Michael Miles, Who Led Kraft and Philip Morris, Dies at 74

Helped Lead Kraft Through $13 Billion Merger

By Published on .

Michael A. Miles, the former chairman and CEO of Kraft Inc. and of Philip Morris Cos., died Sunday at his home in Lake Forest. He was 74 and had been in declining health for several months, according to Wenban Funeral Home Ltd. in the northern suburbs.

Mr. Miles was a well-traveled executive in the food and consumer products industries who helped lead Kraft through its $13-billion merger in 1988 with tobacco and beverage maker Philip Morris, then among the biggest M&A deals ever.

The first non-smoker to head Philip Morris, he triggered what became "Marlboro Friday" in 1993 by ordering a 20% cut in the price of the famous brand in an effort to regain marketshare lost to generic competitors. Consumer product stocks swooned on the news.

A year later Mr. Miles was out of his job, replaced by two veteran tobacco executives as stockholders clamored for better performance (shares had fallen 42% in less than two years) and regulators scrutinized the tobacco industry.

Along with some big shareholders, Mr. Miles had proposed splitting food and tobacco operations, but he resigned after directors rejected the idea. He later became a special limited partner with private equity firm Forstmann Little & Co. and served on the boards of Dell Computer, Time-Warner, Sears, Allstate, American Airlines, and Morgan Stanley.

The Washington, D.C., native spent a decade at ad agency Leo Burnett after graduating in 1961 from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He was hired away by client Kentucky Fried Chicken as vice president of marketing and held a number of roles at parent company Heublein Inc. before returning to KFC as president in 1977.

"There he orchestrated a turnaround of the struggling chain, rebuilding relations with founder Colonel Harlan Sanders and restoring trust with franchisees," the Miles family said.

In 1983, Mr. Miles joined what was then Dart and Kraft, where he became president and COO in 1985. After the Philip Morris merger, he was named chairman and CEO of Kraft and then, in 1991, chairman and CEO of Philip Morris.

Funeral Services will be private.


Steven Strahler is a reporter at Crain's Chicago Business, where this article originally appeared.

Most Popular
In this article: