Charles F. Knight died Tuesday (Sept. 12, 2017) at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in Town and Country due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.
Chuck Knight took the top job at Emerson Electric Co. in 1973. At 37, he became one of the youngest CEOs at any billion-dollar U.S. corporation. He went on to make Emerson into one of the largest companies in the region.
W.R. “Buck” Persons, another legendary CEO, hired Mr. Knight away from a job at his father’s consulting company in Chicago. Mr. Knight succeeded Persons as Emerson’s chief executive in 1973 and became chairman the following year.
Mr. Knight served as president and chairman of Civic Progress, the group of chief executives who at the time set the agenda for St. Louis leaders. He was on the board of trustees of Washington University from 1977 to 1990. He was also chairman of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which named him emeritus chair for life.
Founded in 1890, Emerson remains one of a handful of major Fortune 500 companies still based in St Louis. After 27 years at the helm, Mr. Knight stepped down as CEO in 2000 and retired as chairman in 2004.
Mr. Knight was born Jan. 20, 1936, in Lake Forest, Ill., and married the former Joanne Parrish in 1957 in Winnetka, Ill. He earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Cornell University, where he played varsity football and tennis.
In addition to his son Lester, of Chicago, among the survivors are his wife, Joanne; two daughters, Anne Davidson of St. Louis and Jennifer Beckmann of Chicago; son Steven Knight of Seattle; and 12 grandchildren.