SEATTLE – Forrest E. Mars Jr., who helped shape Mars Inc. into a multi-billion dollar confectionary empire with beloved brands such as M&M’s and Snickers bars, has died. He was 84.
The retired Mars co-president died Tuesday in Seattle of complications following a heart attack, the company said. He was living in Sheridan, Wyoming, at the time of his death.
With his brother and sister in 1973, Mars inherited the company from their father Forrest E. Mars Sr. Their grandfather started the company more than a century ago, making and selling butter cream candy from his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington.
From the time Mars became co-president with his brother John in 1975 and until his retirement 1999, he helped grow the company into a global enterprise selling diverse products including Pedigree pet food, Skittles candy, Uncle Ben’s Rice and Flavia beverage. He later served as a board member until 2006.
“Forrest was a great inspiration to all of us at Mars,” CEO Grant F. Reid said in a statement. “He was instrumental in building our business, while remaining committed to the founding principles of the Company.”
Mars joined the company in 1959 as a financial staff officer for M&M Candies. He managed a confectionary factory in The Netherlands and directed Mars France before returning to McLean, Virginia in 1970 to serve as the company’s vice-president.
After taking over control from their father as co-presidents, the brothers increased annual sales from $1 billion to $35 billion and expanded its reach in Europe, Australia and Japan and later into other countries such as China and Russia, the company said.
Mars and his siblings also codified a set of five principles — including creating shared mutual benefits for everyone — that still guide the family business of more than 80,000 employees in 78 countries.
Born in 1931 in Oak Park, Illinois, Mars attended Fay and Hotchkiss private schools. He earned his bachelor’s degree in science from Yale University in 1953, and a master’s in business administration from New York University School of Business in 1958.
After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, he started his career an accountant in 1955.
A philanthropist, he supported projects focused on environmental preservation and American history, including the Brinton Museum of Western and American Indian Art in Big Horn, Wyoming.
He was recognized for his civic leadership and contributions over the years, including earning the distinction of chevalier, or knight, in France’s National Order of the Legion of Honour.
Mars, who was intensely private, is survived by his wife, four children and many other relatives.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Forrest E. Mars Sr.