Former Kraft, Philip Morris Leader Miles Dies

Architect of merger, "Marlboro Friday" passes away at 74

Michael Miles

Michael Miles

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Michael A. Miles, former president and CEO of Kraft Inc. and chairman and CEO of Philip Morris Inc., died Nov. 10 at his home in Lake Forest, Ill., at age 74. He had been in declining health over the past several months.

Miles was a renowned consumer marketer who engineered a turnaround at KFC and led Kraft, Inc. before its merger with Philip Morris. He made the decisive price reductions to reverse share losses to generic cigarettes on what became known as "Marlboro Friday."

He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1961 and immediately joined Leo Burnett, the Chicago advertising agency. He was hired away by client Kentucky Fried Chicken as vice president of marketing in 1971 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. KFC regained its momentum and today is the world's leading chicken restaurant chain.

In 1983, he joined Dart and Kraft in Chicago and was president of Kraft when it was acquired by Philip Morris in 1988. He became chairman and CEO of Philip Morris in 1991, the first leader of the company who was a nonsmoker.

At the time many consumer brands were losing share to private-label products in a recessionary economy. On April 2, 1993, Philip Morris announced a price cut of 20% on Marlboro cigarettes, at that time ranked as one of the world's most valuable brands, to stem share losses. Shares of Philip Morris and other consumer goods companies tumbled on Marlboro Friday as observers feared for the future of big consumer brands. Miles determination to reverse the share losses paid off and over the intervening 20 years, those same brands have become even more popular globally.

"We were saddened to learn of the passing of former Kraft president and CEO Michael Miles," Tony Vernon, CEO of Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft, said in a statement. "Michael joined Kraft in 1982 and was named president and CEO of the company in 1986. He led the company during its acquisition by Philip Morris in 1989, which at the time was one of the largest M&A deals ever. A longtime food industry and advertising agency executive, Michael was well renowned for his marketing savvy and ability to recognize and develop talent. His influence in the industry spanned decades as members of his team went on to become CEOs and general managers at leading consumer packaged goods companies, advertising agencies and Kraft itself. Michael has left a great legacy at Kraft and in our industry, and we continue to honor his commitment to developing the talent of tomorrow. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Miles family."

Miles was renowned for his marketing savvy and his ability to recognize and develop talent. A 2004 Harvard Business Review article detailed the management development approach he implemented at Kraft and the leaders it produced, including the CEOs of Kraft, Gillette, Campbell Soup, Quaker Oats, Mattel, Young & Rubicam, and Hershey.

Following his 1994 retirement from Philip Morris he served as a director on a number of corporate boards, including Dell Computer, Time-Warner, Sears, Allstate, American Airlines, and Morgan Stanley. He was active with Junior Achievement and a Trustee of Northwestern University.

Miles is survived by his wife of 52 years, Pamela, his sister Margaret, two sons and five grandsons.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to either The Salvation Army or Junior Achievement USA. Funeral Services will be private.