• After serving in the army, Ricardo “Ric” Robles works with Cargill’s commodity merchandising business to pursue trading opportunities across the globe.
  • Back from his trip, Robles is recognized by Executive Vice President Fred Seed (above), who commends him for refusing the bribe and thanks him in the name of Cargill.
  • The incident inspires the development of the company’s written values, known as The Cargill Statement on Business Conduct, Standards and Guidelines.

Confronting ethical dilemmas with courage

Global expansion presents new ethical challenges, a reality that inspires Cargill to pen its Guiding Principles.

Since its founding in 1865, Cargill has worked to maintain a trustworthy, ethical reputation. But as the company expanded, evolving from a small but growing grain business in America to a global trader, maintaining integrity and transparency across the organization became a more complex challenge, requiring the efforts of every employee.

One such employee was Ricardo “Ric” Robles, who worked in Cargill’s commodity merchandising business. Assigned to pursue new business in 1960, he was introduced to a businessman from a very distinguished family. When the two met for a lunch meeting, the businessman offered Robles US $70,000 to appoint him as Cargill’s agent. Greatly insulted by the bribe, Robles stood up and left the table before their food was even served.

Back at company headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota weeks later, Robles was approached by Cargill executive Fred Seed about the incident. To Robles’ surprise, Seed had heard about the meeting and was impressed with his actions. He applauded Robles for upholding Cargill’s values and “not making money the wrong way.” Surprised, Robles asked Seed how he knew about the offer. Seed explained that he had heard from Chase Bank. After Robles left the lunch, the businessman visited the financial institution, complaining to its bankers about “a Cargill guy who thought he was ‘holier than thou!’”

Ric Robles recounts an ethical dilemma   Cargill’s Ric Robles goes back to the 1960s, telling his story of being offered a business bribe.

The confrontation underscored a need within the growing organization: while Robles understood Cargill’s expectations, the company had never officially written them down. In 1975, CEO Whitney MacMillan followed the suggestion of his predecessor, Erwin Kelm, and documented the company’s core values by penning The Cargill Statement on Business Conduct, Standards and Guidelines.

The document would act as the framework for later refinements by various leaders, including Cargill’s Guiding Principles, part of a larger code of conduct that Cargill’s global network follows today. In addition to guiding employees through challenging situations, these principles serve as an important reminder: not only do results matter, but also how they are achieved.