Ben Hill Griffin III (1942)
Ben Hill Griffin, Inc.
Citrus World, Inc.
Florida Citrus Processors
Ben Hill Griffin III was born in Frostproof on March 3, 1942 to Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. and his wife, Frances. One of five children, he was the only boy and at nine years old, Griffin was in the nursery – the citrus nursery – hoeing and sprouting nursery trees. He spent his holidays and summers either in the groves or at the ranch working under the watchful eye of his father.
He attended Frostproof High School, where he ran track and played guard on the basketball team and center linebacker on the football team, earning an Honorable Mention for All State as a center linebacker. Griffin showed leadership at an early age, and was voted President of his class each year of high school. He was selected to attend Boys’ State, where he was elected Commissioner of Agriculture, and while a Boy Scout, he went to England for the BSA World Scout Jubilee. Upon graduation from high school, his dad gave him a hundred shares of Alico stock – a gift that would prove an important part of his future, because by 2004 Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. owned approximately fifty percent of the company.
He went on to attend the University of Florida and then to Central Florida Community College, where he earned his AA degree before coming back home. At age 21, he spent a year at the Lake Alfred Experiment Station going through each department to get exposure to the various facets of the industry. While there, he worked under two other Hall of Fame members, Dr. Robert Koo and Dr. Bill Grierson. Then it was into the family business, where he worked under various managers learning the ropes: One and a half years in the fertilizer division; three years in the harvesting division; and two years each in the processing and sales divisions. He often said it was almost harder being a son than an employee, because his father could switch hats in the space of a heartbeat! Eventually, his father welcomed him into the company, naming him President and COO of Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. Griffin’s only son, Hill, who is now carrying on the family legacy as a board member of Citrus World and President and COO of Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. Hill had to work his way through the company first, in keeping with the same training that his father was given.
Griffin bought his first shares in Citrus World in 1990, and has been a member there for over 20 years – as well as Citrus World’s largest supplier of fruit. Steve Caruso noted that Citrus World became a better company because of Ben Hill’s involvement, due to the fact that “Ben Hill was always known to ask a tough question and the Staff would prepare for meetings by thinking what question he was possibly going to ask!”
From 1990 to 2004, Griffin was president and chairman of the board of Alico, Inc. During that time, the company’s assets hit an all-time record of $176.9 million. He also served as chair and CEO of Orange-Co, Inc., a public entity that owned citrus groves and a juice processing plant. When you combine those two entities with Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., Griffin was responsible for the care and marketing of over 40,000 acres of citrus for over 10 years!
Griffin was elected to numerous boards and served in leadership roles at the majority of them – often during turbulent times. He was President of Seald Sweet at a time when they were selling fifty percent of the fresh grapefruit on the market, and President of the Florida Citrus Packers when they were working on changing international regulations to open up new markets for Florida citrus. He was President of the Florida Citrus Processors and faced numerous issues on the processing side, such as the Brix ratio and out of state inspection to make outside packers adhere to juice quality standards. Griffin was Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission when the first ‘false’ citrus canker outbreak occurred – flying to New York to try to control the media damage when headlines were “Citrus Industry Burning Trees” – and helped lead the fight to brand processed products with the Florida symbol. He is a former board member of the Citrus Associates of the New York Cotton Exchange and the National Juice Products Association, of which he was also Vice President; a past member of the Executive Committee of the Florida Ag Council and a director of the Florida Council of 100; Board Member and Past Chairman of the Florida Land Council and the Polk County Zoning Board of Adjustment and a board member of Tax Watch and the University of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University Foundations. No matter how busy Griffin was, he always took time to educate the media and legislators on the importance of agriculture to the state of Florida.
Griffin has been a staunch advocate for Florida citrus through very difficult times, facing challenges aggressively and remaining optimistic that the industry could prevail over the myriad of problems it has faced over the last decade. Nowhere is that more evident than in his recent plantings along Highway 27 near Frostproof, and his quiet strength and leadership has encouraged other growers to do the same. A strong supporter of IFAS, he has embraced the importance of research as a means to find solutions to the diseases now facing the industry, while at the same time encouraging discussions about best practices in the interim. However, he is protective of the best use of those funds to be successful in ultimately controlling the problems and not to be wasteful.
A major contributor to education and athletics, Griffin made the largest land donation on record, approximately 1,000 acres, to house Florida’s tenth university, Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers. In appreciation, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners renamed Tree Line Blvd. to Ben Hill Griffin Parkway in his honor. On top of that, he directed Alico to donate $5 million to found the Alico Arena at the university. He donated land in Immokalee to establish the IFAS training center. He has established endowments and scholarships at ten schools and several high schools, including not only the University of Florida, but Bethune Cookman, Eckerd, Stetson, Warner, Webber, South Florida and Polk Community Colleges and here at Florida Southern – and adds to them annually. He recently provided half of the funding for the University of Florida’s athletic training facility, which opened last fall. In addition, he has made significant contributions to many other organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Heart of Florida Girl Scouts, and the FFA Leadership Lodge, promoting agriculture to future generations through 4-H, FFA and Youth Fairs.
Unsurprisingly, Griffin has received numerous awards, including the University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Athletic Hall of Fame Award; the FFA Distinguished Service Award and the John T. Lesley Award of Excellence.
At a time when the industry has been faced with so many daunting challenges that it has caused the closure of numerous citrus entities, Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. has expanded, diversified and grown under the intelligent and comprehensive direction of a man who has always kept the welfare of the entire state at the forefront of his mind. His generosity, goodwill and business acumen have benefited and educated countless people – both in and out of the agricultural arena and will leave a legacy that will keep on giving far into the future. Florida Gulf Coast University President Bill Merwin said it best: “He is that rare breed of visionary who not only dreams great things, but who also works tirelessly to ensure that the dreams are realized.”