New CHS boss has rural roots, global perspective
Casale moves from Monsanto to take over for retiring CEO
By MITCH LIES
Oregon blueberry grower and Monsanto Co. Chief Financial Officer Carl Casale has been named president and chief executive officer of CHS Inc.
Casale, who received his undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from Oregon State University, will succeed John Johnson, who retires Dec. 31.
CHS, a Fortune 100 company based in St. Paul, Minn., is a diversified energy, grain and food cooperative owned by farmers, ranchers, cooperatives and stockholders.
"I am impressed with his ability to listen to people and to connect with whatever group he is talking to," Dave Bielenberg, a Silverton, Ore., farmer who serves on the CHS Board, said in a phone interview.
Casale also holds a master's degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis.
Casale joined Monsanto in 1984 as a sales representative in Eastern Washington. He held several executive positions over the years, assuming the CFO post in 2009.
Capital Press interviewed Casale on Nov. 22, the day the appointment was announced. Casale's answers have been edited for brevity.
Q: Why the move from Monsanto to CHS?
A: There are a lot of similarities in how the two companies see opportunities in the future. There is going to be so much demand for food, feed, fiber, fuel going forward for the next several decades.
As the world puts on the equivalent of about two Chinas in terms of global population, and as protein consumption grows as wealth increases, companies that are well positioned to help farmers be more productive to meet that challenge and to take the output from the farms and get it in the market where it needs to be, are going to do very, very well.
And if you think about that intersection of those two, that is CHS.
Q: How do you think CHS is positioned for the future?
A: Very well. Some people say what challenge do you see coming in? Well, the challenge I see coming in is that CHS is doing very well.
It's always easy to come into a company that is doing poorly, because it is obvious what you need to do. The challenge I see coming into CHS is how do we build on the foundation of success that (current CEO) John Johnson has led over the last 14 years with the support of the board, and look at how we continue to grow the business going forward, and continue to increase the return for our owners.
Q: How does someone go from starting in sales at Monsanto to CFO?
A: I've been very fortunate in the experiences that I had within Monsanto over a 26-year career, and I think it was those experiences that allowed me to compete well for the CEO position at CHS, where there were many qualified candidates for the role.
The only philosophy I had with my career was I never worried about what my next job was going to be, and I basically took every opportunity that was presented to me, whether it seemed to be a linear path or not.
When you start from the ground up and you know how numbers get created, it's a lot easier to count them when you know where they are coming from.
Q: How does an executive of a multi-national company find time to operate a blueberry farm on the side?
A: Number one is technology: It is one of the reasons why I chose blueberries. I grew up on a vegetable farm and the practicality of the intensiveness of the management that goes along with that annually is just not something that was going to work for me, given the remoteness of location.
But blueberries, if you plant them and take care of them, they can go 25-30 years. So you don't have to replant them every year. They are set up for machine harvest, if we choose to; I have soil probes in every one of my fields; and I have custom work that does the hand labor like pruning.
Also, my wife, Kim, is very adept at business, and she has done a lot more of the on-hands management in the operations this year because of the demands of the CFO role.
And she has prepared me well for dealing with the board, because I think it will be easier to get capital from the board than to get capital from my wife to buy a new tractor.
She's pretty tough.