Former PepsiCo and Sara Lee Exec Brenda Barnes Dies at 63

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Jan 20, 2017

Brenda Barnes, a former PepsiCo executive who quit as CEO of Sara Lee Corp. after having a stroke in 2010, died Jan 19 in a suburban Chicago hospital after suffering another stroke. She was 63.

Barnes took a job in logistics with Wilson Sporting Goods in the 1970s when it was owned by PepsiCo. She moved up swiftly within Wilson and eventually got noticed by the parent firm, joining the Frito-Lay division as marketing vice president in 1981. Just as quickly, she advanced within PepsiCo, eventually becoming president/CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America in 1996. Then, a year later, she walked away to spend more time with her family.

In 2004, with her three children in high school, Barnes returned to work as COO of Sara Lee. Seven months later she was named CEO, and shortly thereafter she added the title of chairman.

Barnes presided over a tumultuous period at what had become a disparate conglomerate. She sold off businesses such as Kiwi shoe polish and Hanes underwear to refocus Sara Lee on food.

With the rebuilding of the company not quite complete, she suffered her first stroke in May of 2010. A few months later, in the midst of a slow recovery, she resigned from the company.

In 2012, Sara Lee split into two companies, one primarily North American (and heavily into deli meats) and one European (and primarily into coffee). Eventually, the meat business renamed itself Hillshire Brands, which in 2014 was bought by Tyson Foods.

During her time in the business world, Barnes landed on many "most powerful" lists (including our own) and was heralded for her 1996 decision to quit to raise her children.

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