WAYZATA — The former chairman and CEO of Cargill, Whitney MacMillan, has died at the age of 90.

MacMillan, who was born Sept. 25, 1929, in Orono, died on March 11 in Vero Beach, Florida, according to a news release.

He was the great-grandson of Cargill founder W.W. Cargill and the son of Cargill MacMillan and Pauline Whitney MacMillan. He was the last member of the owning MacMillan and Cargill families to serve directly as a senior executive operational manager of the company, the release said.

“When the history of Cargill is complete, Whitney’s name will figure prominently as one of the firm’s most important leaders,” William Pearce, former Cargill vice chairman and colleague, said in a news release. “He was an astute businessman and visionary strategist, who provided a critical bridge between the owning families and the company. His job was to maintain the unique commitment of the owning families to the business while developing the evolving management system needed to contend with extraordinary global expansion and to adapt to changing global food needs. He played that role extremely well.”

In his 44-years with Cargill, he led the company through an era of growth and diversification, guided a transformation in how the company was managed and governed, initiated an employee-stock ownership plan and preserved the family commitment to remaining privately owned, the release said.

In addition to his time with Cargill, he, alongside his wife, Betty, supported charitable and educational programs and initiatives. MacMillan was a passionate rancher who operated a cow-calf ranch in Montana; he was a life-long athlete, playing collegiate hockey, as well as tennis and golf throughout his life; and he enjoyed traveling.

After his retirement, he taught corporate strategy at the University of St. Thomas and served as an advisor for universities, government agencies and public policy organizations.

“Whitney projected a sense of stability and quiet, but also an intense commitment that everyone could see,” Jim Howard, former executive vice president and lifelong friend, said in the release. “He loved to challenge assumptions and conventional thinking, and constantly seemed to be looking further down the road than most people. He always told us never to settle for anything less than being the best in whatever we did. Those are, of course, still the hallmarks of Cargill’s culture preached and lived by Whitney.”

Growing up, he attended The Blake School and Yale University, graduating with a degree in history. Later in life, he earned honorary doctoral degrees from Macalester College, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Montana State University.

He started working with Cargill as a general trainee, eventually rising up within the company to senior management positions. He served as the chairman of the board and CEO of Cargill from 1976 until his retirement in 1995.

“While Cargill helps the world to thrive, Whitney helped Cargill thrive,” David MacLennan, Cargill’s current chairman and CEO, said in the release.

He’ll be remembered by friends and associates for his agile mind and wry sense of humor, the release said.

MacMillan, a devoted husband and father, is survived by his wife of 68 years, Betty, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his sister, Pauline. He was proceeded in death by his sister, Alice, and his brother, Cargill Jr.

The family will have a private service at a later date, the release said. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor MacMillan and his family are asked to send memorials in Whitney’s name to Yale University, the Mayo Clinic, the Blake School and the Minnesota Historical Society.

Melissa Turtinen is the community editor for Lakeshore Weekly News and Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.

Events