ICYMI: WIA Superstars Shine in Local Interviews
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (November 28, 2023)
We at Women in Agribusiness are delighted to have hosted some of the most high-profile and industry-renowned speakers over the last 13 years at our Women in Agribusiness Summits. From Temple Grandin, who was our keynote in Denver in 2018, to Sarena Lin, president of Cargill’s Compound Feed Business, who addressed our audience in Minneapolis in 2014, to key speaker Krysta Harden, Dupont’s vice president of public policy and chief sustainability officer, in 2016 in Chicago, we’ve focused on having meaningful messages for our audience.
Last week, a couple of our speakers – Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, who was our keynote in 2013 and 2017 – and Kimberly Ratcliff, who was one of the female producers featured in a panel discussion at WIA Summit 2022 in Dallas, were highlighted in news stories.
In case you missed it, here’s more on these motivating women in agribusiness.
Changing the Rules of American Farming: A Profile on Beth Ford
Since 2018, Beth Ford has been the CEO of Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes, a $19 billion Fortune 200 food production and agribusiness company that is also a century-old, farmer-owned cooperative with 9,000 employees and 2,809 member-owners.
Her deeply engrained humility, work ethic, and resilience was born of her place of being number five of eight children growing up in a working-class family in Sioux City, Iowa. Her mother, who was a nurse, therapist, and minister, was a great influence on her. Ford noted in this 2018 interview, that her mother said, “‘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 got to work hard to not disappoint,’” Ford said.
And work hard she did, being gainfully employed from the time she was 12, proving her versatility that laid the foundation for her nearly 40-year career with seven companies in six different industries.
In her current CEO role, Ford works tirelessly to collaborate with farmers, retailers, and producers alike and advocate on their behalf, whether that be in promoting sustainability, addressing food supply issues, or connecting rural communities.
Part of the secret to success, said Ford, is to learn about people and celebrate wins at every level, noting that she appreciated this through her first jobs detasseling corn and cleaning toilets as a janitor, which, she said, were instrumental in her becoming CEO.
“If you're offered a job between the company's headquarters and on the shop floor, go to the shop floor. Learn the business that way. Learn people. Don't say, ‘I'm not ever going to do this,’ or, ‘I'm only going to live here’. Be open to all of life's experiences,” said Ford. “I've worked for seven companies in six industries. Certainly I didn't know them before I started. But you have to have intellectual curiosity, a willingness to fail, resilience, and an understanding that your success comes because you're helping somebody else's success.”
And that philosophy seems to have paid off as Ford has been recognized by Fortune as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and Most Powerful Women. She also was named to Fast Company’s Best Leaders list, was featured in the New York Times’ Corner Office column, and profiled in the “60 Minutes” segment entitled “The Farmers Advocate.”
Learn more in this podcast with Ford.
From Wall Street to Cattle Field: On the Ranch with Kimberly Ratcliff
It’s the dichotomy of jobs: Wall Street lawyer versus cattle rancher, yet no one has enjoyed taking that risk more than Oakwood, Texas, cattle rancher Kimberly Ratcliff.
After working for seven years on Wall Street in New York City, Ratcliff felt the pull to “get back to her roots”, at which time she returned to her parents’ cattle ranch in Texas. “It was definitely a different transition than most, but it was just something I had to do. I felt like there was a huge disconnect between that financial world and what agriculture stands for.”
Ratcliff spoke at the 2022 WIA Summit to share her story about going back to her roots by “just doing it”. “It's important to hear these stories because I think there are a lot of women out there who are like me, who want to go back to what their roots but are too scared. They are afraid that they won’t be successful. But it’s saying ‘hey you can do it’, and telling them my story for encouragement.”
On Encouraging Women in Get into Ag
“I think number one is a support system. I’m really big on having women in agribusiness support each other and hold each other up and find and build that team around you,” said Ratcliff in this RFD-TV interview at WIA Summit 2022. “I look to other women in this industry to support me. There’s nothing wrong with the men, but you really need someone that looks like you and has the same kind of story.”
Before settling in at Caney Creek Ranch in 2007, Ratcliff completed the ranch management program at Texas Christian University. She has worked to expand operations to include direct-to-consumer meat sales, registered cattle embryo sales, a hay business that supplies the Dallas Zoo, and a turfgrass sprigging operation. Ratcliff also is determined to share her story and encourage others to support their local farmers.
In her recent interview with Successful Farming, Ratcliff spoke to the breed of cattle they manage, day-to-day challenges on the farm, and the legacy she hopes to leave. Read more here.