Following a series of sudden losses, Cargill’s next president is elected from outside the family, leading the company toward major global expansion.
In just three years, the Cargill and MacMillan families suffered several serious losses: then-President Austen Cargill passed away in 1957, and three years later, Chairman John MacMillan, Jr., also died. That same year, Cargill MacMillan, who briefly assumed the presidency after Austen, suffered a stroke. Suddenly, the company was left without a family member immediately qualified to lead.
Knowing the company was in need of a new leader, five members of the next generation—James Cargill, Duncan MacMillan, Hugh MacMillan, Whitney MacMillan and Cargill MacMillan, Jr.—met to reevaluate the family objectives in 1961. Though the five Cargill and MacMillan men held junior-level positions within the company, none possessed adequate management experience and had not yet been elected to the board. They discussed responsibility to employees, company growth and the idea of “best management to the top,” the belief that Cargill’s management should be comprised of the most qualified leaders available.
Together, they agreed that new members could be elected to the board, regardless of their relationship to the family. The group issued a statement: “It is our strongest belief that the Board must be made up of the best men available.” Shortly thereafter, Sumner B. “Ted” Young, a lawyer and personal counsel to the board’s executive committee, was selected to fill an open seat.
The landmark decision gave the company license to name Erwin Kelm, a seasoned manager and longtime Cargill employee, as its first non-family executive officer. Their selection proved invaluable; Kelm went on to lead the company through a period of rapid growth and expansion in the 1970s, and set the stage for an inspiring roster of future leaders—from both inside the family and beyond.