In the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s C.W. Post was in a heated competition with the Kellogg brothers to produce dry cereal. Among other business ventures this was a priority in his already stressful life. Battling various ailments throughout his life he eventually succumbed to the stress and committed suicide leaving his 27-year-old daughter Marjorie Merriweather Post a vast fortune.
In today’s world we constantly hear about “Women in Business” as business owners or entrepreneurs, or on the other end of the spectrum as underrepresented in leadership roles and underestimated. Marjorie Merriweather Post was a visionary of her time, yet when I asked a variety of people if they knew who she was either people didn’t know, or simply thought she inherited a bunch of money from producing cereal…
Growing up Marjorie sat under board room tables when her father held business meetings, he taught her everything he knew about his business, and when he passed, she could’ve easily lived off her inheritance & sold whatever companies he had left. In 1914 less than 20% of females were college graduates, women didn’t have the right to vote, they didn’t own companies and certainly weren’t in high level management positions. Women worked in factories until they decided to leave and have babies and raise a family.
Marjorie was different. She was a visionary like her father and had the drive to become even more successful than her father. The Post company was struggling after C.W.’s death, and MMP decided she was going to re-invent the company. She held board meetings in her house and took full control of her father’s dream. She used her inheritance to acquire other companies such as Hellman’s, Log Cabin, JELLO, & Maxwell House. If she saw an opportunity, she pounced on it.
During this time a young outdoorsman & scientist named Clarence Birdseye left his family to live in Canada in temperatures up to 40 below. Frozen food was basically non-existent during this time & if it was it was disgusting, and not many people were interested. He figured out that if you freeze food fast, it would stay fresh, so he took his new finding back to the USA and started a company that built a freezing system using multi-plate freezing. While he had a great concept, he was only able to keep it local due to the fact refrigeration wasn’t really available in transportation yet, stores didn’t have freezers, only half the households in the 1920’s had electricity and he was running out of cash.
Word travelled to MMP and she took a tour of his factory. Long story short, she told him to name a price, purchased Birdseye from him for $22 million dollars on the spot, ($300 million in today’s economy), kept him on board, and was then investigated by the senate and ridiculed by her peers for spending so much money. When asked why she made such a ridiculous purchase – and a huge gamble when her company was already successful – she casually answered she purchased all 200 patents and frozen food is the way of the future. **insert mike drop here**
She took Birdseye and made it a successful NATIONAL business from coast to coast, and today it is known Internationally. Shortly after her Birdseye purchase, she renamed her company “General Foods.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it…
Unfortunately, not many people know her story, and if you research all of the companies that she has touched throughout the years, you won’t even see her mentioned. Next time you grab some syrup for your pancakes or frozen green beans for dinner, know that a legendary woman played a vital role in getting that to your kitchen. Marjorie Merriweather Post was one of the most successful women business tycoons of her day and decades ahead of her time. She is an iconic leader that woman all over the world can look up to.