Arnold Donald, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of St. Louis-based Merisant Company, visited HBS last month as a part of the African American Student Union’s Distinguished Speaker Series. He was named as the #17 “Most Powerful Black Executive in America” by Fortune in 2002 and was recently reappointed by President (G.W.) Bush to serve on the President’s Export Council for international trade after initially being appointed to the Council in 1998 by President Clinton. Mr. Donald is a graduate of Carleton College (BA), Washington University (BS), and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (MBA).
Merisant is the world’s largest tabletop sweetener company and its product portfolio includes such brands as Equal and Canderel. The $400 million company markets itself as making “better food for you,” and boasts outstanding EBITDA margins. Merisant manages 19 brands in more than 100 countries, with holding companies and production facilities in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. While non-sugar sweeteners are especially useful to the growing diabetic population in the US, the majority of Merisant sales are non US-based.
Mr. Donald left his role as a Senior Vice President at Monsanto to run Merisant. In his last role at Monsanto, Mr. Donald had worldwide responsibility in areas that included the company’s growth, globalization, and technology initiatives. Prior to that, he was president of the $4 billion plus agricultural sector, overseeing three years of tremendous growth and marked by the successful introduction and commercialization of Monsanto’s first crop protection products resulting from modern plant biotechnology. He was recognized by the agricultural industry as Agri-Marketer of the Year in 1996.
In 2000, Greenwich, CT-based private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors was considering purchasing Monsanto’s Equal Division (now Merisant), but wanted Mr. Donald to agree to run the firm before making the investment. He reflected upon the move from Monsanto as “the best decision [I] have ever made.” His new role at Merisant allowed him the flexibility to do four things: “to take a business and run it the way I wanted to run it,” to become involved with the Boards of Directors of public companies, to develop his interest in technology in a way that was not possible for him when he was working for a large, public company (he runs a $350 million venture fund focused on life sciences and biotechnology companies), and finally, the move allowed him to accelerate wealth accumulation for him and his family.
Mr. Donald offered 10 points of advice to students related to our personal and professional lives:
1. Only do it if you love it.
2. Surround yourself only with the BEST people.
3. Listen to the marketplace.
4. Align around a vision of who you want to be.
5. Diversity is absolutely critical.
6. Know your numbers.
7. Focus on the problem.
8. Be quick to act.
9. Plan for everything to go wrong.
10. Celebrate success.
The African American Student Union thanks Arnold Donald and Karl T.
Sestak for participating in our Distinguished Speaker Series.