centre operator in Tennessee dropped the flag on fresh speculation over the group's hotly-contested CEO ascension race.

Prior to his departure, Compton was on the front line of the grid to succeed Indra Nooyi, but the move sent analysts and commentators into overdrive as they ran the numbers on the rest of the pack, and what this means for Nooyi's job prospects.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted Brian Cornell, who returned to the company in March to become PepsiCo Americas Food CEO. Cornell headed Sam's Club, a unit of Wal-Mart and was once considered a CEO candidate at Wal-Mart, the WSJ said

The paper also published a list of recently-departed PepsiCo execs, some of whom might have been contenders for CEO. Eric Foss, Massimo d'Amore and Sarah Robb O'Hagan were all connected to PepsiCo's beverages unit, which only adds fuel to speculation that Nooyi is concentrating more on snacks and nutrition than beverages.

Compton's successor, Zein Abdalla is a favourite for the top job, although the WSJ suggested that he “lacks US experience”. However, an analyst told just-drinks that Abdalla has been successful in his previous role as PepsiCo CEO Europe, where he has doubled the division's revenues from US$7bn to $14bn since 2008.

"He grew the European portfolio by focussing on the emerging markets in the region," Vasu Majumdar, a beverage specialist at Grant Thornton, said. "Starting from a low base, he led PepsiCo to become the largest food and beverage company in Russia. That happened during his tenure."

Other commentators expressed surprise at Compton's sudden departure.

“It’s not a huge negative hit to the company but it was certainly a surprise,” Ali Dibadj, analyst a Bernstein Research, told the Financial Times. “He was lined up as one of the top, if not the top, successor.”

Bonnie Herzog from Wells Fargo Securities said: "We were surprised by the announcement as we considered Compton to be one of the frontrunners to succeed Nooyi as CEO when she eventually steps down.

“We think this move clearly positions Abdalla as a leading candidate to succeed Nooyi. Furthermore, it seems to suggest a further shift away from US beverage-centric leadership.”

Commenting on Compton's motivation to leave a post he only took up in March, Beverage Digest editor John Sicher told the New York Times: “Bottom line, this is about John wanting to run his own company.”

Sicher also said the move means Nooyi is unlikely to leave her post for another two years. “Since February, it’s been clearer and clearer that Indra is going to run this company for some years to come,” he told the Washington Post.

The gentlemen may want to hang fire on starting their engines.