Margaret Rudkin (1897-1967)
Company: Pepperidge Farm
Size: $1.5 billion as of 2011; $40 million in sales when sold to Campbell Soup in 1961
Margaret Rudkin had enough on her hands in the 1930s: her family’s finances took a tumble after the stock market crash of 1929, and she was eagerly seeking ways to make a living from the large farmhouse property that was her home. She had already sold off horses, cars and other belongings. As if that wasn’t enough, her son’s asthma and food allergies made mealtimes a challenge, since he could not eat most commercially-processed foods. Along with a diet of fruits and vegetables, she created a recipe of stone-ground wheat bread that seemed to bolster her son’s health, so much so that the family doctor recommended it to other patients. Before long, Rudkin was filling orders for her bread, and by the end of 1939, she sold more than a million and a half loaves and found herself featured in Reader’s Digest. In 1940, she moved her business from her garage to its own factory. Although supplies of whole wheat led her to cut production during World War II, she was back in high gear once it ended. In the 1950s, inspired on her trips to Europe, she added cookies; and in 1961, she sold the business to Campbell Soup for $28 million, becoming the first woman to serve on Campbell’s board of directors.
“There isn’t a worthwhile thing in the world that can’t be accomplished with good hard work. You’ve got to want something first and then you have to go after it with all your heart and soul.”