Land O’Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford on innovation, leadership, and the changing landscape of American agriculture

Monday, October 14, 2019 - 12:30pm

On October 1, Beth Ford, the president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, took the stage at the Carlson School of Management’s 1st Tuesday Speaker Series to discuss consumer innovation, the agriculture industry, and rural communities.

Ford was appointed to her position as president and CEO just over a year ago. In the time since, she acknowledges, she’s had an eventful year. From speeches and policy advocacy, to member farmer meetings and research, it was a year spent mapping the disruptions and challenges of labor, land, and sustainability occurring in the agriculture sector. But for Ford, the challenges are what make the work meaningful.

“How do we think about sustainable production over the long term?” she asks. “This is the grand challenge. This is one of the reasons when I was in New York and was asked if I’d come in and talk with Land O’Lakes and talk about what the opportunity was in the business, I said, ‘This is meaningful work. This is an opportunity to put a very lengthy career against a challenge that I think is so significant and so important.’”

Pulling from knowledge and experience gleaned over that career, Ford has brought established technologies and marketing strategies to her role at Land O’Lakes, applying consumer research tactics to bridge communication between Land O’Lakes members and customers. As an example, she shares that for the first time, this past year’s annual meeting hosted a consumer panel with Land O’Lakes member farmers and their families. 

“We’re trying to build tighter connections between consumers and farmers: creating value-added insights, products, and services from farmer to fork,” she says, noting that to do that, innovation is essential. “We have to drive innovation. Innovation is the only path forward. With innovation, consumers are much more willing to change. There’s new technology, new insights, and we have to be in front of that.”

Weeks before the 1st Tuesday event, tickets had sold out: a testament to the reach and impact of Ford’s voice across the Twin Cities. Representatives from Land O’Lakes were among the special attendees for the October 1 program, which drew U of M students and alumni, local farmers, business leaders in the metropolitan area, and more. 

Held at the McNamara Alumni Center on the first Tuesday of every month, the 1st Tuesday Speaker Series features top executives addressing hot topics in business and leadership, creating valuable opportunities for Twin Cities professionals to network and bringing together alumni and business leaders from throughout the corporate community.

Learn more and watch the video of Ford’s talk.

“We need public-private partnerships and we need advocates for investment in agriculture. We need people dedicated to doing this meaningful work. We need the next generation of leaders...we need the best-in-class talent. That’s why we have the Global Food Challenge. That’s why we invest in universities like the University of Minnesota; because we know that the best talent is here.”