Good morning, Todd. What’s your current position within Cargill?
I have a dual role. I have led Cargill’s global corn and ethanol trading activity for the last seven years, managing the worldwide teams. About one year ago, I also became managing director of our global grain business. That role goes beyond trading into the more commercial side of the company.
What is it that you like about the commodity trading business?
People usually explain commodity trading as a primary business that moves goods from surplus to deficit areas across time (carry) and place (dislocation) and form (processing). It may not sound like the most exciting thing, but it’s fascinating once you get into it.
There are many different aspects to trading and ways to approach it. I particularly enjoy the interaction with people, both customers and suppliers, that you get when you handle physical products, moving them along the supply chain. This personal interaction is an essential part of the business for me.
I also enjoy being involved in the shipping side, as well as leading teams, getting the best out of everyone, and mentoring teammates in their careers.
What gives you an edge both personally and as a company?
Collection, interpretation, and analysis of data are essential, but so too is teamwork.
What gives a team an edge? Being competitive and hungry to win. What does that mean? It means that you’re gritty and creative, and you are constantly challenging and evaluating the situation around you, looking for opportunities.
Look at the analogy of a sports team, say a football team. A team plays together, works together, constantly looks for opportunities to score. At Cargill, teamwork is a vital part of our culture.
As a trader, you work in your own space, trying to leverage everything you can within that space, but your role is to contribute to the team’s success. Teamwork is as essential in trading as it is in sports.
Whenever I talk to recruits, I emphasise the overlap between sports and trading.
What advice would you give to a young trader?
Don’t limit yourself to one product or one commodity. I would advise young traders to get to know and understand as many products and aspects of the business as they can. Gain experience across the space, across geographies and across products. Go as deep and as wide as you can and learn about as many commodities as you can.
During my career, I have traded both barge and ocean freight. This experience has been invaluable to me on the bean, corn, and veg-oil desks. You can’t trade commodities without understanding freight and logistics.
Likewise, my time on the vegoil desk has been invaluable when talking about or trading biofuels.
The approach to trading and the skill sets you need are similar across different products. There’s always a technical learning curve specific to each commodity, but your cross-commodity exposure will give you an edge as a trader.
Our ability to give traders experience over a range of commodities is one of Cargill’s strengths as a company.
What would be a likely career path for a young person joining Cargill today?
If you were to join Cargill, we would start with the business basics to understand what everyone else on the desk is discussing! We would also teach you the concepts and mechanics of supply and demand, logistics, freight, and risk management.
Most people will have some experience at a domestic regional location – in EMEA or the Americas – where you can learn and understand the basics of origination, where the supply chain starts.
That won’t be the path for everyone, but that’s how I started. Honestly, I think that if you want to learn something, you must go to the core, and origination is one of Cargill’s core businesses.
From then, your career will follow a natural pathway of growth and evolution of responsibility. You will go from talking local to regional markets, then on to a specific export market, entire geography and then global. It is not Cargill-specific; it is the general path a recruit would experience in big ag companies.
During your career, you will build your risk management skills and develop your risk tolerance and style. People sometimes believe they know their tolerance and style, but you only understand that through experience.
What qualities are you looking for in a candidate?
I look first for a competitive team player. You need to have a strong drive for results and equally want your teammates to win. I’m also looking for someone with a creative side. I’m less interested in the specifics of past experience and more interested in their approach to things. Do you seek challenges and like to find a solution for a puzzle? I’m generally looking for that competitive edge combined with a creative side.
I am also looking for balance. Someone with an appetite and understanding for risk, balanced with the ability to manage that risk. I’m always looking for someone cool under pressure. The moment when everybody else is panicking is usually when an opportunity presents itself. That’s a complex characteristic to identify when you’re interviewing somebody, but it is something that I’m always looking for.
And the last thing is leadership. I believe that no matter what your role is, leadership is a high-value characteristic. How you manage yourself, how you interact with people, how you handle adversity. These are all relevant attributes for somebody running a commercial business, such as a trading desk.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Only to say that this business is awesome.
There are so many moving parts. What’s the future of EVs, the energy transition and renewable fuels, of China? I don’t know, but it excites the crap out of me that I don’t know. It’s my nature. It’s the nature of people we’re looking for, people who want the challenge to go figure it out.
Our industry is ever-changing, fast, and fascinating. Go for it!
Thank you, Todd, for your time and input!
© Commodity Conversations ® 2021
This is an extract from Commodity Crops & The Merchants Who Trade Them – available now on Amazon.