Cargill CEO Talks Sustainability, Ethics at UVA Darden

By Dave Hendrick

Cargill Chairman and CEO David MacLennan came to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in April to talk about leading through times of rapid and complex change, a position he’s uniquely qualified to address as leader of one of the world’s largest and most diversified private companies.

Primarily a business-to-business company involved in the food, agriculture, financial and bio-industrial sectors, the company produces dozens of direct-to-consumer brands, as well, including the sweetener Truvia, Diamond Salt and Shady Brook Farms turkey.

Combined, the products, which are produced by 149,000 employees in 70 countries, earned more than $120 billion in revenue in 2015.

Given the scale and scope, MacLennan said his job frequently required a high tolerance for the unexpected.

Presenting at a Leadership Speaker Series event, the CEO noted a number of unforeseen events that had made their way to his desk during his tenure as the company’s ninth CEO.

“Leadership means adaptability, resilience and moving on, but also getting comfortable with change,” MacLennan said.

The company makes a concerted effort to be on the forefront of issues pertaining to corporate ethics, human rights and sustainability, signing on to a recent pledge to help end deforestation, for instance.

Although some of the company’s stakeholders questioned the feasibility and financial toll of the plan, MacLennan said he insisted the company would commit to the pledge because it was “the right thing to do.”

“I think one of the challenges of change and leading complicated organizations is how you find the right balance between commercial enterprise, social enterprise and the various constituencies that impact you and that we impact,” MacLennan said.

The CEO said he realized he started at a deficit when trying to tell a positive story about the company given a general lack of trust in corporations and a sense that “big is bad.”

MacLennan said he hoped Cargill could “move the needle” on such perceptions through actions in the areas of sustainability, safety and ethics, as well as through connecting with prospective future employees at places like Darden.

Cargill has recruited widely at Darden, and currently employs 17 Darden alumni, including Willard McCloud (MBA ’04), Cargill’s global director of inclusion and diversity, who was on hand to introduce MacLennan.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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