A tribute to Don MacLeod

Don MacLeod

Don MacLeod will retire as Chairman of the board of Illovo Sugar at the group’s annual general meeting this year after 44 years in the sugar industry, of which he says 42 years were “with Illovo”. From industrial affairs/accountant for the SA Sugar Millers’ Association (1971) he moved to the Illovo Sugar Estates group in 1973 where he was group financial manager at the time of its takeover by CG Smith Sugar in 1977, when he became this company’s investigations accountant. When in 1994 CG Smith Sugar became Illovo Sugar, it was a personal milestone for Don who could thereafter claim to have been an “Illovo” employee since 1973.  

Don matriculated at Michaelhouse and completed his university education at both Natal and Oxford Universities. He joined the sugar industry because he “felt it was the major industry in Natal”. In the new company his progress after 1977 was steady – industrial affairs director in 1983, finance director in 1984 and Managing Director in 1992 when, he recalls, “we were faced with the worst drought in 100 years followed by the second worst in a hundred years”. Illovo took advantage of this by dismantling the Illovo mill to move it to Eston in the mid-nineties, marking the end of the historic mill though its name is perpetuated in that of the group.

Don’s abilities were recognised in the industry during these years. He was appointed as a member of the Council of the Sugar Millers’ Association in 1982 and also served on the board of Sugar Transport Services Proprietary Limited and as Chairman of the South African Sugar Association and South African Sugar Millers’ Association.

An all-round sportsman, Don has enjoyed cricket, road running, tennis, golf and more recently, social cycling. He played cricket for Natal Schools, captained Natal University and played provincial cricket for Natal as an all-rounder, was president of the Durban and District Union and in 1991 was chosen to lead the new Natal Cricket Union. As member of the United Cricket Board of South Africa he was part of the ground-breaking tour of India in 1991 which marked this country’s re-entry into the international cricket scene, he described it at the time as “a fantastic experience which happens only once in a lifetime”. Today he is honorary life vice president of Natal Cricket.

As a serious runner – a “Master” in the road-running rankings – he has taken part in more than 100 ultra-marathons and marathons, including silver medals in both the Comrades and Two Oceans marathons, and has competed in the Mont-Aux-Sources 50 km Challenge, having entered his first road race in 1965 at the age of 18 while still at school. He is a strong supporter of Illovo’s culture of participation in sporting events, because “running and cycling are great sports in terms of the people involved – it includes all ages, both sexes and all colours and to have people partaking in healthy exercise is super”.

Don’s 17 years as Illovo Sugar’s Managing Director came to an end in 2009 when he retired as MD but remained on the board as a non-executive director and deputy chairman. During those years the company experienced exponential growth due to various landmark events following the watershed year 1994 when its name was changed to Illovo Sugar. These events included the adoption of the group’s Strategic Intent in 1995, when Illovo moved from being a South African company to an African business focused on sugar and downstream. The purchase of a controlling stake in Maragra came next, then the major acquisition which changed the group – buying the Lonrho Sugar group. Of the latter he says: “It gave us the required footprint and mass in Africa to change the whole group’s future and in one step obtain people and operations with expertise of operating outside South Africa.” Aside from the acquisition of Kilombero Sugar Company in 1998, major events in the new century included the acquisition and expansion of Zambia Sugar and the purchase of a controlling interest in Illovo by Associated British Foods in 2006. In all these events, Don was a major player.

Don’s term as deputy chairman continued until 2011, when he was appointed Chairman of the board of Illovo Sugar. The next four years continued to be eventful for the company, culminating in the recent announcement of another major expansion in Zambia. Now aged 68, Don has decided to bring to an end his involvement in the running of the group to which he has devoted his working life. His knowledge and understanding of the nuts and bolts that keep Illovo on its chosen track will be missed, but no doubt his ability and energies will benefit those other interests which have played such an important part in his life. Illovo’s directors, management, staff and other stakeholders, wish him and Stephanie and his family, a happy, healthy and active retirement. 


Date: Wed, 15 July

Time: 14:00

Venue: Illovo Sugar Park

Notice of AGM


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