Former Medtronic and Pillsbury executive Winston Wallin, who worked his way from a regional grain buyer to a nationally recognized business leader and philanthropist, died Monday after a struggle with cancer. He was 84.
Wallin's career with Pillsbury began 62 years ago when he was hired as a grain buyer. He rose through the ranks and eventually served as Pillsbury's president and chief operating officer before being recruited to lead Medtronic in 1985. He retired as CEO of the medical device maker six years later and turned his attention to philanthropy.
Former Pillsbury executive George Pillsbury, reached Monday, fondly recalled his friend and former colleague.
"I can't think of anybody that I have more respect for than Mr. Wallin," Pillsbury said. "Everywhere he's been, he's done an outstanding job and won tremendous respect."
Pillsbury recalled his first meeting with the young grain buyer several decades ago.
"I was told by our grain buyer that I better go out and talk to him about his future with Pillsbury, and I did immediately, and fortunately he stayed," Pillsbury said.
He said Wallin will be remembered for his kind manner and his philanthropic work.
"I've never heard anybody that worked for him or with him or over him that didn't have the same respect that I have right now," Pillsbury said. "He truly was a remarkable guy."
Medtronic chairman and CEO William A. Hawkins III shared his admiration for Wallin and his condolences to his family, in a statement released Monday.
"We are saddened to learn of Win's passing and our thoughts and prayers are with the Wallin family as they grieve the loss and celebrate the life of a dedicated family man and community leader," said Medtronic chairman and CEO William A. Hawkins III, in a statement Monday.
Hawkins said Wallins played a critical role in strengthening the company.
"Win's legacy is part of the very heart of Medtronic. Without his contributions, Medtronic would not be what it is today."
Wallin retired as Medtronic CEO in 1991 and founded Wallin Education Partners, an organization that partnered with the Medtronic Foundation's Scholars program. The program has awarded more than 3,000 scholarships and more than $25 million to assist low-income students in metro area high schools.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office released a statement Monday afternoon, upon learning of Wallin's death.
"The world lost one of its pioneers today," the statement said. "Win Wallin saved lives, created jobs and helped humanity in immeasurable ways. He will be greatly missed."
Wallin is survived by his wife and children.