Cargill’s former CEO navigates the global financial crisis of 2008, paving the way for future progress and prosperity.
Greg Page, Cargill’s former chief executive officer, is well known for being inquisitive and passionate about learning with a self-professed desire to dig into the details. Paul Conway, Cargill’s vice chairman, says, “There is nothing in the world so complex that Greg [cannot], in about one second, calculate [it] in his head. When someone comes up with a statistic, he will very rapidly convert it to something much closer to the ground—either to help them understand it or to disprove it.” Throughout his tenure as the head of the company, Page used his global experience, leadership skills and positive, realistic outlook to help drive Cargill’s growth, even as the company navigated one of the world’s most difficult economic periods.
Page’s success at Cargill started long before he was promoted to CEO. In 1974, he joined Cargill as a trainee, an experience that introduced him to all aspects of the company. From there, he became an integral part of Cargill’s animal nutrition business. As the company grew in Asia, Page relocated to Singapore and then Thailand, where he helped launch Cargill’s poultry business. “I joined Cargill thinking I would probably go back [home] after a few years and get involved in the family business,” Page recalled. “But each year presented new and more interesting work. I had the chance to [work in different countries], which was a chance to learn more about the world and more about Cargill.” Following his time abroad, Page returned to the United States, where he continued to advance in the company, eventually becoming CEO in 2007.
Shortly after Page was elected to the company’s top position, the world faced a global fiscal crisis: large financial institutions moved to the brink of collapse and the stock market plummeted, severely impacting a majority of companies and industries. Page guided Cargill through the crisis by relying on the company’s diverse investments, wisely managing costs, ensuring Cargill’s ethical core held strong, engaging the support of the family shareholders and staying focused on customers’ needs. Despite the difficult financial environment, Cargill invested almost US $6 billion in various projects from 2007 to 2010—and in 2010 the company announced the second-best first quarter results in company history.
“[Page is] a very rational thinker. He kept a very clear head in spite of chaos going on in the world around us. ”—David MacLennan, CEO of Cargill
As Cargill looked ahead to its 150th anniversary year, Page continued to move forward with a refreshed business strategy that concentrated on innovation, talent, accountability, connectivity and putting customers first. The company streamlined its internal processes to reduce duplicative efforts, save money and offer customers a more cohesive, coordinated approach. This helped launch Cargill Business Services in 2013, which brought a smarter, more efficient approach to sharing back-office operations across Cargill’s businesses.
At the same time, Page recognized the increasing importance of being transparent about the company’s actions and engaging more directly with the public on food and agriculture issues. Global consumers began demanding to know where their food comes from and how it is made, and Page understood that building trust in Cargill could only come from sharing more information about the company. Under Page’s leadership, Cargill and its stakeholders worked together closely to openly address these important supply chain questions. “There is an African proverb I cite often: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,’” he said. “Making the global food system work better for all its stakeholders definitely requires making the journey together.”
Page had many achievements during his years as Cargill’s CEO, but he would most like to be remembered for his work with the company’s Strategic Intent (SI): “The greatest thing they could say is that SI was correct in its assessment of the mega trends that were going to affect Cargill, that the prescription put in place was the correct one and that the execution of the prescription was at a high level.” SI has prompted a more outward-looking Cargill, where the businesses are more focused on providing customers with solutions—not just commodities. To this day, Cargill businesses continue to strive to be the “partner of choice” for its best customers.