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PepsiCo president leaving company in latest change

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NEW YORK — PepsiCo Inc. said Tuesday that its president is leaving after less than a year on the job, indicating a CEO succession may not be coming any time soon.

The Purchase, N.Y., company said John Compton's departure is effective immediately. After joining the soda and snack food giant about 30 years ago, Compton had been named to the newly created position of president in March.

PepsiCo said Zein Abdalla, CEO of its European division, will take over as president. Enderson Guimaraes, who serves as president of the company's global nutrition group, was named to head PepsiCo Europe.

Abdalla and Guimaraes are both 52.

Compton's appointment as president was the centerpiece of a management restructuring that PepsiCo announced this spring. The restructuring was intended to strengthen the company's lineup of potential successors to CEO Indra Nooyi; PepsiCo had faced speculation that Nooyi, 56, would step down amid investor dissatisfaction. She took over as CEO in 2006.

Compton and Abdalla were among those regarded internally as possible candidates.

But Compton's departure may suggest a new CEO won't be in the cards soon.

"Since February, it's been clearer and clearer that Indra is going to run this company for some years to come," said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest, the closely watched industry tracker. "I think John wanted to run his own shop, and he realized that was not going to be PepsiCo."

JPMorgan analyst John Faucher said the news was surprising and disappointing. He noted that Compton was viewed positively by Wall Street and seen as one of the candidates likely to become CEO.

Compton is leaving to head Pilot Flying J Oil Corp. of Knoxville, Tenn., which operates travel centers and truck stops. In a release issued by PepsiCo, Compton said the decision to leave PepsiCo wasn't easy.

Compton, 51, had joined the soda and snack food giant as a 21-year-old in a Frito-Lay plant.

"I have deep and personal ties to Tennessee, and my family's plan all along has been to return to Tennessee at some point," he said.

When Compton was named president, PepsiCo said he would be in charge of all global groups, and work with its regional groups for Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa to build brands, develop new products and cut costs.

The company had also brought in Brian Cornell, who was president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Sam's Club division, to take over for Compton as CEO of PepsiCo Americas Foods.

It's just the latest management change for PepsiCo.

Last month, PepsiCo also announced that the head of its Gatorade unit was leaving the company. A replacement hasn't been named for Sarah Robb O'Hagan.

Compton's departure was announced after the close of trading on Wall Street. PepsiCo's shares rose 15 cents to $71.73 in after-hours trading after ending the regular trading session down 26 cents at $71.58.

The stock is up about 8 percent in the year to date.