Arnold Donald possesses two rare, equally enviable and diametrically opposed gifts. He can foresee, prepare for, and ultimately manifest an unlikely and successful future, and he can successfully navigate utterly unforeseeable crises with grace and aplomb. Someone with his pedigree could point to more than one example of displaying both of these gifts, but the basics must be told.
A son of parents (Hilda Aline Melancon Donald and Warren Joseph Donald Sr.) who had never completed a high school education in a segregated New Orleans, as a Black teenager he declared that he would one day become a general manager at a Fortune 50 science-based global company. Then he did just that, working his way up from intern to many years of leadership positions at Monsanto Company, now Bayer. In more than 20 years at Monsanto he served as a corporate senior vice-president, president of the consumer and nutrition sector, and president of the agricultural sector (the company’s most profitable).
And, as a longtime board member of Carnival Corporation, in 2013 he moved from the consultant role of board oversight to operations chief as president and CEO just in time for the
COVID-19 pandemic, which might as well have been designed to destroy the cruise industry, where people congregate closely in indoor spaces for lengthy vacations (with the occasional foray onto deck and to the shore).
As someone much better known in the world's board rooms than its living rooms, Donald suddenly found himself in the global news spotlight in his navigation of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, through the pandemic, given that health protocols intended to protect the public also threatened to strangle his company and its entire industry.
Not that someone with a compassionate and ultimately global outlook like Donald would take something like a pandemic personally, but it was quite a gut punch for someone who had been succeeding spectacularly in his new role. During Donald’s tenure as CEO, Carnival’s stock price had nearly doubled, reaching an all-time high of $72.70 per share in January 2018, a moment in time when “COVID” was meaningless and pandemics a subject for history books.
It’s difficult to count how many corporate boards Donald was on when he was steering Carnival through the public health crisis. From leadership roles at Monsanto, he assumed the top job of chairman of Merisant Company, a company he helped form that manufactures global sweetener brands such as Equal and Canderel. Given that sugar substitutes are attractive options for diabetics, among others, it makes sense that he moved on to president and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, the world’s largest charitable funder of diabetes research.
Immediately before taking the helm at Carnival, he served as president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, a professional network and leadership forum for African- American executives of Fortune 500 companies. For this dizzying array of accomplishments, Donald, who turned 68 on December 17, will be honored as the Lifetime Achiever in Business at the St. Louis American Foundation’s 2023 Salute to Excellence in Business awards and networking luncheon on Thursday, February 16.
“St. Louis is fortunate to have had for so many years someone like Arnold Donald who has excelled as a global corporate leader and community servant,” said Donald M. Suggs, president of the St. Louis American Foundation.
Washington University in St. Louis first brought Donald to St. Louis in 1975 as a student in its Dual Degree Engineering Program. That was part of his long preparation for becoming the leader of a Fortune 50 science-based global company, since he reckoned that pursuing two distinct degrees would improve his chances of acceptance to an elite-level business program. That became manifest with his acceptance into the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he earned an M.B.A. in finance and international business while also starting his long climb at Monsanto Company.
Donald continues to serve his alma mater as a member of the Washington University Board of Trustees since 2011. He has served even longer (since 1995) on the Board of Trustees of another alma mater, Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. His other current board posts span the elite local non-profit (Missouri Botanical Garden) and global corporate (Bank of America Corporation) sectors. He has been married for nearly 50 years to Hazel Alethea Roberts, whom he met touring the campus of Carleton College before attending the school. They are parents of two daughters, Radiah Alethea and Alicia Aline, and one son, Stephen Zachary. They also have six grandchildren. In addition to St. Louis, the Donalds also call Miami home.
Keith Alper, chairman and CEO of The Nitrous Effect, a group of marketing agencies, has known Donald for over 25 years, first, as fellow members of Young Presidents Organization and by serving Donald as a client.
“The amazing thing about Arnold is his vast and rich experience, knowledge, and global network. I always admired that Arnold would be so comfortable and take time for everyone from a waiter on a ship to a global leader,” Alper said.
“He is truly interested in the people he meets. He is an incredibly smart, dynamic, and successful business leader who has had an extremely high profile as a Fortune 500 CEO, yet he is very approachable. He cares deeply about the people and communities where he lives and works, and he uses his time and talents to make a difference.”