1986 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You must get your formal education, somewhere, in some way. It’s the best path to that first job."
Born in 1923 in Pueblo, Colorado, William Spoor moved at a young age to Denver when his father lost his job due to the Depression. Spoor worked weekends and summers to help the family financially. He mowed lawns, shoveled snow, dug ditches, loaded watermelons, and worked as a plumber's helper.
Even though he had to work during much of his spare time, school was a priority in the Spoor family. "My parents understood the importance of a good education," he says. An excellent student and athlete, he received a full scholarship to Dartmouth College. Halfway through his freshman year, however, he volunteered for the 10th Mountain Division and served nearly four years in World War II. He returned to Dartmouth in 1946 and graduated in 1949 with a degree in history.
After a summer of selling insurance, Spoor took a sales management job with The Pillsbury Company in its export division in New York. Later, he became vice president of the division and eventually became vice president of Pillsbury's international division. When the company's president became ill in 1972, Spoor was promoted to chairman and chief executive officer. For the next 13 years, he moved the company through reorganization, divesting unprofitable subsidiaries; making solid acquisitions, including Green Giant, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and Totino's pizza; and accelerating Burger King with better management, more franchises, and more company stores. He intensified the company's research and development, revitalized its refrigerated dough business, and added Steak & Ale and Bennigan's to the company's restaurant portfolio.
Spoor believes that integrity is an essential character trait for managing a company successfully. To that, he would add commitment and a lot of energy. Speaking of his work as chairman and chief executive officer of Pillsbury, he says, "You must have a vision and a clear understanding of where you're going, what you're trying to accomplish, and how you are going to accomplish it."
In retirement since the mid-1980s, Spoor is involved with a program through Dartmouth College called Dialogues on Leadership. "I do not believe leadership can be taught," says Spoor, "but it can certainly be experienced and learned."