Cargill-Macmillan family: Planting food, harvesting fortunes

“Control oil and you control nations;
control food and you control the people.”
Henry Kissinger

According to Forbes, the Cargill-MacMillan family is one of the wealthiest clans in the United States (number four in the world ranking, after the Koch and Mars families), and some people even affirm that it is one of the most powerful and influential families of the whole world. Yet, there is not so much information online about this discrete clan, which is very weird, considering the importance they have in global economy. If we think of large companies in the world food industry, probably Coca-Cola, Quaker, Nestle and Kellogg’s will be in the list; but Cargill will not be among the names for sure. In fact, only few know that a high percentage of the world’s food production is directly related with the business of this family, which in one year bills an average of one hundred billion dollars thanks to the supply of basic ingredients to large companies in this industry area, and the supply of food for cattle. What is the story of this mysterious family then?

Everything started with the senior American businessman John Hugh MacMillan (La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1869 – 1944). His father, Duncan MacMillan, was the La Crosse State Bank director, and John H. started to work there as a teenager. He took the leadership of the Cargill Company after his father’s death and he got married to William Wallace´s Cargill daughter, Edna Clara. In fact, thanks to his work, he saved the company from a sharp-fall bankruptcy and he consolidated one of the two Cargill branches, the millionaire clan, which holds a fortune that currently goes beyond the 1.2 billion dollars.

The Cargill Company is a private multinational corporation, based in Minnesota. The first grain storing by William Wallace´s enterprise occurred in 1865, when he and his younger brother, Samuel, moved to Lime Springs, Iowa, to get involved in agricultural activities.

In 1868, just three years after the ending of the American Civil War, William Wallace Cargill moved to Minnesota for acquiring facilities, and his great agricultural expansion went ahead in the second quarter of 19th century. The expansion of the company ended in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where, in 1890, the company Cargill Bros controlled more than one hundred structures in several states. However, today the headquarters are in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and are known as the bunker of Cargill. In 1943, Cargill got involved with the business of acquiring soybean processing plants in Cedar Rapids and Fort Dodge, Iowa; and Springfield, Illinois. Today, Cargill Incorporated, led by Gregory Page and David MacLennan, lead the list of American companies that are not listed on Wall Street. In 2003, the family divided a portion of its financial operations in an investment fund called Black River Asset Management. At the same time, the company made a spin-off of its business by trading fertilizers and agrochemicals through a company called Mosaic Co., and which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company, founded by brothers William and Sam Cargill in 1865, was conceived in its beginnings as a simple business, dedicated exclusively to the production and distribution of grain. In 1895, when the family grew thanks to the wedding of John MacMillan with Edna Clara, the company grew to the very skies and much has happened since then. Although it still is a family business, its growth has been spectacular. With 160,000 employees in seventy countries, Cargill is the largest US agricultural company, and controls, just like Bunge, Archer and Louis Dreyfus, the seventy percent of the world food trade. But its domain encompasses much more than just food. Cargill is also active in the transport, finance, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and energy industry. So, the big question of why such a company, of such magnitude is hardly known is still in the air. The financial advisor Patrick Dwyer considers that the main reason is a simple and understandable discretion. Its chairman, Gregory Page, or his advisers, including several members of the Cargill-MacMillan clan, never give interviews as a rule, and they have never needed to be present in the mass media.

Cargill Inc_patrick dwyer_american financial titans_Cargill-Macmillan family
Image courtesy of skhakirov at Flickr.com

There are hardly any pictures of them, even in the Forbes list of billionaires, in which seven of them appear between posts 200 and 400, with an estimated fortune of four thousand seven hundred and twenty-four hundred million each. The company, was bought by Monsanto in 1998, and the latter mixed its GMO improvements with the Cargill-MacMillan seeds production. The company continues to fatten its accounts, and even more in the current world food market, whose prices experienced in February its eighth consecutive monthly rise, and has set a new record, as it was registered in the Food Price Indicator of the UN Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO).

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