By Peter Bailey, Prouty Project
Over the past 10 years I have had the good fortune to serve on the Board of Directors of Outward Bound where I have met some wonderful people. Lee Skold is one of my favorites and I twisted his arm to let me interview him.
Lee has been with Cargill 35 years, and is currently a Vice President of Cargill, Inc. In addition to other board and community service, Lee serves as the Chairman of the Board for Outward Bound USA.
One of the things I find most impressive about Lee is his good-natured ease. So sit back, and let one of the nicest executives in the Twin Cities share something of his life and perspective with you.
Peter: Lee, at one time you were the head of Retail and Foodservice Products, primarily focused on Cargill’s international meat business. Now, as the Corporate Vice President of Cargill, which of the five business operations do you spend most of your time on?
Lee: I have been primarily focused on the Animal Protein business, most actively in our poultry businesses around the world. I was based in England from 1988 until 1996 then came back as one of four platform leads supervising about 17 businesses. The meat business tends to be more people intensive so we have a larger segment of Cargill’s 130,000 than some of the other divisions.
Peter: Back when you were part of the International Food Service Manufacturer’s Association, you gave career advice for people to “keep your personal life and business career in perspective.” How have you managed to do that over the years, and what advice would you give to people in a challenging economy?
Lee: My wife, Peg, and I have made a concerted effort to keep our priorities clear. Family comes first, then work second, and then everything else comes third. This has been a driving force in being certain that I am efficient and effective in my job, that I understand what my role entails, and helps me to improve my delegation and leadership skills so that I can lead, guide, and coach.
Peter: Speaking of demands on your time, for years you have been a staunch supporter of the Outward Bound School at both the local and national levels. Could you please talk about the importance of Outward Bound in your life and your desire to give back to it so generously?
Lee: After I got back from working overseas in England and finally settled in, I really wanted to find a way to give back. I saw a perfect fit by bringing insight, leadership, and organizational and strategic skills to a not-for profit organization. On the return side, I was able to bring the mission-driven, people-focused aspects from Outward Bound back to my role at Cargill. I learned to work proactively, to lead organizations forward, and to learn to move when you have to move – not to get stuck at a decision point for too long.
Cargill as a corporation is my primary focus, but it supports our capacity to serve our families’needs and the needs of the community. For example, we here at Cargill have been on what we call our “Strategic Intent” journey for some 12 years now. It includes a very clear vision statement that everyone really believes in, and gives us guidelines by which we can measure success: Engaged employees, satisfied customers, enriched communities, and profitable growth. These guidelines really empower us to do our very best in all of our endeavors.
Peter: Lee, it’s impressive to see that a company as large as Cargill ranks employees, customers, and communities over growth. As a former Outward Bound instructor, it is truly heartwarming to hear you talk of bringing those leadership values into the work you are doing within the corporation. What advice would you give today to young professionals or perhaps middle-aged professionals in transition who are trying to navigate their lives in an Outward Bound manner?
Lee: First, find your passion and follow it, whatever it is. We have encouraged our sons to do that and we couldn’t be more pleased with the life choices they have followed. Second, when times get tough, sometimes you have to grind it out. Keep looking forward, moving forward, every day even a little. Third, despite life’s curveballs, always keep an active approach to life. It will always lead you to something better. The tough times won’t last. Be active and keep moving.
Peter Bailey, Sr. Vice President, Organization Development: Peter is a seniorconsultant in our Organization Development practice area at the Prouty Project. Peteris a multi-faceted experiential designer and facilitator who has 25 years of experiencein the fields of high-technology, telecom, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and customerservice.