Former Sunkist Growers CEO Russell Hanlin dies at 84

Former Sunkist Growers CEO Russell Hanlin dies at 84
Russell Hanlin, left, and then-Sunkist Chief Executive Roy Utke, right, in the mid-1970s. Hanlin, who later took over for Utke, died last week. (Hanlin family)

Russell Hanlin Sr., who headed Southern California citrus cooperative Sunkist Growers for 20 years and served on several presidential commissions, has died at the age of 84.

Hanlin died April 11 at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena following a year-long battle with cancer, his daughter, Amy Hanlin-Valencia, said.


Born Nov. 18, 1932, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Hanlin moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was young, and in 1951 he got his first job as a clerk in the Sunkist mail room.

Hanlin left to serve in the Army during the Korean War, but returned to Sunkist in 1955. He worked there for decades, rising to become chief executive and leading the cooperative to its first $1-billion sales year. In 1998, following his retirement, he was named president emeritus.

His daughter described Hanlin as "an American success story" and a compassionate boss and father, who instilled a hard work ethic into his children — herself and his two sons: John, an insurance executive, and Russell, the current Sunkist chief executive.

"He was the best dad, husband, grandfather that you could ever wish for," said Hanlin-Valencia, who is a senior account executive at an apparel trade publication. "He was everyone's hero."

Founded in 1893, Sunkist today comprises thousands of orange, lemon and other citrus growers in California and Arizona. The cooperative was based in Los Angeles for more than 120 years, first in downtown Los Angeles, then in Sherman Oaks. In 2014, the headquarters moved to Valencia.

In addition to his role at Sunkist, Hanlin was active in the community. He was on the board of trustees for Woodbury University in Burbank and was chair for the Old Pasadena Management District, a nonprofit that promotes Old Town Pasadena.

He also served on the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations under presidents Carter and Reagan, the President's Export Council under Reagan and the President's Commission on Executive Exchange under President George H. W. Bush.

The emperor of Japan even bestowed Hanlin with the the Order of the Rising Sun for his commitment to trade with the country, Sunkist said.

Hanlin is survived by his wife, Norma; sons Russell and John; daughter, Amy; five grandchildren and one great grandson.

One of those grandchildren, Mia, interviewed Hanlin shortly before he died, in an effort to preserve his memory. In the video interview, he described his family as his biggest joy and imparted some advice for his 16-year-old grandchild.

"You should be respectful, supportive, and all of those kind of things," he said, according to a transcript provided by the family. "If you are intelligent and you can communicate with other human beings and they like you, you will be a success!"

Follow me @khouriandrew on Twitter