CHICAGO — John H. Bryan Jr., longtime chairman and chief executive officer of Sara Lee Corp., died Oct. 1. He was 81 years old.
A graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., Mr. Bryan led his family’s specialty meat company, Bryan Packing Co., beginning in 1960 until he sold the business to Consolidated Foods in 1968. After selling the company, he stayed on at Consolidated Foods, eventually being elected executive vice-president of operations and a director of the company in March 1974. He was promoted to president and chief operating officer in October 1974 and became c.e.o. in 1975.
In 1985, Mr. Bryan led a charge to change Consolidated Foods’ name to Sara Lee Corp. Kitchens of Sara Lee, a Deerfield, Ill.-based producer of frozen baked foods, had been part of Consolidated Foods since 1956.
At the time the name change was announced in January 1985, Mr. Bryan said, “Sara Lee is our first major consumer brand and for much of our history has been identified as our most prominent brand. Sara Lee is universally known and is an appealing name that reflects the high quality and consumer marketing orientations of the corporation.”
He added that Consolidated Foods in recent years had “evolved into a consumer products operating company, marketing both food and non-food products that have strong branded positions in their markets. While a name change has been considered in the past, we’ve decided that now is the right time to do so because our present name is increasingly inappropriate and miscommunicates what our corporation is today.”
Mr. Bryan stepped down as c.e.o. of Sara Lee Corp. in 2000 but continued to serve as chairman until 2001. He was succeeded as c.e.o. by C. Steven McMillan.
In addition to his tenure at Sara Lee, Mr. Bryan was known for his commitment to the arts. He was a driving force behind the creation of Chicago’s Millennium Park and served as a chairman on the board of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1999 until 2006.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Neville; two daughters, Margaret Bryan French and Elizabeth Bryant Seebeck; two sons, John H. Bryan III and Charles; 13 grandchildren; 1 great-grandchild; a brother, George; and a sister, Caroline Harrell.
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Art Institute of Chicago.