For many, Arnold Donald’s not-too-distant reality could be a scene from a science fiction movie. “Imagine this: From a fingernail clipping, a doctor determines that your child has a 75% probability of developing leukemia, a 50% chance of acquiring diabetes and a high propensity towards obesity,” says Donald, matter-of-factly. It’s a scenario he’s probably painted hundreds of times for fascinated audiences ranging from the learned to the novice.
His mellow baritone has a touch of Southern grace that lends charm to the rest of his scenario: “But with prescription foods, an exercise regimen and exposure to certain external conditions, that probability can be reduced to 1%.” This vision Donald shares places biotechnology front and center in a world where plants will one day be altered to produce therapeutic agents. That may mean cardiovascular medicine in asparagus, antibiotics in corn and even health-conscious French fries that absorb less oil.
It is a concept that can only be imagined–for now. At 42, Donald stands on the brink of an excitingly surreal evolution in business and science in a field populated by few other African Americans. It’s his job to help turn the unimaginable into marketable solutions. The notion of genetically reengineering food may be a bit disconcerting in the wake of the recent developments and controversies surrounding animal cloning. But Donald, co-president of the Monsanto Co.’s newly reorganized agricultural sector, says this work is essential. “With today’s technology, the planet cannot handle the demands that will come with a growing population that’s living longer. We don’t have enough natural resources and must find new and more productive ways of feeding people,” he says.
In labs ranging from rolling farm acres to rooftop greenhouses, Monsanto’s scientists are developing biotechnology-based products that promise to reduce the use of chemicals and improve crop productivity and food quality. Last December, the St. Louis-based company announced that it would spin-off its chemical businesses and form two new separately- traded, publicly-held companies. Most of its 28,000 employees will he split between a $3 billion chemical company and a $7 billion life sciences concern that would bring all agriculture, pharmaceutical and biotechnology efforts under one umbrella. The latter is the driver for the $9.3 billion chemical company’s future domestic and global expansion. With Co-President Robert Fraley, Donald will be leading the charge when the spin-off is completed this fall.
In the world of the Fortune 500s, executive performance is receiving greater scrutiny than ever before. But while many corporations and shareholders are finding that their senior decision-makers are not the leaders they imagined, Donald is the genuine article. A pathfinder, he has identified productive areas of uncertainty and confusion and led Monsanto down those roads in order to gain a competitive advantage. His stellar management is marked by his years of record-breaking success with Roundup, the most widely used weed control agent in the world. With estimated annual revenues of $2.5 billion, the herbicide represents more than half of Monsanto’s operating earnings.
“Arnold has the capability of creating a vision for his organization