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John Marshall Richman 1927-2017

John M. Richman, the former CEO of Kraft, Inc who oversaw the landmark 1988 merger of Kraft with Phillip Morris, died on Saturday in West Palm Beach after a brief illness. He was 89.

The $13.1 billion transaction was at the time the second-largest merger in US history and created the world's biggest consumer products company. It was concluded only after Mr. Richman and the Kraft board rejected the original price and began making plans to take the company private. The final deal came as a result of intensive, late-night negotiations at an airport hotel between Mr. Richman and Philip Morris CEO Hamish Maxwell, and was concluded at a price almost 18% above than the original offer. 

Following the merger, Mr. Richman served on the Phillip Morris board of directors for six years, where he helped oversee the company's continued diversification into the food and beverage business. 

John Marshall Richman was born in New York City on November 9, 1927, the son of Arthur Richman, a playwright who wrote The Awful Truth among other works, and Madeline Marshall, a stage actress. Growing up in New York City, he said he never remembered a time when he did not work. He attended the Browning School and Yale University, both on scholarship, and then enrolled in Harvard Law School in Cambridge, where he met his wife-to-be Priscilla Frary. They were married in 1951.

Mr. Richman's first job out of law school was with Leve, Hecht, Hadfield & McAlipin, a law firm whose largest client was J. Paul Getty. In 1952, he joined National Dairy Products, a precursor to Kraft Foods, as an attorney. He steadily rose within the company's legal department, eventually becoming Kraft general counsel in 1973. He was named Chairman and CEO in 1979, despite a legal background that was an unconventional career path to the top of a consumer products company.

Almost immediately after becoming Kraft CEO, Mr. Richman began an aggressive diversification campaign, most notably through the merger in 1980 with Dart Industries, a transaction that created a $9 billion conglomerate and the 27th largest corporation in America at the time. 

Throughout his career, Mr. Richman was sought after for his strategic business counsel. He served as a director of several public and private corporations, including Exxon Corporation, USX (formerly US Steel), Bank of America, Continental Bank and R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company. 

He served at the request of President Ronald Reagan as Co-Chairman of Americans for Tax Reform, for the purpose of supporting the Tax Reform Act of 1985, and was also appointed by President Reagan to serve on the Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations.

He was equally engaged in civic and cultural affairs, serving on the executive committee of the Norton Museum in Palm Beach as well as Chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1991 to 1995, trustee of Northwestern University and director on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Mr. Richman was a dedicated family man and always quick to acknowledge his wife's role as a partner in his career success. In reflecting on Philip Morris's hostile offer, he once said, "the first thing I did after I learned they were after our company was assemble my team: my chief financial officer, my corporate strategist and my investment banker. Then I called my wife."

Mr. Richman is survived by his wife Priscilla, two daughters Catherine and Diana, and five grandchildren, Kate, Jenny, Alec, Paul and Mark. Services have been held.

Posted on February 1, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson
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