DECATUR – Dwayne Orville Andreas, an agribusiness giant who brought the world to Central Illinois, died Wednesday. He was 98.
The fourth son born to a Mennonite farming family in Minnesota, he dropped out of college but rose from humble beginnings to become chief executive officer of Archer Daniels Midland Co. in 1970 and CEO and chairman from 1972 until he stepped down from the CEO's office in 1997. He retired as chairman in 1999.
Under his leadership, ADM went from a modest regional grain processor with sales of $425 million to a world-leading company with 1997 revenues of $13.9 billion.
A friend of U.S. presidents and world leaders, he invited many of them to visit him in Decatur, and they came. The VIP guest list included President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He even flew Mother Teresa to Decatur in his corporate jet in 1989 so she could visit with his secretary's 5-year-old son who suffered from muscular dystrophy.
Andreas, and his late wife, Inez, who died in 2012, contributed generously to charities, colleges, the American Red Cross and countless other causes. One idea close to his heart was fighting world hunger and using advances in agricultural technology to feed more people.
“During his lifetime, Mr. Andreas passionately believed in agriculture's ability to address hunger among the world's poor,” ADM Chairman and CEO Juan Luciano said Wednesday. “He used his deep understanding of global markets and extraordinary business acumen to support policies and programs that helped food reach people in resource-scarce regions.
"After President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the American Food for Peace Council, Mr. Andreas was quoted as saying: 'Food knows no boundaries. We are in the international age of agriculture.'”
Referring to ADM's giant global workforce, Luciano added: “On behalf of ADM's 32,000 colleagues around the world, I extend condolences to the entire Andreas family.”
ADM had employed just 3,000 people and owned 40 processing plants, mainly in the Midwest, when Andreas had ascended to the top job in 1970. Upon his retirement, the company had more than 23,000 employees and owned 274 processing plants spanning the world.
A former U.S. ambassador, Robert Strauss, once described Andreas as “A very able businessman, probably the ablest one I've ever known.”
Part of his business savvy was knowing he needed influence in high places: His list of friends and golfing partners included Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey and former House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, a Democrat.
One especially close friend was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was godfather to Andreas's son, Michael. Andreas knew President Ronald Reagan well, and Reagan appointed him to chair of the foundation that helped meet the cost of national celebrations to mark the U.S. Constitution's 200th birthday in 1987.
But plying politicians with money also led Andreas into controversy. An investigation in the time of Watergate accused Andreas of illegally contributing $100,000 to Humphrey's 1968 presidential campaign, but Andreas was later acquitted of all allegations. A $25,000 cash donation to President Nixon's 1972 re-election bid also caught attention during Watergate, sparking debate about unreported campaign money.
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The biggest scandal under his watch broke in the 1990s with news that certain company executives had taken part in a scheme to fix the price of citric acid and lysine, an animal feed additive. ADM was eventually fined $100 million. Andreas was never accused of wrongdoing, but three executives were subsequently jailed, including his son Michael, who had been the heir apparent at the time to his father's leadership role at ADM.
Looking back on Andreas's life and legacy today, however, many community leaders who knew him, such as Decatur Tribune Editor and former Mayor Paul Osborne, said the positives of his life far outweigh any negatives.
“I think what he accomplished in his life far exceeds anyone talking in negative tones about what he did or the company did,” Osborne said.
“Andreas was one of those people who was overall bigger than the company itself. He embodied this aggressive company policy that said we're here to grow and we're here to be on the world stage; a lot of the good things that have happened in our community and with Archer Daniels Midland were the result of the forward thinking he had.”
Andreas was only 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and yet Osborne remembers him as a giant figure who brought world leaders and the world to Decatur. He described him as the kind of corporate titan we don't see so much anymore.
“He was a cut above about every business leader I ever knew,” Osborne said. “There was just such a respect for his judgment. I was at a few meetings with him, and, when he walked in, the room got quiet. Everyone knew that this man was worth listening to.”
Mirinda Rothrock, president of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, had worked in Andreas' office for several years and described him as an “icon” who cared about the Decatur and Macon County communities. She said the generosity of Andreas means his name will live on forever.
“I guess if I had one thing to say about Mr. Andreas, it's that it will be very hard to forget someone who gave us so much to remember,” Rothrock said.
Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe also described Andreas as an iconic figure who propelled his city to the forefront of the agribusiness world as he brought global leaders to our door.
“He really put Decatur on the map, and he built Archer Daniels Midland,” said Moore Wolfe. “What he did was just absolutely amazing.”
And Andreas was fondly remembered by philanthropist Howard G. Buffett, who moved his family to Decatur nearly 25 years ago after he was offered a position at ADM.
“Dwayne was the reason I moved to Decatur,” Buffett said. “He was a great teacher and he gave me some amazing opportunities.”