Top 11 Most Influential People in the Food Industry

Our picks for the 11 most influential people in the food industry don’t believe in the status quo.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Influence. Power. Clout. There are various definitions and measures of these seemingly intangible assets. When the new president of Ukraine takes your meeting because you knew him in his banker days 1, you’ve got it. When President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev visit out-of-the-way Decatur, Ill., 2 you flaunt it. When your company’s stock goes up 55 percent in one year, you’ve earned it. 3

Footnotes: 1. Warren Staley of Cargill met with Ukraine’s Viktor Yuschenko. 2. The two presidents visited ADM headquarters. 3. Tyson stock shot up during the tenure of John Tyson.

Financial success is one clear but seldom easy route to power. At this time last year, reported investors who filled their carts with food and beverage stocks whipped up some nice gains, particularly if they held shares of Tyson Foods (up 55 percent), Hershey Foods (15 percent), McCormick & Co. (18 percent), Kellogg (10 percent) and Groupe Danone (9 percent). All of them handily beat the indexes of Standard & Poor’s 500, NASDAQ and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Success of these food and beverage stocks was attributed to stability. When investors get nervous, they seek out companies with familiar names and managements that seem to have been in place for decades. It helps if they make products everyone needs.

Putting your money where your mouth is requires much more savvy today. Dramatic changes occurred over the past 12 months, particularly in leadership positions. Rainer Gut, chairman of the board of Nestlé SA, retired and his successor, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, takes on a dual role as chairman and CEO (despite some protests against that kind of power consolidation). Patrick Cescau took over the leadership at Unilever from Antony Burgmans, who retired. At Coca-Cola, Neville Isdell replaced Douglas Daft. Jim Donald is the new president and CEO at Starbucks, while Howard Schultz is concentrating on global strategy. After the passing of McDonald’s Charlie Bell, the baton was passed to Jim Skinner. When Frank Perdue died, son Jim took over the poultry company; now there’s speculation some members of the family might sell their interest in the privately held corporation.

All those people have power by virtue of their job titles. Whether it’s true influence or clout, and if they have staying power, only time will tell. Just ask Carly Fiorina, late of Hewlett-Packard.

On the following pages we present our first effort at the most powerful people in the food industry. The list was developed with input from our editorial advisory board, a poll on our web site and our core of regular contributing editors. The editors of Food Processing chose the final winners. And although we tried to keep it to a nice, round 10, we ended up with 11. There’s so much power here we couldn’t cut it down to 10!

We chose those whose expertise, ability to influence change, corporate responsibility and fine leadership inspire their teams in this highly competitive marketplace. We congratulate them for their contributions.

THE LIST (in alphabetical order)

  • G. Allen Andreas, Archer Daniels Midland

  • Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee Corp.

  • Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Dept. of Commerce

  • Richard Lenny, Hershey Co.

  • John Mackey, Whole Foods Market

  • Steven Reinemund, PepsiCo

  • Stephen Sanger, General Mills

  • H. Lee Scott Jr., Wal-Mart Stores

  • Warren Staley, Cargill Inc.

  • John Tyson, Tyson Foods Inc.

  • William Wrigley Jr., William Wrigley Jr. Co.

Feeding the world from Decatur, Illinois

In the midst of the heartland, G. Allen Andreas sits as chairman/CEO of Archer Daniels Midland Co., a company with reach into many corners of the world from its Decatur, Ill., home base. Instead of immediately going into the business, Andreas went to law school and was an attorney for the U.S. Treasury Dept. He joined the legal staff of ADM in 1973.

He was appointed treasurer in 1986, was CFO of European operations in 1989, came back to Decatur, Ill., to hold several executive roles until becoming president/CEO in 1997. When Dwayne Andreas, a confidante of presidents and prime ministers and leader of the company since 1970, stepped down in 1999, his nephew, Allen, was ready.

Andreas leads one of the most global and pervasive of food businesses, but works in the ingredients/agricultural commodities arena rather than in branded consumer food products. ADM, which once used the motto “supermarket to the world,” continues to grow. “From a low of $226 million in earnings in 1999 to the $500 million level each of the past three years, we are on track for another solid year,” Andreas promises.

ADM has come a long way since the Daniels Linseed company was founded in 1902. The company is involved in oilseed processing, corn processing, various other food and feed ingredients, fuels and industrials and agricultural services. In all, it makes more than 1,000 products and ingredients. ADM provides that pivotal but often forgotten connection between food products and the farms on which they originate.

“Although the face of agriculture has changed over the course of our history, ADM has played and continues to play a vital role in agriculture, an essential component of the economy,” Andreas says. But Andreas’ role transcends the company. He is a member of such global organizations as the Trilateral Commission, The Bretton Woods Committee, International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade, Emergency Committee for American Trade, World Economic Forum, the G100, The Business Roundtable and a trustee of the Economic Club of New York.

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