SALT Conference

Pepsi ripped for having 'culture of sycophants'

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Describing PepsiCo as having a "culture of sycophants," a prominent activist investor vowed that reform would come to the food and beverage giant—and signaled that part of the change would have to be to its management mentality.

Speaking at SkyBridge Capital's SALT 2014 investment conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ed Garden, chief investment officer of the hedge fund Trian Partners, said that despite years of activism at U.S. companies, "it's not often that we're not able to get on the same page with management and find common ground."

That has been the case, however, with chief executive Indra Nooyi and her team at PepsiCo,which "made a major mistake" and "built this huge corporate bureaucracy," leading to the company's underperformance in recent years, Garden said.

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Pitting the company's current management philosophy against Trian's, Garden added, is sort of like contrasting a "culture of sycophants" to one of "respectful confrontation."

Trian, which owned $1.2 billion shares of PepsiCo during the first quarter, is demanding that the company separate its beverage business from its snack business, among other things.

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It outlined its ideas in a Feb. 20 white paper of which Garden described the company as having been "dismissive."

The company has said that while it has reviewed Trian's proposals, they would not maximize shareholder value. A spokesman declined further comment.

—By CNBC's Kate Kelly.