Examining Cargill’s push to nurture growth through digital and data strategies

For 158 years, Minneapolis-based Cargill is the largest privately held company in the US and employs 155,000 people across 70 countries, earning an estimated $165 billion in annual revenue. Having joined its executive team 18 months ago, CDIO Jennifer Hartsock oversees its global technology portfolio, and digital and data strategies, so she has to keep track of a lot of moving parts, both large and small, to help achieve the company’s big corporate strategy about being ‘better together.’

“It wasn’t that long ago in Cargill history that we had about 120 independent business units acting more like a holding company than an operating company,” she says. “At the time, these independent business units had their own IT, finance, and HR teams. So if you’re thinking about when many of my colleagues were doing a lot of the heavy lift on process optimization, we were thinking about it from an operating company and looking at ways to standardize, simplify, or automate the execution of those processes.”

Cargill delivers a vast array of products and services to food, agriculture, financial, and industrial customers across more than 125 countries, and Hartsock brings more than 20 years of technology business leadership to her role through previous CIO posts at Baker Hughes, Cameron International, and Caterpillar. Digital and data talent specifically is upward of 7,000, so the efficacy of her tech team relies on and how she’s able to nourish and attract talent.

“The world will continue to need more digital and data capabilities, so talent is how we get that done,” she says. “We’re still more outsourced than insourced and we’re trying to find ways to bring that more into balance. But it’s a very large and complex organization.”

She’s also a great believer in solving real world problems with technology, and driving transformative change. But digital means different things to different people. So bringing everyone along to the digital customer experience can be complex, depending on what level they’re interested in most.

“We have disconnected or unwired employees, and they’re about 100,000 of that 155,000, so not a small group,” she says. “We have to think about that population differently. One of the things we’ve been working on is an initiative called Powered by Plant to better enable our frontline workers to have amazing employee experiences, and to support our production supervisors of those frontline employees. They need to be out on the shop floor walking around supporting their teams. We have to find ways to differentiate for our colleagues just like we would differentiate for customers.”

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