Acadiana Business

Paul McIlhenny dies at 68

by Leslie Turk

The McIhenny Company CEO died Saturday at his home in New Orleans of an apparent heart attack.

The Times-Picayune reported Saturday afternoon that 68-year-old Paul McIlhenny, who for 14 years headed the family-owned company that makes Tabasco pepper sauce, died earlier Saturday at his New Orleans home, apparently of a heart attack.

A fifth generation McIlhenny and the sixth to serve as president since the company was founded, Paul led an expansion of the Avery Island pepper manufacturing operation that labels its pepper sauce in 22 languages and is sold to more than 160 countries worldwide. He was behind the push to market the Tabasco label on T-shirts, aprons, neckties, teddy bears and computer screensavers, as well as seven varieties of hot sauce, the T-P reported. McIlhenny Company ranked No. 14 on ABiz's list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana last year with an estimated $173 million in 2011 revenues.

Paul became the company's president in 1998 and was named chief executive officer two years later. At his death, he was both CEO chairman of the board of directors, but a cousin, Anthony "Tony" Simmons, was named president last year, the paper noted.

According to the T-P:

Mr. McIlhenny entered the family business in 1967, shortly after earning a degree in political science at the University of the South in Tennessee.

Despite his passion for all things Louisiana, Mr. McIlhenny was born in Houston in 1944, along with a twin sister, Sara, because their mother was staying there with her mother while the children's father was in the military during World War II, said his daughter Barbara McIlhenny Fitz-Hugh.

Mr. McIlhenny grew up in New Orleans and spent much of his childhood shuttling between New Orleans and the family's compound on Avery Island. ...
Survivors include his wife, Judith Goodwin McIlhenny; two daughters, Barbara McIlhenny Fitz-Hugh of New Orleans and Rosemary McIlhenny Dinkins of Nashville, Tenn.; a brother, Gustaf McIlhenny of Maine; a sister, Sara McIlhenny Ringle of Covington; and four grandchildren.

A charter member of the America's Wetland Foundation and staunch coastal advocate, Paul last year introduced the wetlands label that began appearing on Tabasco bottles across the world. At a press conference announcing that the company was stepping up its efforts to save America's wetlands, the CEO said he often would entertain friends and business associates at company headquarters on Avery Island - which is situated in the upper coastal wetlands of south Louisiana, about 163 feet above sea level. "They are amazed at the beauty of the marshes of South Louisiana but totally unaware of the fragility of the ecosystem," he said of the visitors, most of whom went to hunt and fish. Although Avery Island is well elevated, it is surrounded by swamps, marshland and bayous - an area that is home to numerous indigenous plant and animal species. It is also a prolific seafood habitat.

Whether it's sprinkled on gumbo, étoufée, eggs or now even chicken wings with its own special buffalo sauce, Tabasco is the most famed pepper sauce in the world - a household name that's been manufactured in Acadiana for more than 140 years.

A funeral will be held Wednesday at noon at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1329 Jackson Ave. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m.

Read more from the T-P here.