By James R. Hagerty

As the chief executive of Archer Daniels Midland Co. for 27 years, Dwayne Andreas was known for hedging against political risks. Protecting a giant food-processing business that benefited from subsidies and international trade, he donated generously to Democrats and Republicans while cultivating friendships with foreign leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev and Fidel Castro.

One risk he couldn't shield himself from was criminal behavior inside his own company.

A price-fixing scandal in the mid-1990s sent his son, Michael, and two other former ADM executives to prison. That drama spawned a movie, "The Informant," starring Matt Damon. It also undermined the iron rule of one of America's most powerful corporate chiefs: Mr. Andreas stepped down as CEO in 1997 and as chairman two years later.

He died Wednesday at age 98 in a hospital in Decatur, Ill., a town suffused with the aromas of ADM's grain-processing plants.

Under Mr. Andreas, ADM grew immensely. When he retired in 1999, the company had 274 plants world-wide, up from 40, mostly in the Midwest, when he became CEO in 1970. Now based in Chicago, the company provides corn sweeteners for soft drinks, vegetable oil for deep fryers, and feed for livestock. Its sales totaled $67.7 billion in 2015.

A slight man standing 5-foot-4, he favored minimal disclosure of corporate information. "Getting information from me is like frisking a seal," he once told Wall Street analysts.

He could be impatient with outsiders' suggestions. At anannual meeting in 1995, he silenced a critic by turning off his microphone. "I'm chairman," he said. "I'll make the rules as I go along."

Mr. Andreas was a longtime friend of Hubert Humphrey, the godfather of Mr. Andreas's son. But Mr. Andreas also was generous with Richard Nixon, who defeated Mr. Humphrey for the presidency in 1968. The Watergate investigation found that Mr. Andreas had delivered $100,000 in $100 bills to President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods. According to an interview of Ms. Woods by the Watergate special prosecutor's office, the money was eventually returned to Mr. Andreas, who declined in 1995 to respond to a Wall Street Journal question about the incident.

Mr. Andreas was credited with having helped set up a 1985 meeting between Mr. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, and President Ronald Reagan. Yet he sometimes played down his political influence. At one public-policy gathering, Mr. Andreas quipped that he was "about the only person here that I haven't heard of before."

The fifth of six children, Dwayne Orville Andreas was born March 4, 1918, in Worthington, Minn., and grew up on a farm near Lisbon, Iowa, in a family that belonged to the Mennonite church. Along with raising cattle, pigs and chickens, the family ran a grain elevator. He enrolled at Wheaton College in Illinois but dropped out to help manage the family's expanding agricultural business, which made animal feed from soybeans.

In the mid-1960s, members of the Archer and Daniels families enlisted him as a minority shareholder in a then-struggling ADM. In building the company, Mr. Andreas shunned mega-acquisitions and large debts, focusing instead on finding privately owned processing plants and other assets he could buy at bargain prices.

In 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the company headquarters to seize records related to pricing of lysine, a livestock-feed additive, and other products. Mark Whitacre, an ADM executive, had secretly taped company meetings for federal investigators looking for evidence that ADM conspired with rivals to fix prices. ADM, in turn, accused Mr. Whitacre of stealing millions of dollars from the company and fired him.

ADM agreed in 1996 to pay $100 million in fines and to plead guilty to two criminal charges. In 1998, a federal jury found that Mr. Andreas's son Michael helped organize a cartel with four Asian companies. Also found guilty and sentenced to prison were Mr. Whitacre and another former ADM executive, Terrance S. Wilson.

Mr. Whitacre, the informant, said at one court hearing that "life in prison has actually been better than life at ADM."

Dwayne Andreas wasn't accused of wrongdoing in the price-fixing case. His "strongest commitment was feeding the hungry of the world," his family said in a statement after his death.

A golfer and amateur airplane pilot, he spent much of his retirement in Bal Harbour, Fla.

During a 1994 meeting of the American Sugar Alliance, he outlined his approach to life. A gazelle must run faster than the fastest lion or be eaten, he said. A lion needs to outrun the slowest gazelle or starve. "It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle," he said. "When the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

His wife, Dorothy Inez Andreas, died in 2012. He had three children, 10 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 18, 2016 10:14 ET (15:14 GMT)

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