Jun 23, 2011 • By

The powerful legacy of Pillsbury

George S. Pillsbury, one of the last in a line of civic and corporate leaders bearing the Pillsbury name, visited General Mills yesterday for a trip down memory lane.

He appeared at an event with Lori Sturdevant, Star Tribune reporter and author of the new book, “The Pillsburys of Minnesota,” in the Charles A. Pillsbury Auditorium at our headquarters.

George set the tone of the casual conversation when he answered a call during the interview. He reached into his jacket pocket and clutched his cell phone and said, “Oh, hi Nick!” He cupped his hand over his phone and let the audience know, “It’s Nick, my grandson. He’s moving back to Minnesota.”

These events are so fun. I plan and coordinate four each year on all kinds of historical topics to help employees – old and new – engage with company history.

The audience for the interview was interactive. And several employees jumped right in with questions until time was up.

The book ,“The Pillsburys of Minnesota,” traces the founding family of The Pillsbury Company from their New England roots through their 100-year rivalry with the Washburn family, the founders of what would eventually become General Mills.

The Pillsbury Company was acquired by General Mills in 2001 in a move that united the competitors in a single company, based just miles away from their origins on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

In a humorous aside, George disclosed to the audience that the long-standing rivalry was actually warm and friendly – with relatives working for both firms and James Ford Bell, the future leader of General Mills, being his father’s best friend.

While the Pillsburys came to Minnesota in the boom years of the 1850s, their legacy of civic and corporate responsibility are woven in the fabric of the state’s culture today, said Sturdevant.

From the founding of the University of Minnesota, to the establishment of the Guthrie Theater, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, libraries, museums and even a state forest, the Pillsbury family’s charitable contributions run deep.

But even more impressive is the family’s impact on the social fabric of Minnesota, Sturdevant said.

“The most striking feature of the family was the relationship between corporate responsibility and civic duties,” she said. She added that the Pillsburys represent “bedrock Minnesota values” in their commitment to shared civic power and personal responsibility – “They really became a template for today’s corporate activities.”

“As corporate leaders, the Pillsburys pioneered such things as corporate profit sharing with employees and worked hard to ensure the community maintained an educated and prosperous middle class. They built their empire on hard work, treating people right, unpretentiousness and commitment to the common good,” writes Sturdevant.

In researching her book, Sturdevant spent hundreds of hours in the General Mills Archives, working with our team. She also interviewed members of the Pillsbury family from across the country, whom she says she grew to love.