Laerte Moraes Invests in the Future

Laerte Moraes has helped pave the way for a more diverse talent pool at Cargill—all while mentoring and empowering its next generation of leaders

Laerte Moraes wants you to believe that you are ready for your next role. As a leader at Cargill, Moraes has too often seen people who should be enjoying a succession of new roles and responsibilities stuck in a job simply because of imposter syndrome. “You need to take risks because you’re never going to feel fully prepared for a new opportunity,” asserts the managing director of Cargill’s starches, sweeteners, cocoa, and chocolate businesses in South America and Brazil. “You need to be prepared to make moves that will help you develop.” Nowhere has that mentality paid off better for Moraes than at Cargill.

Laerte Moraes
Laerte Moraes, Managing Director of Starches and Sweeteners (South America) & Cocoa and Chocolate (Brazil), Cargill Courtesy of Cargill

A Willingness to Pivot

The managing director’s passion for empowering developing leaders at Cargill is, at least partially, founded on his own journey. The Brazil native graduated from the Universidade de São Paulo with a veterinary degree, convinced it would set him on an animal-centric path for the rest of his life. “But I just never adapted to the work,” Moraes says.

It was in people management that the young professional eventually found his passion. Moraes had the opportunity to take a production manager role for a poultry and dairy farm owned by Octávio Frias, owner of one of Brazil’s most influential newspapers and a part-time farmer. Frias was willing to lend his expertise and experience to a growing leader. “I had the opportunity to do a turnaround for a business that was not doing well,” Moraes recalls. “It gave me access to very senior people at a very young age. That’s not something that’s easy to do at a larger company, and it’s amazing how much you can learn from the experiences of people at the top of a company.”

Moraes first joined Cargill, a privately held food corporation based in Minnesota, as an animal nutritionist. Soon, however, he assumed new and expanded responsibilities. In the course of overseeing seven different production plants, with around 1,500 workers each, the managing director has interacted with countless cultures, creeds, and personalities. “It’s always interesting how different the Spanish and Portuguese heritages are reflected in people,” Moraes says of his work in South America. “It was so helpful for me to learn about the similarities, the differences, and what drives people in different regions.”

A More Equitable Process

According to Moraes, coming to Cargill was one of the wisest moves of his career—and now he’s working to ensure that that opportunity is extended to anyone who wants a chance to grow and evolve in their career. “We are so diverse in terms of businesses and opportunities. It’s important for me to promote young talent for positions they are sometimes not prepared for,” he says. “Part of that is learning to incentivize people, letting people do what they do best, but also provoking them to take a risk. I try to promote an environment where people feel safe to develop themselves.”

Cultivating that kind of environment relies on transparency, first and foremost. “I hate an environment where people play games and you’re always expected to read between the lines,” Moraes says. “You should be clear on the situation and the potential solutions.”

Transparency is also key to ensuring that Cargill is seeking the best and brightest from everywhere that it can, Moraes says, which means acknowledging the role of internal bias in most hiring processes. “We obviously encourage our HR teams to bring a diverse panel of candidates, no matter what,” Moraes says. “But there is a lot more to it. We push for a diverse team of interviewers to try and reduce bias.”

Bias reduction is a particular passion point for Moraes, and one that has the potential to make real and lasting change at Cargill. The company has already implemented a blind CV evaluation process, and Moraes has pushed for blind video interviews where interviewers are less prone to be gamed by unknown biases. “The world is changing so fast,” he says. “We shouldn’t be selecting people based on the skills for one job or one educational experience. These are professionals who are going to change their skills two to five times in their careers. We should be hiring agile and motivated applicants, wherever they might come from.”

The Value of a New Experience

Moraes places such high value on adaptability based on his personal experiences at Cargill. “My best general manager came from operations; he was a plant engineer,” he says. “I moved him all over the place.”

Of course, prioritizing adaptability does means taking some risks when it comes to hiring, the managing director admits—but is worth it in the end. “In our society, we do not all have access to the same education or experiences,” Moraes says. “Sometimes, you have to help people navigate environments that are new for them because you believe in them.

“People come from different backgrounds where there are different ideas of professional behavior,” he continues, “and I look at it as my job to help them adapt to an environment where they can be successful while also helping them to stay true to themselves.”

Cargill has committed to these principles by introducing a program called Future Generation in its Paraná plant. The program is dedicated to teaching disadvantaged youth the value of citizenship and providing on-site job skill training. “It’s important to know what your values are and how you fit into society,” Moraes says. “And it’s important for Cargill to invest in our future and make sure the next generation can be successful.”

But Moraes says that development truly starts with the individual. And that’s why he wants you—yes, you—to believe that you’re ready for your next new role.

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