TITLE: Chairman, CEO
COMPANY: Merisant Co.
EDUCATION: Carleton College, B.A., Economics; Washington University, B.S., Mechanical Engineering; University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, M.B.A., Finance and Intl. Business
FAMILY: wife, Hazel; three children: Radiah, 25; Alicia, 22; and Stephen Zachary, 7
Arnold W. Donald enjoys developing sweet deals whenever he can find them. While a senior management executive at Monsanto, an international biotechnology firm, Donald put together the Merisant Investment Group, which purchased the tabletop sweetener business from Monsanto in March 2000 for approximately $570 million. The investment group included MSD Capital, Pegasus Capital Advisors, and Brener International Group. Today, anchored by its U.S. flagship brand, Equal, and its European flagship, Canderel, Merisant enjoys revenues of $400 million and sells 20 sweetener brands in more than 100 countries. As chairman and CEO of Merisant Co., he stands at the helm of a burgeoning company employing some 700 staffers. Prior to Merisant, Donald spent more than 20 years at Monsanto’s U.S. headquarters in St. Louis. His area of focus was the agricultural sector where he managed a $4 billion business. He was later promoted to senior vice president supervising global growth and technology initiatives.
Donald, a New Orleans native, sits on the board of directors of numerous civic and community organizations, both domestic and international. In 1997 he was named BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Corporate Executive of the Year.
Proudest career moment: “[When I worked for Monsanto,] I was standing in a rice field in Indonesia, and this group of women in a small village came up to me with tears in their eyes. They thanked me for transforming their quality of life. [To grow] rice, they would flood the fields, and then they’d work the field with bull oxen. It’s backbreaking work. We had come up with an agricultural practice that eliminated the need to flood the fields, [so] where they used to produce two crops per year, now they [can] grow three. We dramatically increased their earnings and changed their everyday quality of life, because they [can now] grow their yield in less time and with less labor than before. I felt great to be a part of all of that.”
Advice to corporate climbers: “Follow your passion. That’s very hard to do because, first of all, it’s difficult to know what your real passions are. Honestly ask yourself, ‘What am I interested in doing, and what’s the plan that’s going to make that happen?’ I’ve never focused on a title; I’ve never focused on trying to please a boss; and I’ve never focused on trying to network with certain people. What I did was to focus on ‘What’s the result? How am I maximizing my return to shareholders over the life of the firm?’ Simply stated, I’ve always looked for jobs and opportunities, which gave me experiences that trained me well for that task. In the end, it’s about the journey–not the endgame. A lot of people think, ‘Well, if I do all of this stuff, I’ll be happy in the end.’ You need to be happy now, and a lot of it is the journey. It’s the actual trip itself–not just the ultimate destination. I’m not saying that I never took on some tasks that I didn’t enjoy. But on balance, I always made sure that I was enjoying what I was doing.”