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Q&A: Beth Ford, CEO for Land O’Lakes

UPDATE:  Beth Ford has been named the new president and chief executive officer of Land O'Lakes, Inc. by its board of directors. As the ninth person to assume the role of CEO, Ford’s new position will be effective August 1, 2018. She succeeds Chris Policinski, who is retiring.

“At a time of unprecedented change in the agriculture and food industries, no person is better suited to lead us into the future than Beth Ford,” says Pete Kappelman, board chairman for Land O’Lakes, Inc. “Since joining our company in 2011, Beth has proven she’s not afraid of hard work, and she sees every challenge as an opportunity to deliver more value for our cooperative. She’s built a track record of success in a wide array of leadership roles across a decades-long career. In her seven years at Land O’Lakes, she has earned the trust and respect of our members, employees, and customers. We are thrilled to have someone of such strong qualifications and character to build on the legacy of growth that Land O’Lakes has established.”

Ford says she is humbled and honored to have the chance to serve a great organization like Land O’Lakes. “I am grateful to the board of directors for their trust in me and for the management team that built the strong foundation we currently enjoy,” she says. “I look forward to continuing to work with the talented and dedicated leadership team, as well as our outstanding employees to deliver for our member-owners, customers, and communities. There has never been a more exciting time to be in the agriculture and food industry. Together, our team will work to continue our growth trajectory, as we lead the way forward into the company’s next 100 years.”

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When it comes to confidence, one thing is certain: Truly confident people inspire others and they make things happen. It’s a trait that has served Beth Ford, who has held senior and leadership positions across six industries in her 30-year career.

“Confidence is not a trite word and is central to a successful career,” says the native Iowan.

Successful Farming magazine had a chance to catch up with Ford. She talks about her career, her new role as chief operating officer for Land O’Lakes businesses, and how she empowers others.

SF: You have worked for companies like Mobil Corporation, PepsiCo, and Scholastic, Inc. How did you know when to take the next step in your career?

BF: I felt like the first 10 years of my career, I was learning about myself as a business person, a leader. When I was in my 30s, I started to be a little more deliberate as to what kind of expansion of my responsibilities needed to occur for me to learn. Each time I move, I make an assessment. Is the business interesting? Is there an opportunity for me to learn? Is there an opportunity for me to have an impact?

SF: What drew you to Land O’Lakes?

BF: I was running a global platform in New York when I received a call from a recruiter asking if I would be interested in speaking with Land O’Lakes. I was happy being in New York and with the role I had. I was honest and said I really wasn’t that interested in making a change. However, the recruiter convinced me to at least have a conversation with Chris Policinski, the president and CEO of Land O’Lakes.

What I thought would be a half-hour conversation turned into a two-hour conversation. Chris talked about food production and how Land O’Lakes operates in one of the greatest growth industries of our generation. He described how the company is a special part in that journey because of its interesting structure from farm to fork.

Both the business and the industry were exciting to me. By the end of our meeting, it was clear to me that he was a spectacular leader. I knew I could learn a lot from him and that Land O’Lakes was the right next step for me.

SF: In your new role with Land O’Lakes, you’re going to be leading the development of the e-business platforms. What does that entail?

BF: The development of our e-business is about putting in enabling tools and technology, as well as leveraging the data platforms and the innovation that we have. Whether it’s a service or a product, innovation will be central in making sure we remain relevant in ag and in retail. 

We like to say we’ve been in the gym for a couple of years. We have a rich understanding of the business dynamic and of the data. We started developing what we think are enabling platforms and innovations that will help us in this development. It’s less about the tools and more about the go-to-market strategy. It’s all about transaction efficiency.

SF: What do you want your legacy to be?

BF: I want people to remember me as someone who empowered them. I don’t want to be known as a leader but as a partner for people. 

This journey is really less about me and more about other people. In the end, I want people to believe and to feel as though I’ve been more focused on their success than my own. 

SF Bio

Name: Beth Ford

Hometown: Sioux City, Iowa

Background: As chief operating officer, Ford is responsible for all Land O’Lakes businesses including WinField United, Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods, and Purina Animal Nutrition. In addition, she has overall responsibility for e-commerce, supply chain, operations, and information technology.

Ford earned an MBA from Columbia University Business School and a BBA from Iowa State University. She remains involved in both universities.

Ford sits on the board of two publicly traded companies and also serves on nonprofit boards.

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