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If you were starting your career fresh, what advice would you give yourself? Here’s what 2 retiring execs told us 

August 05, 2021


What kind of careers did Frank van Lierde and David Dines have at Cargill?

"It's more like multiple careers within one company," says Frank. In a combined 61 years with the company, the two retiring executives held a wide range of roles, saw the world in ways they never imagined, climbed to the highest levels of leadership — and learned from their fair share of setbacks along the way.

Frank, who led Cargill’s food ingredients and bioindustrial business, and David, our outgoing CFO, agreed to speak with some of our newest colleagues: members of the Cargill Young Professionals Network.

As they head into retirement, what advice do they have for young professionals who are just beginning their own journeys? How has Cargill evolved in their three decades here? And if they could do it all over again, what would they say to their younger selves?

Watch their conversation or read it below:

Erica: My name is Erica Yarbrough. And I have Ashley Costello here with me who is my fellow co-chair for the Cargill Young Professionals Network, which is one of the business resource groups here at Cargill. 

Thank you David Dines and Frank van Lierde for taking some time to chat with us today. We thought it would be such an amazing opportunity to chat with you and pass on some of your learning and advice to the next generation of leaders. Ashley and I have asked young professionals what they would be interested in learning about from both of you. So we're excited to start with a question regarding your time at Cargill. You’ve both been with the company for a while — David for 29 years, Frank for 32 years. What is it about Cargill that made you want to stay with Cargill until your retirement? 

Frank:  I think Cargill is such a diverse company that actually within the same company, you can have very different careers. I've been with the Strategic Business Development team, I've lived in several countries, and so it's never boring, given the diversity of the activities, and the geographies in which we are present. It's more like multiple careers within one company. 

David: In my 29 years, I would never have guessed that I would have seen the world the way I have, been able to do the things that I've done, and been challenged the way that I've been challenged. And I think it just has to do with the breadth of the company, the breadth of our operations. And as I've moved around in the company, I've always noticed that it's the same, you're working with really smart people that care about each other. 

Ashley: How have your priorities and motivators changed over time? And then how did it change your career path? 

David: Careers are nonlinear. And I've had a zigzag, I've had setbacks, and you learn from those and you move forward. I think early in your career, you got to kind of soak it all up and learn as much as you can. And I always tell people, be patient. I think you have to be aspirational, but be patient in what your next move is. Because I think there is a desire to keep moving and get to that next level but use these opportunities that you're put into to really learn and soak it up. 

Frank: I think it's also about contributing through subject matter expertise. And so, make sure that you know what you're talking about, that you are contributing something that the company can benefit from, right? Because it has to be a win-win situation, at the end of the day. So if you bring something because of a particular knowledge or a particular skill that you have, then I'm sure that you will grow within that organization.

Erica: What have been the biggest changes for the company over your career and what are the changes you expect to shape the future of Cargill?

David: I think we're running the company very differently than we did five,10 years ago. And I think there's more rigor in the company, more discipline in the company. I do think that we are operating much more as one company than we used to. Businesses used to compete against each other. There were many, many silos across the company. And I think this idea that we're one Cargill, we're an integrated operating company, it has been a very significant change. 

Frank: If you look at what we're doing now, with the Ventures board, and that sort of thing, I think that's really important. Because today, something might be very, very small, almost invisible, but who knows, in 10 to 20 years, it might become our main business by then. 

Erica: Can you tell us about a time that you felt like you failed and had to pick yourself back up and move forward during your career? 

Frank: Early on in my career, it was in the in the early 90s, I was asked to go to Poland, and Poland back then was very different from what it is today. I mean, we had the fall of the Iron Curtain back in ‘89. And then, in the early 90s, we decided to build a sweetener facility in Poland. I was asked to go there as a general manager. 

We had all kinds of headwinds, to be honest, and we were losing a lot of money. So after four or five months, people were saying, why don’t we sell this to a competitor? And there were one or two very senior people who really believed that this was the right project, but we needed a bit more patience and so on. And eventually we succeeded and it became a very successful business. And the reason why I'm always sharing this is that short term, all of us are every now and then tempted to cut our losses, but I think especially when you're in processing businesses, it’s important to have confidence in the people that you have charged with these tasks, and also to believe in the industry. 

David: I was at Bankers Trust, in our Dallas offices — that was in 1985 to 1987 — the price of oil was very low. We were in a recession down there. And business was very hard. I got transferred up to our Chicago office, and I sat down with the manager there and was going over my book of business with him and I didn't quite realize it, but after about 20 minutes, he sort of looked at me said, is all you have are problems? It was a real wake-up call for me that you got to bring solutions with your problems, you got to be optimistic, and real, but you’ve got to be balanced. 

Erica: Throughout your careers, what leadership qualities have left the biggest impression on you from the most influential managers that you've worked with?

David I had a brother-in-law who was very successful on Wall Street, he got me to go to Wall Street to start my career. And I remember he and I were on a ski trip together. And every night, he was on the phone with this guy, trying to recruit them to come to work for him. We got into how hard he was pursuing this guy. And his response to me was I always try to hire people that are smarter than I am. I think that's what good leaders do. They know their strengths, they know their weaknesses, and they try to they try to hire great people and many times people that are smarter than they are.

Frank: I think, especially in a company like Cargill, again, to your point of diversity, you need to have a serious degree of curiosity if you want to be successful in this operation, right? Because there is so much going on in so many different businesses in so many different geographies. And so, if you don't really bother, you won't get very far. But if you're genuinely curious in what is happening in the world, I think it can be very rewarding.

Erica:  My last question for you both. So you're a young professional, again, just starting out in Cargill. What would you do differently? And what advice would you give to your past self?

Frank: I think I'm a firm believer that even as a young professional, you need to contribute something to the company. Because many people that I've hired, the very first question you get is, what are you offering me? What are you as a company offering me in terms of development and training and everything? And that's all very important, a very legitimate question. And I think the flip side of that question is also, what can I as a young trainee offer you? You come with a certain set of skills that you've acquired at the university, or certain behaviors, and so on. So make sure that you know what you stand out for. And apply that and make sure that you bring something because by doing so, you will make yourself known. 

David: I've got kids and one of the things that I really tell them is grow your network. And those are internal, Cargill, external, but work hard at it, pick up the phone call people, grab them for a beer, just really work hard at your networks, those will come back to help you someday. We talked about this idea of being aspirational, wanting to advance your career, but also being patient. It's not always about the next promotion, it's not always about the money, it's about the opportunity. There's a lot of luck to being in the right place, right time. And I've seen careers be built off timing, there's a lot to timing. But there's also a lot to what you do with that. And it's being able to recognize that opportunity, and then run with it. 

Ashley: Thank you both for your leadership and wisdom and guidance throughout both of your careers. And especially thank you both for taking the time today to talk to Erica and myself and to answer questions from the young professionals here at Cargill. It's really inspiring to hear stories from both of your careers. And it's a great example of what successful careers could look like in Cargill for all of us. So thank you both and enjoy retirement.