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About George Ball - Burpee Chairman and CEO

George Ball, the Chairman and CEO of W. Atlee Burpee, was to the garden born.
A third-generation seedsman and horticulturist, George’s grandfather Jacob Ball founded the Ball Seed Company in 1905 in West Chicago, Illinois. The company flourished under the leadership of Jacob, and his four sons who succeeded him, including George Ball’s father Carl. Ball Seed became a leader in wholesale seeds, and came to be regarded as the “Tiffany of the Seed Business.” George Ball’s older sister Anna Ball is the President and CEO of what is now called the Ball Horticultural Company.

As a senior executive at Ball Seed, George was well-acquainted with W. Atlee Burpee & Co, both for its illustrious history and reputation, and as his biggest customer. In 1991, when the opportunity arose to acquire Burpee, George jumped at the chance, took on the roles of Burpee’s CEO and Chairman, and assembled an experienced team of managers and horticulturalists.

Burpee, based in Warminster, PA, is the best-known name in American horticulture. Founded by W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915) in 1876, the company grew rapidly, and, by 1915, was mailing a million catalogs a year. The company’s famous slogan, “Burpee Seeds Grow,” was borne out by the company’s growing legion of dedicated customers across the country.
In 1998, George Ball purchased Fordhook Farm, the Burpee family’s ancestral home in Doylestown, PA, and the open-air laboratory where Burpee’s founder developed numerous flowers and vegetables that became American favorites. Today, Fordhook Farm, a National Historic Trust Landmark, remains home to Burpee’s trial gardens and a showcase for the company’s flowers, plants and herbs.

Assuming the leadership of Burpee, George Ball consciously modeled his strategy on the trail blazed by the company’s founder, W. Atlee Burpee, and his son, David Burpee who headed the company from 1917 until 1970. The company renewed its dedication to customer satisfaction, unique offerings, innovation and research.

Recognizing Americans’ increasing interest in specialty gardening, Mr. Ball acquired  The Cooks Garden in 2003. As the name makes clear, The Cooks Garden specializes in vegetables, fruits and herbs that appeal to the gardener-chef. The Cooks Garden 2011 catalog features 490 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits, a cornucopia of varieties that will satisfy the most demanding gourmet.

George Ball was born in the suburbs of Chicago. As a boy, Mr. Ball began harvesting petunia seed for the Ball Seed Company; during high school and college he worked for the company in Illinois and spent several years in Costa Rica apprenticed to legendary plant breeder Claude Hope. After studying at Bard College and DePaul University, he joined Ball Seed as an assistant grower in the late 1970s. From 1980 to 1992, George was a marketing executive at Pan American Seed, a Ball Seed affiliate, becoming the company’s president in 1985. Pan American introduced the popular impatiens ‘Super Elfin’ in the 1960s; under George Ball’s leadership, the company developed the New Guinea impatiens, ‘Tango’–winner of the All America Award –and the ‘African Queen’, the world’s first yellow impatiens cultivar. He also introduced the first F1 hybrid anemone from seed, ‘Mona Lisa’, in the Dutch and Japanese markets.

George Ball is currently Chairman of the Board of the Burpee Foundation, a philanthropic organization headquartered in New York City devoted to gardening education, and a trustee of the Horticultural Society of New York. From 1990 to 1993, he served as the President of the American Horticultural Society, the youngest in its history. At AHS, George Ball actively promoted gardening education, initiating a series of international children’s gardening symposiums.

He has served as a trustee on numerous boards, including Bard College (1996-2001), The Orme School (1995-2000), and The National Gardening Association. He was President of his family foundation for two years (2000-2002).

George Ball has been involved in numerous seed relief efforts, beginning in 1994, donating 3 million dollars worth of seed and basic supplies to Rwanda—the largest donation of vegetable seed in history at that time. In February of 2004, he organized the largest vegetable seed relief shipment in history—with over 2,500 lbs. of onion, squash and tomato seed directed to farmers in Iraq—in collaboration with the Coalition Partnership Authority and United States Department of Defense. In 2005, Mr. Ball helped organize a seminar on the United States Constitution in Erbil, Iraq, in conjunction with The Hudson Institute.

George Ball’s awards include the Wilfred Jung Distinguished Service Award from the Garden Writers Association of America, The Outstanding Achievement Award from the Horticulture Society of New York, the President's Medal of Appreciation from the American Horticultural Society, and the "Design 100" from Metropolitan Home magazine.

George Ball’s numerous opinion articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

George Ball’s interests range beyond the garden gates. He takes an active interest in international affairs, literature and history and he speaks Spanish fluently. A seasoned guitarist, he is an avid fan of the blues and gospel music. He has two dogs that he adopted from animal rescue organizations: Nathan, a black Labrador mix, and Sammy, an English Field Setter.

This article is licensed under both CC-BY-SA and GFDL.
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