A partnership with Habitat for Humanity provides relief in Thailand, improves Cargill employee engagement and expands customer relations.
When Dennis Seah became the leader of Cargill’s grain and oilseed business in Thailand in 2001, the business had its share of problems. Staff turnover rates were at 100%, employee engagement scores were sinking, profits were non-existent and customer relationships needed significant improvement. To help turn things around, Seah developed an unexpected strategy: he chose to get involved with Habitat for Humanity.
“Most of our employees are hardly familiar with using a shovel, so to build a house in two weeks seemed impossible. Yet, we did it.”—Dennis Seah, General Manager, Cargill Thailand
Having learned an important lesson in teamwork, Seah’s team expanded its efforts in 2002, inviting other businesses, including poultry partner Sun Valley Thailand, to participate. Soon, Cargill’s customers were also invited to lend a hand. The 2004 project helped build houses for three families and involved 56 people, including volunteers from Cargill Thailand’s businesses and employees from customer companies like Betagro, a major producer of swine, poultry and feed products.
Then, on December 26, 2004, a devastating tsunami struck Thailand, leaving thousands of citizens homeless. Cargill employees and customers spent six months building 49 new homes for a group of fishermen in the area of Phuket. “Their homes, their boats and basically everything was gone,” said Varunee Tantivoravong, office manager and community relations coordinator for Cargill in Thailand.
“This is our biggest dream…to have a new home”— Lou Mei You, Habitat for Humanity recipient, Thailand
Over a six-month period after the tsunami, teams organized by Cargill made five trips to the area to work on the homes. Since the project would help provide shelter, but not boats for the fishermen, Mary Lynn Staley (wife of Cargill CEO and Chairman Warren Staley) also personally funded the purchase of 12 new fishing boats.
Seah’s strategy of helping others has had a lasting, positive impact on Cargill’s operations in Thailand: employee engagement scores have more than doubled, customer relationships have deepened and unique, tailored business solutions have replaced transactions. The business is profitable, and Cargill was recognized by Habitat for Humanity as an Outstanding Corporate Partner. “The attraction is very simple,” said Seah. “Our stakeholders—the people in these communities, employees, customers and others—are happy as a result of these contributions.”