James L. Ferguson was a retired General Foods chief executive and philanthropist who was instrumental in the development of the South Carolina Aquarium. The longtime Charleston resident was 90. The Evanston, Ill., native was a graduate of Hamilton College and Harvard Business School. He served with the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II and began his business career at Procter & Gamble, where he worked for 10 years. He then went to work for General Foods Corp. in White Plains, N.Y., in 1963 as an assistant to the marketing manager of the frozen foods business. He moved up the corporate ladder quickly. He was named CEO of the company in 1973 and remained in the top job until 1987 — a period when annual sales grew to more than $9 billion from $2.4 billion, thanks in part to some key business acquisitions. He stepped down after General Foods was acquired for $5.8 billion by the Philip Morris Cos., where he was vice chairman. At various times in his career, he was a director at Chase Manhattan Bank, Glaxo, Union Carbide, Federated Department Stores, ICOS and the Aspen Institute. He also was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His other civic activities included chairmanships at the New York Botanical Garden and the Phoenix House. He also was a past director for the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is survived by his wife Esther, a well-known arts patron in Charleston.