John Heily '67 | University of Portland

John Heily '67

John Heily ’67, president and chief executive officer of Continental Mills in his native Seattle, was the first person in his family to earn a college degree, and he has often said, with his characteristic smile, that his graduation day at the University of Portland was one of the happiest days of his life, a day he remembers “as if it happened yesterday.” Soon after that shining day he had moved to Seattle to work for Continental Mills, a flourmix company; at age 33 he was the president and CEO of what was then a company struggling to survive.

“It was a …challenge,” says John, ever polite, but the story of his remarkable leadership and creativity has become something of a legend in American business annals. Today Continental Mills offers more than 750 products sold in every major grocery store in North America and in markets worldwide; it manufactures and distributes dry bakery mix products. Consumers in the American West, especially, will recognize some of Continental Mills’ products with affection: among the company’s brands are Krusteaz, Snoqualmie Falls, Albers, Alpine, and Ghirardelli mixes.

For all his business acumen (which led to his induction into his alma mater’s Business Hall of Fame in 2010), John is also passionately devoted to the wellbeing of children and to the power of higher education to elevate the lives of the young. His Heily Foundation, which he chairs, pays for the entire education of children who otherwise could not afford one, and he has been a member of the governing boards of Georgetown University (his son Andrew is a Georgetown alumnus), Eastside Catholic High, and Zion Preparatory Academy in Seattle. He has also been a board member for Big Brothers of King County and president of the Northwest Forum in Seattle.

“Fierce pride,” John has said, is what he admires most about his alma mater, and what he has tried to instill in the company he saved from oblivion; Continental Mills is “committed to an incentivized workforce, producing quality products, using the most contemporary facilities in the world. The future of the company is focused on its customers, on research and development, on technology, and on providing top-notch incentives and training for its employees.”

“Business at its best can make human life deeper and richer and can impact communities in thousands of ways,” said University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., on the evening that John Heily was one of the first eight leaders inducted into the University’s Pamplin School of Business Hall of Fame. “People like John are true difference makers…”