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Kenneth J. Douglas

 

 

Kenneth J. Douglas (1922 - 2007) was a former CEO of Dean Foods. An ex-FBI employee, he used a smart, reasoned approach and disciplined work ethic to help dairy company gain prominence. Colleagues praise his integrity, modesty and devotion to his family

During his entire tenure as chief executive officer and chairman of Dean Foods, Kenneth J. Douglas never made more than $1 million a year.

Yet during his years as head of the company, Dean grew from $165 million in sales in 1970 to a $1.4 billion sales conglomerate in 1987.

"In Ken's history with the company, he had a record 44 quarters [of record growth] as CEO at Dean Foods," said friend Edward Richardson, chief executive officer of Richardson Electronics in LaFox, where Mr. Douglas served on the board of directors for 10 years. "I had a lot of respect for him."

Mr. Douglas, 85, of River Forest, died of pneumonia Wednesday, Oct. 10 2007, in La Grange Memorial Hospital. He had been battling Alzheimer's disease for six years.

"He was a very disciplined executive and he had a tremendous set of ethics and more. In my history he is one of the finest executives I ever met. ... He always put his family first and foremost; and his record -- that will never be duplicated as CEO of Dean Foods," Richardson said.

As a conservative leader, Mr. Douglas set the tenor for the company. Although he acquired many smaller dairies to add to the fold of Dean Foods, he first scrutinized them to see whether they were profitable.

"He set the tone of the company because he was very disciplined and conservative," said Tom Ravencroft, retired president of the dairy division. "He had a good strategy. He believed in concentration on the dairy and food industry and being opportunistic when it came to acquisitions. But he saw that proper due diligence was done and the prices paid for acquisitions were sound in his opinion and they would make a good return to the shareholder.

"His whole effort in managing was to see the shareholder had a good return. Everything he led us to do was along that path."

Born in Benton Harbor, Mich., Mr. Douglas and his family moved to Oak Park, where his future wife, Ann, lived next door. After graduating from Oak Park River Forest High School, he went to the University of Illinois, but World War II interrupted his studies.

He enlisted in the Navy, where he became a radio operator and ran the motor pool.

"It was there that he saw these guys who were doing the extra work that made everything happen. That gave him his work ethic," said his son, Andy. "He said he may not be the smartest guy around, but he could outwork anyone."

After his discharge, he married Ann in 1946, and the couple moved to Hammond. Mr. Douglas attended Kent Law School in Chicago and eventually graduated first in his class in 1950.

He joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation that same year and moved to Los Angeles, then San Francisco. But four years later, he and his wife wanted to return to Chicago. He wrote a letter to Sam Dean, founder of Dean Foods, requesting an interview. At the interview, he was hired on the spot, his son said.

He was named vice president of industrial relations. Within his first week on the job, he faced a challenge as the Teamsters called a strike. Mr. Douglas then worked as vice president of finance until 1970, when he was named CEO and chairman of the board.

"My dad was very modest. He would always say that he happened to be in the right place at the right time. ... He worked hard and he always put the shareholders first," his son said.

Mr. Douglas was recruited by other companies but refused to leave Dean, his family and friends said.

"He could have run any major company in America and have done an excellent job. He was a man of outstanding character. You could take anything he said to the bank. If you did business with him, you didn't need a contract," Ravencroft said.

He retired as chairman of Dean Foods in 1987 but was vice chairman until 1992. Mr. Douglas served on the board of directors of American National Bank, Centel Corp., National Can Co., Richardson Electronics and Andrew Corp.

He also served as chairman of the board of West Suburban Medical Center and the Economic Club of Chicago and was on the board of the Milk Industry Foundation and a member of the board of overseers of the Illinois Institute of Technology and Chicago-Kent College of Law.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Connie Doran; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, 7551 Quick Ave., River Forest.

Source: October 17, 2007|By Patricia Trebe, Special to the Tribune

 

Ann Elizabeth DouglasAnn Elizabeth Douglas, age 86, of River Forest, IL; beloved wife of the late Kenneth J. Douglas (former Chairman and CEO of Dean Foods); loving mother of Connie (Don) Doran and Andrew (Sally) Douglas; cherished grandmother of Paula and Charles Douglas. For many years Mrs. Douglas was very active with the Oak Park and River Forest Infant Welfare Society and the West Suburban Hospital Auxiliary. A Memorial Service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 at the First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, 7551 Quick Av., River Forest.

 

 

 

 

 



 

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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017

Back to top

The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017