Leadership

Tootsie Roll Appoints 83-Year-Old Widow as CEO; Sale Rumors Swirl

Tootsie Roll Appoints 83-Year-Old Widow as CEO; Sale Rumors Swirl
Image credit: University of Chicago
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Melvin Gordon, the 95-year-old CEO of Tootsie Roll, passed away on Tuesday after more than 50 years at the company’s helm, igniting interest in a potential sale as Gordon’s 83-year-old wife, Ellen, was announced as his successor.

Founded in 1896, the Gordon family inherited control of Tootsie Roll from Ellen’s father, and, over the years, purchased a suite of similarly beloved candy brands, including Charms Blow Pops, Charleston Chew, Junior Mints and Dots. In its latest earnings release, the Chicago-based company had reported a profit of $45 million on revenue of $402 million for the first nine months of 2014.

Gordon, who was the oldest chief executive of any company listed on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq Stock Market, was notorious for running Tootsie Roll with an iron fist.

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Though publicly traded, the Gordon family controls the company via majority ownership of its class B stock -- shares of which are worth 10 votes to the common stock’s one vote. And according to a Wall Street Journal profile in 2012, the company “shuns journalists, refuses to hold quarterly earnings calls and issues crookedly-scanned PDFs for its earnings releases.” 

While Tootsie Roll said that Ellen Gordon’s appointment was in accordance with a succession plan, that plan has not been made public. The couple has four daughters -- one of whom, Karen Gordon Mills, served as administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2009 to 2013.

Following news of Gordon’s death, shares in the company surged on speculation that a potential sale could be imminent. Tootsie Roll, which boasts a $2 billion valuation, could be a delectable target for Berkshire Hathaway, Hershey, Mars or Nestle, according to Bloomberg, though the company’s treasurer, Barry Bowen, told the outlet that “Mrs. Gordon always felt our best prospects were to remain independent.”

Related: Marathon Runners Make Better CEOs, Study Finds

Edition: December 2016

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