It is not often that you come across someone who is so genuine of spirit that they leave a deep and lasting impression on how you see the world. Roger Enrico was one of those rare individuals. Upon hearing of his passing this week, amid the outpouring of sadness and tributes, I couldn’t help but be moved to share how much of an influence Roger was in my life and in the lives of countless others.
Roger was perhaps best known for his long tenure as CEO of PepsiCo Inc. and his visionary leadership as Chairman of DreamWorks Animation SKG. But ask anyone who worked closely with him or for him and they would also describe a man who championed others—often through providing opportunities to women, people of color and those with limited means. To many who worked for him, he was a lifetime mentor and friend. In so many ways Roger demonstrated just how deeply he cared for humanity.
In his later years as CEO at Pepsi, he gave up his salary and took just $1 a year so that he could dedicate the remainder of his generous salary to creating scholarships for the kids of employees of Pepsi who earned less than $60K a year—people he described as “unsung heroes.”
Roger, an advocate for inclusivity, was known for focusing on diversity in the Pepsi bottling divisions. There he helped many people of color find opportunity and wealth through this commitment. In his board service, he put an emphasis on attracting diverse, world-class talent.
It was Roger’s work with former Chair and CEO of National Geographic, John Fahey, that led to my own board service with National Geographic, where I serve as Chairman today. Several years ago, while Roger was serving as the Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee, he reached out and asked me to join the board.
Through the years, I grew to truly love and appreciate Roger for his remarkable contributions to National Geographic. I had the great honor of first succeeding him as Chair of Nominating and Governance, and then the privilege of co-chairing the Search Committee with him that brought Gary Knell in as the new CEO when John Fahey retired from the role.
Being in the boardroom with Roger was fun, interesting and always a learning experience, but it was my experiences out in the field with him that I will hold most dear in my heart. In 2014, before Cuba opened up, National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala led a small cohort of National Geographic Trustees on a one-week exploration of the pristine seas area known as Jardines de la Reina off the coast of Cuba. It was an intense week of diving in which we accompanied Enric and the team for 3 dives a day to document and explore the health of aquatic life in this rarely-accessed reef area of our oceans. For our small cohort of Trustees, we lived together on the boat with the broader dive team, sharing meals, sharing stories and reflecting on the importance of conservation of our oceans. With each successive dive, 70-year-old Roger was often the first one suited up and ready to go.
Roger had a passion for our planet, and particularly for our oceans. At National Geographic he was beloved not just for his board service, but for his passion for the mission of National Geographic. He was truly an intrepid explorer and I had the privilege of being in the field, and in the oceans, on the front lines of exploration with him around the world.
So while the world knows Roger best for his executive role under fluorescent lights, to those of us who had the privilege of working with him at National Geographic, we would say his leadership, his generosity and his passion for exploration in the field leaves behind a legacy that will endure for many years to come.
It was an honor and privilege to call him a mentor, leader, friend, and he will be greatly missed.