Tootsie Roll’s 95-year-old CEO Melvin Gordon dies, marking the end of a candy era

January 21, 2015, 6:33 PM UTC
Ellen and Melvin Gordon have made possible a $25 million donation for the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Center for Integrative Science at the University of Chicago.
Courtesy of the University of Chicago News Office

Tootsie Roll Industry’s long-time CEO Melvin Gordon died Tuesday at the age of 95 after a brief illness, ending his reign as one of the oldest leaders of a publicly-traded company.

The company’s board named Gordon’s wife Ellen Gordon, currently president and chief operating officer, as CEO — part of an existing succession plan, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It is with great sadness that we announce today the passing of Melvin — we will all miss him greatly,” Mrs. Gordon said in a statement. “Melvin’s life represented the very highest values in business, wisdom, generosity, and integrity.”

Mr. Gordon, known for his highly private and reclusive ways, ran Tootsie Roll (TR) for 53 years, warding off competition and consolidation in the candy industry over the past several decades. Mrs. Gordon, his wife of 65 years, will also take over the her late husband’s role as chairman of the board.

The couple closely guarded publicly-traded Tootsie Roll, maker of namesake Tootsie Rolls, Junior Mints and Dots. They have granted extremely few interviews over the years, hold no quarterly earnings calls with analysts and release few details in the company’s mandated filings.

Tootsie Roll’s shares rose sharply on the news of Gordon’s passing, suggesting investor speculation that the company could soon be acquired.

Candy mergers heated up around 2008 as Mars Inc. snapped up Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., followed by Kraft’s purchase of Cadbury in 2010. Throughout that period, the 118-year-old company has remained fiercely independent, helped by the fact that company insiders control the majority of the firm. Over 50% of Tootsie Roll shares are owned by the Gordons and a nephew.

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