Harry Bresky, retired chairman of Seaboard Corp., dies

by Josh Sosland
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BOSTON — H. Harry Bresky, who transformed Seaboard Corp. from a domestic flour milling company to an international milling company and then into the second largest vertically integrated pork processing company in the United States, died March 11 in Boston. He was 81.

Mr. Bresky retired as president and chief executive officer of Seaboard in July 2006. He held the title of president of Seaboard from 1967 through February 2001 and then assumed the added title of c.e.o.

A native of Boston, Mr. Bresky was an undergraduate at Yale University when his studies were interrupted by service in World War II. When the war ended, Mr. Bresky joined the milling business established by his father Otto Bresky and two partners in 1921.

During the 1960s, Seaboard Allied Milling Corp. became the most prominent flour milling company to shift its production capacity to population centers — destination mills. In all, Seaboard built five U.S. mills in the United States over a 14-year period ended in 1976, which was more than any other miller at that time.

While this major initiative largely was driven by the leadership of Otto Bresky, Harry led a quieter shift for the company beginning with the 1966 acquisition of a flour mill in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in a joint venture with Continental Grain Co. Two years later, Seaboard built a flour mill in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in 1969 built a mill in Georgetown, Guyana.

Mills were constructed by Seaboard in Liberia and Nigeria in 1973, and in 1982 the company sold its heritage U.S. flour milling business to Cargill, doubled the capacity of its flour mill in Nigeria and changed the company name to Seaboard Corp.

Seaboard has continued to expand its international flour milling business and has successfully operated food businesses like baking in Madagascar, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Zambia and Kenya, several of the most politically unstable nations in the world.

Soon after selling its domestic flour milling division, Seaboard took a number of steps to further diversify its business, most notably the 1984 acquisition of the poultry division of Central Soya Co., a business that grew through acquisitions in the years that followed. While Seaboard ultimately sold its poultry business to ConAgra in 2000, Mr. Bresky and his associates concluded the vertically integrated business model of poultry farming could be applied to pork processing, a far less efficient business.

In 1990, Seaboard acquired a pork processing plant in Albert Lea, Minn., that had been closed by Wilson Foods. Rather than trying to retrofit the Minnesota plant, Seaboard in 1992 began construction of a new plant in Guymon, Okla. The plant opened in 1996 and has more than doubled in size since then, currently processing more than 16,000 hogs daily. The most integrated pork operation in the United States, Seaboard has pork farms located in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, all within a couple hundred miles of Guymon.

Driven in recent years by a frothy market for hogs and pork products, the Guymon investment has been extraordinarily successful. Between 2002 and 2006, Seaboard annual earnings climbed from $13.5 million to $259 million, and the company’s share price climbed from $236 per share to a recent price of $2,193.

In addition to pork, Seaboard’s businesses include a containerized cargo shipping service; the production and refining of sugar cane and the production and processing of citrus in Argentina; the operation of a power plant in the Dominican Republic, and miscellaneous other businesses, including jalapeno pepper processing, trucking transportation and Bulgarian wine.

Mr. Bresky was succeeded as c.e.o. in July 2006 by his son Steven J. Bresky.

In addition to his son and daughter-in-law Ellen Bresky of Mission Hills, Kas., Mr. Bresky is survived by his wife, Helen (Suzy) Arvey Bresky; a daughter, Patty Bresky and her husband David Noonan of Mill Valley, Calif.; a brother, Otto Bresky, and his wife Mary Lou of Naples, Fla.; and six grandchildren. Services will be held March 14 at the Levine Chapels, 470 Harvard St., Brookline, Mass., with burial at the Newton Cemetery, Newton. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to a charity of one’s choice.

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