Walter Klein, long-time head of Bunge Corp., dies

by Josh Sosland
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NEW YORK -- Walter C. Klein, retired president and chief executive officer of Bunge Corp., died Oct. 28 at the age of 95.

Mr. Klein led the North American business of Bunge Group (what is now Bunge Ltd.) for three decades, assuming the top role at the company in 1959. During the time he led the company, Bunge diversified business from its grain exporting roots into a soybean processor, dry corn miller and a major producer of shortenings and oils as well as a producer and marketer of other products for bakers, food processors and restaurants. Additionally, he was involved in the expansion of Bunge Group into Asia.

The breadth of change effected by Mr. Klein was summarized in a 2001 interview with his son John E. Klein, who headed Bunge North America for 18 years after his father’s retirement in 1985.

“I took over a little more than 15 years ago from my father and his great effort in creating something that wasn’t there before,” Mr. Klein said. “He took a trading house and really industrialized the company.”

Even as Bunge broadened its U.S. activities, the export business was an area of focus through the career of the elder Mr. Klein. The U.S. mid-South was an area of growth with Bunge establishing a network of grain and oilseed elevators between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico during Mr. Klein’s tenure.  Also built while he led Bunge was the company’s Destrehan export elevator in the port of New Orleans.

In a 1985 interview with Milling & Baking News, Mr. Klein spoke of the importance of restoring the United States to its leadership position in grain exports rather than the role of residual supplier to which the United States had been relegated. An advocate for free trade, he also emphasized the importance of “fair trade” in his pragmatic support for what would become known as the Export Enhancement Program.

“Exports have to be revived, and the only way we can revive exports is to sell at the world market price,” he said.

Born in New York, Mr. Klein’s parents moved to Vienna, Austria, for a period of time when he was a teenager, and he attended high school there. He entered Harvard College in 1936, graduating in three years.

He held positions with Swift & Co. in Chicago and Argentina before joining Bunge in 1947. Most of his career was spent with Bunge in New York.

Mr. Klein was predeceased in 1991 by his first wife Mary Kennard Eddy Klein and by a son, Walter (Terry) Klein Jr. He is survived by his second wife Virgilia Pancoast Klein and children, Margaret K. Klein and John E. Klein and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3.p.m on Monday, Dec. 2 at St. James Episcopal Church in New York at 865 Madison Avenue at 71st Street. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Central Park Conservancy or Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey.
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