Whitney MacMillan, the Last Cargill Family Member To Lead the Company, Dies at 90

March 19, 2020
He presided over a remarkable era of growth and diversification and ultimately handed over management to non-family members.

Whitney MacMillan, the last Cargill family member to lead that global company, died March 11 in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 90.

Born Sept. 25, 1929, in Orono, Minn., he was the great-grandson of Cargill founder W.W. Cargill and the son of Cargill MacMillan and Pauline Whitney MacMillan. He was chairman of the board and CEO of the company from 1976 until his retirement in 1995. In all, he spent 44 years at Cargill.

While presiding over the company during a remarkable era of growth and diversification, MacMillan also transformed how the company was managed and governed -- adding independent directors to its board, initiating an employee-stock ownership plan and preserving the family commitment to remaining privately owned. And, ultimately, handing over the top roles to non-family members.

“Whitney’s almost 20 years as Cargill’s CEO defined who we are today,” said Dave MacLennan. “He expanded the company from 31 to 53 countries and quadrupled our employee base. Under his leadership, Cargill entered the canola, cocoa, cotton, malt and fertilizer trading arenas and also began processing beef and pork, with our company being the first to adopt a model for the humane treatment of animals.”

Together with his wife Elizabeth (Betty), MacMillan also actively supported numerous charitable and educational programs and initiatives, many mirroring his special interests in values-based education, health care and environmental and cultural preservation. In retirement, he taught corporate strategy at the University of St. Thomas school of business, while also serving as an advisor on global trade, economy and other subjects for numerous universities, governmental agencies and public policy organizations.

Whitney is survived by Betty, his wife of 68 years, and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“When the history of Cargill is complete, Whitney’s name will figure prominently as one of the firm’s most important leaders,” said William Pearce, former Cargill vice chairman and colleague.