John Ruan III. (Ruan company photo.)

A Des Moines businessman and philanthropist who has been chairman of the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation has died at the age of 78 after a long illness.

For more than two decades, John Ruan III led the family-owned Ruan Transportation Management Systems, Bankers Trust. The trucking company his father started in 1932 now employs 56-hundred people. The Ruans have been the main benefactors of the World Food Prize and John Ruan III has been the World Food Prize Foundation’s chairman.

A news release from the Ruan companies says Ruan’s son, John Ruan IV, assumed the role of chairman of the Ruan companies in August, as part of the family’s succession plan.

The 36-story Ruan Center is a familiar landmark in downtown Des Moines. The president and CEO of Bankers Trust described John Ruan III as a forward-thinking leader who did not seek the limelight, but who had a significant impact on central Iowa.