In the Belly of the Beast: Policy, Position, and Purpose

This session showed members the limitless possibilities of a strong relationship between the CEO and CCO in a forward-thinking organization.

  • David W. MacLennan, CEO, Cargill
  • Devry Boughner-Vorwerk, Chief Communications Officer & Corporate Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Cargill
  • Roger Bolton, President, Page (moderator)

Session Photos

A traditional industry – altered by technology

”We’re a tech company. We have to be known for technology. The world of agriculture and food is probably one of the slower industries to adapt technology.” – MacLennan

  • Consumers want more information than ever before. One Cargill turkey brand, called Honeysuckle White, is testing a bar code system based on blockchain data to show customers where their turkeys were raised.

“People want to know what’s in my food, who made it, how was this sourced, how were the animals treated.” – MacLennan

  • Farmers use technology to improve yields and be more profitable. The company created the iQuatic shrimp feed for automatic feeders that links with acoustic technology systems that help farmers manage their crops.
  • Competitors are not just other industrial food companies, but increasingly are startup and technology companies disrupting various parts of Cargill’s supply chain.


Cargill’s challenges
  • Being private: If Cargill were publicly traded, it would be a Fortune 20 company with $150 billion in revenue. But without many branded products, it can be difficult to get its story out.
  • Changing traditional culture: From driving innovation and technology, to fostering more to diversity & inclusion, Cargill’s setting its goals against new benchmarks of success.


How is Cargill driving its purpose?

The “Thrive” mission: “When you think about that word, at the end of the day what we do, our purpose is to be a global leader in nourishing the world in a safe, sustainable, and responsible way.” – Boughner-Vorwerk.

Adhering to values, always: As one expression of its commitment to diversity and inclusion, Cargill sets an expectation with any event organizers that it will be part of a diverse panel if an executive is to speak. This stance led to MacLennan turning down a session at the World Economic Forum at Davos.



MacLellan took the decision to shutter a small executive office that sat outside the main headquarters.

“I didn’t want to be isolated any more in this metaphorical and literal ivory tower. I want to be transparent, visible, accessible. I want to be part of the culture and create a sense of togetherness.” – MacLennan


Weighing in on policies

“One of the things we’ve done is identified five capabilities that differentiate us. One is thought leadership and stakeholder engagement. Devry and I went to the Board and said we need to be more outspoken on smart immigration policy, trade, the environment.

“The Board had some trepidation about wading into controversy, but agreed to the strategy. Importantly, it’s about sticking with credible topics where the company has authority. What’s your view on tax policy? Let Jamie Dimon talk about that – but trade, immigration environment – we have an obligation to make our views known.”– MacLennan

“We can no longer just advocate for what’s good for our business, we have to be activists. The new strategy is to maintain the policy integrity of the company. Be bold and get out front.” – Boughner-Vorwerk

The company launched a new program focused on “social gastronomy,” which is a campaign led by global food activists. Topics of focus include nutrition, food waste, job creation, and dignity for individuals.


Supply chain transparency

“There are expectations that consumers and other stakeholders have to show transparency in the supply chain, to show that you don’t have human rights violations and other issues. We really have to put the heft behind the commitment.” – Boughner-Vorwerk

That means finding responsible partners, and engaging with communities to ensure the company does the right thing. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals have provided “a lens through which business decisions are made.”


In their own words:

“I’m not doing anything without Devry and the teams she leads. She’s one of my 12 direct reports, she’s at the very top of the house.”

– MacLennan

“My one message for the team is that when I leave Cargill, my legacy will be brand. If we do what we do well, tell our story, lead with the right partnerships, and we’re doing that central to the business strategy – that’s brand.”

– Boughner-Vorwerk

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