Born in April 28, 1907 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, son of a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. He entered University of Michigan earrning a bachelor's degree summa cum laude, and he completed studies for a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He practiced law with three leading firms in Manhattan for almost a decade, and then he served eight years as the general counsel and vice-president of the Pan American Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of Indiana. An expert in antitrust issues and international negotiations, he was later appointed as the general counsel and vice president of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, before joining United Fruit.
In 1960 Sunderland was appointed as president of United Fruit. When he took over the company, United Fruit's profits had been shrinking for nearly a decade and its stock value had tumbled from $7.54 to $1.39 a share. The company had also faced political problems in Central America and the Caribbean such as the general strike in Honduras, the attempts for nationalization by Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and the expropriation of its sugar properties in Cuba by Fidel Castro. Additionally, the company was dealing with the growing competition of the Ecuadorian exporters, who produced the fruit at a much lower cost than United Fruit, Standard Fruit's more productive plantations, and the spread of the so-called "Panama Disease" in its Central American plantations which was destroying a good amount of the trees. The analyses of Moody's Investors Service of the company's prospects had been pessimistic for several years in a row.
In his first letter to the shareholders Sunderland announced a long-range readjustment program. The main transformations included a switch from the Gros Michel to Cavendish varieties, a growing reliance on contract producers, an increase in purchases from Ecuador, and a general diversification of operations. The reason why he wanted to change from Gros Michel to Cavendish was because the Cavendish bananas were resistant to the Panama Disease, while the Gros Michel were not. In fact, Standard Fruit was exporting mainly Cavendish bananas by then. The diversification program came in the form of investment in freeze-dried foods and he pushed the marketability of the company's products by reviving the Chiquita banana trademark.
Sunderland's aggressive transformations brought results to United Fruit. The company got rid of many of its production structure in its tropical divisions selling them to local producers. In this way, it decreased the risks of future labor and political problems with the locals. Moody's analyses reacted positively, as well as the stockmarket. The Cavendish bananas increased the plantations' productivity dramatically and the Panama Disease problem was eliminated. Finally, Chiquita became into a world-wide recognize brand. With no doubt, Sunderland's presidency revived a troubled United Fruit.
Sunderland left United Fruit in 1968. He retired to Phoenix and joined the law firm of Snell & Wilmer, practicing for 10 years. He was married to Mary Louise Allyn, had three daughters and two grandchildren.
Bibliography: "T.E. Sunderland, 83; Ran United Fruit", New York Times, March 4, 1991; ARTHUR, Henry, James HOUCK, & George BECKFORD, Tropical Agribusiness Structures and Adjustments: Bananas (Boston: Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1968); BUCHELI, Marcelo, "United Fruit in Latin America: Business Strategies in a Changing Environment, 1899-1970" in STRIFFLER, Steve & Mark MOEBERG (eds.), Bananas, Conflict, and Capitalism (Currently under review by Duke University Press).
© united fruit historical society, 2001
information contained in this website is absolutely free. However, we
request users to quote this website as their source when using material
©united fruit historical society, 2001-2006