How Land O’Lakes CEO wants to transform perceptions

The company’s new female CEO offers a revealing look at her past that sheds light on the company's future.

Land O’Lakes Chief Executive Officer, Beth Ford, is an anomaly among Fortune 500 executives for a lot of reasons other than she is a woman.

According to CNN Money, the first female Chief Executive Officer of Land O'Lakes — and the first openly gay female Chief Executive Officer in the Fortune 500 list of largest US companies — recalls her first job as a corn detasseler and receiving a wage of $2 an hour.

"Back then, two dollars an hour, that was real money," Ford tells CNN's Poppy Harlow in the latest episode of Boss Files. She recalls her mom telling her  "while we may not have everything, we have enough, and given what we have, much was expected of us."

"She said, 'Do you understand what is expected of you? Do you understand how much you have? Don't disappoint,' and I was like, 'I've gotta work hard to not disappoint,'" Ford says.

From her past, Ford has a vision for Land O'Lakes, according to CNN Money. She wants to transform people's perceptions of the butter and cream company and refocus attention on the efforts it's making in the ag-tech space.

"My vision is to continue to invest in technology," she says. "You have to have agility. E-commerce and e-business and technology is disrupting all industries, including agriculture, and there's an opportunity when you have an insight-driven, technology-focused company, as I believe Land O' Lakes is."

First things first, she is concerned about the recent $34 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports imposed by the Trump Administration, a move China called the beginning of "the biggest trade war in economic history." In response, China imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of US exports, including cotton, dairy and soybeans, according to CNN Money.

"Grain farmers, growers, and producers across the US are all affected by the uncertainty churning around trade negotiations and retaliatory tariffs," Ford says. "Export market access is critical to these farmers and the agriculture industry and we're seeing a slowdown due to uncertainty in the trade environment."

More than anything else, she says, these farmers need resolution and clarity — quickly. "Time is critical," she says. "So then what's the most important thing the administration can do? They can move with speed and resolve these trade issues and resolve those tariff issues."

Her second greatest concern is the dwindling number of female Chief Executive Officers within Fortune 500 companies, according to CNN Money. As the first openly gay female executive in the Fortune 500 industry, she says progress can't be truly made until the overall number of women leaders increases — something that she sees as "a shared responsibility" for management teams and their talent development programs.

On that path to the C-suite, she calls back to an important lesson, yet again from her mother: "Beth, if you want something, ask for it."

To read the full CNN Money article, click here.