During the month of May, two prodigious figures of the grain-based foods industry died – Charlie (Mike) Harper of ConAgra Foods, Inc. at 86, and Martin Andreas of Archer Daniels Midland Co. at 77. While both former executives had been retired for many years, the fruits of their vision and efforts continue to be in evidence to this day.
Mr. Harper took the helm at ConAgra at a time when the company was struggling mightily, having sustained a severe loss in fiscal 1974 that resulted in the turnover of much of the company’s executive team. After restoring the company to health, Mr. Harper spent the next 18 years transforming a milling and poultry business into a food industry giant. As a top executive at ADM, Mr. Andreas played a pivotal role in the pioneering development of corn sweeteners as a major business and similarly was a force in helping direct the company toward its investments in ethanol.
Both executives helped steer major industry companies in ways that helped create extraordinary shareholder value. It’s true that in recent years, both ADM and ConAgra have sought to chart new courses in order to usher in new chapters of growth. That both ADM and ConAgra are in the midst of major change today underscores the rich opportunity in each generation for the emergence in grain-based foods of leaders such as these two late giants.