KANSAS CITY — Charles A. (Chuck) Sullivan, a former baking executive who engineered perhaps the most consequential acquisition in US baking history, has died at the age of 86.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Mr. Sullivan received a bachelor’s degree in business, with emphasis on industrial management, from the University of Toledo. He began his career at the accounting firm Price Waterhouse. From there he moved into the soft drink business where he earned a reputation as a turnaround specialist, first with Seven-Up Indiana and then the Canada Dry New England operation of Norton Simon, Inc.
While at Canada Dry, Mr. Sullivan worked with E. Garrett Bewkes Jr., the former chairman of American Bakeries Co. When Mr. Bewkes was named chairman and chief executive officer of American Bakeries in 1982, Inc., Mr. Sullivan joined American as senior vice president and president of its Merita Division at Charlotte, NC. He was named an executive vice president of American in 1986 with responsibility for the company’s Taystee and Merita divisions.
Interstate Bakeries Corp. acquired Merita and most of the other American Bakeries plants in 1988, and Mr. Sullivan was named president and CEO of Interstate in March 1989. Having executed numerous acquisitions and taken IBC public through an initial public offering, Mr. Sullivan spearheaded IBC’s 1995 acquisition of Continental Baking Co. from Ralston Purina Co. At the time, Continental, which owned brands such as Wonder bread and Hostess snack cakes, was the nation’s largest baking company. IBC was the third largest US baker at the time.
Reflecting difficulties faced by the baking sector at the time, IBC paid only about $560 million for Continental, which then had annual sales of $2 billion.
Mr. Sullivan was in no way intimidated by the challenges of acquiring a business far larger than IBC, as evidenced by comments to investment analysts in late 1995: “How do we intend to run this new company? The answer is to look at how we have run Interstate Bakeries.”
At the same time, he told Milling & Baking News a “lean and mean” management approach had worked well in the first 13 years he spent in the baking industry, and he was firmly convinced that the operating style could continue with a much larger company.
He described the combined business as “truly a national company,” a first for the baking industry, with annual sales of $3.1 billion.
While the company achieved considerable success under Mr. Sullivan’s leadership IBC struggled late in his tenure and after his 2002 retirement, when a string of successors followed as CEO.
Active in industry affairs, Mr. Sullivan served as chairman of the American Bakers Association in the early 1990s. At the helm of the ABA, he was outspoken about the need for the baking industry to work together to enhance the public’s image of bread.
“This isn’t a situation where the baker and allied companies can look to the ABA to conduct a nationwide program to increase per capita consumption,” he told Milling & Baking News in a 1992 interview. “The members have to do this one.”
He said the development of nutrition education program is “not just timely, it’s absolutely essential.”
He went on to say that members of the ABA will need to judge the program’s success “by looking in the mirror and asking, ‘What have I done to help?’”
Following retirement, Mr. Sullivan and his wife Jackie were active philanthropists. According to the Toledo Blade, the Sullivans were responsible for more than $14 million in contributions to his alma mater, the University of Toledo.
Mr. Sullivan is survived by his wife Jacqueline; children Thomas, Timothy (Melissa), Kenneth, Jeffery, Karen (Dusty) and Jennifer; stepsons Mark Linwood (Rebecca) and Scott Lindenmoyer (Tara); grandchildren, Charles and Samantha Sullivan, Taylor and Zachary Stelter, Elijah Lindenmoyer, and Jackson Linwood; and a great-granddaughter Mailey. He was preceded in death by his first wife Patricia; brothers, William, Richard, and John; sisters, Kathleen and Patricia; and a great-grandson Sailor.
Visitation will be Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 9 a.m. at Church of the Ascension, 9510 West 127th Street, Overland Park, KS 66213, with the funeral mass immediately following at 10. A private family burial will be held in Toledo, Ohio. The family requests that masks will be worn for the services. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Catholic Community Hospice.