Pilar Cruz Grows a Culture of Inclusivity at Cargill

The president of the company’s aqua nutrition business believes diversity is as crucial as strategy when it comes to achieving success

When Pilar Cruz moved from head of corporate strategy and development at Cargill to president of the company’s compound feed and nutrition business in 2017, it wasn’t long before she had a big challenge to deal with: African swine fever was decimating pork markets in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, which in turn affected Cargill’s business with swine distributors, customers, and farmers in those countries. Just months into her new role, Cruz had to find opportunity in a difficult situation.

Pilar Cruz, Cargill, portrait standing arms crossed
Pilar Cruz, President and Group Leader, Cargill Aqua Nutrition, Cargill Photo: Gillian Fry

So she joined an effort on biosecurity to help customers mitigate the impact of the disease on their livestock. She worked with global teams to make the business more competitive and efficient, ultimately meeting Cargill’s safety and financial goals, she says.

Since 2017, Cruz has worked to grow and strengthen Cargill’s feed and nutrition business. This year, she embraced a new opportunity to lead Cargill’s aqua nutrition business. In the past, she also served as president for Cargill Meats Europe. Her personal path and background living all over the world have shaped how she approaches her role as a leader, with inclusion and diversity always top of mind.

Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, Cruz came to the US twenty years ago to earn her Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Since joining Cargill in 2002, her positions with the company have taken her and her family around the world, with stints in cities in the US, Canada, Europe, and South and Central America, before landing at their current home in Minneapolis. Exposure to those different cultures became a core part of Cruz’s identity as a leader.

“We absolutely have to be sensitive to differences in cultures, genders, nationalities, and styles, and that’s something I really believe is important to high-performing teams.”

“My passion for inclusion and diversity and for exploring and being curious about different teams and different cultures is personal,” she says. “It is my own journey.”

Mentors and leaders Cruz has known along the way at Cargill have been another key element in her journey. As a young woman from Colombia originally working as an analyst, Cruzwas encouraged by the company to take big risks and sought out for advancement opportunities.

“When I look back, I realize that a lot of leaders gave me opportunities and more responsibility with every new job that I’ve had—and it’s time for me to give back,” she says.

The fact that other people sensed potential in her is part of what has made Cruz a strong believer in the collective strength of a team. She prioritizes surrounding herself with leaders and other employees who are agile, adaptable, and resilient. Cultural synergy is also a value she holds high, and she believes that building an inclusive and diverse workplace is especially crucial for a company that operates all over the world. (Cargill has more than 160,000 employees in 70 countries and regions.)

“We need to have a culture that embraces and welcomes inclusion and diversity . . . where employees can be themselves,” she says. “We absolutely have to be sensitive to differences in cultures, genders, nationalities, and styles, and that’s something I really believe is important to high-performing teams.”

Cruz is an executive sponsor for Cargill’s Hispanic Latino Business Resource Group, a network that works to promote recruitment and engagement of Hispanics and Latinos within the company. Cargill also recently signed on to the Hispanic Promise, an initiative launched at the World Economic Forum in 2019 through which companies pledge to hire, retain, and celebrate Hispanic employees.

“When I look back, I realize that a lot of leaders gave me opportunities and more responsibility with every new job that I’ve had, and it’s time for me to give back.”

Cruz works on a personal level to practice what the company preaches. Through a new corporate sponsorship program, she is a mentor to an employee who is based outside of the US, supporting him on his career path and also learning from his insights. It’s a symbiotic relationship, she says. Cruz takes a boots-on-the-ground approach to cultivating relationships with Cargill employees and believes that executives can’t lead the global business from its Minnesota headquarters alone.

“It’s important to be present and to be visible, and not just to get on the phone with our leaders or our customers,” she says.

Cruz visited Cargill teams in Ecuador, Norway, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand when the company’s aqua nutrition business came under her purview in 2019. That growing market presents an exciting opportunity at a time when consumers are seeking out healthier protein options, she says. Wherever her work takes her, Cruz prides herself on being an approachable leader—someone who is strategic about business, but who also puts team members first.

“I’m somebody that displays our values, every single day,” she says. Though she sets high expectations and prioritizes accountability, her philosophy on how to create value reaches much deeper. “Of course, processes, equipment, and the technology are relevant. But I care most about our people.”