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Friday, June 18, 2004As most CEOs of public companies scramble to reduce exposure to market volatility, terrorism and shareholder suits, America’s largest private company boldly heads into markets others fear to tread. Who else could invest in Russia as its economy collapsed into bankruptcy, or quietly control almost a quarter of U.S. beef production as mad cow disease flared up around the world? Cargill, for certain—and its long-term bets have consistently paid off. The Minneapolis firm, controlled by eight surviving members of the original founding Cargill and MacMillan families, grew revenues 19 percent last year, to almost $60 billion, which would have ranked it among the top 20 largest U.S. companies if it were public—bigger than Procter & Gamble, Boeing or Johnson & Johnson. In a rare interview, Cargill’s conservative, down-to-earth CEO Warren Staley shares some of his thoughtswarren staley says, "When there’s a lot of volatility, you need a lot of discipline and other people looking over your shoulder, keeping you intellectually honest. Most people who trade or manage risk at Cargill have a limit as to how much of that they can do. Every morning before 8 a.m., we roll off hundreds of risk limits around the world. That’s when our [oversight] committees kick in and I’ve elevated it to my level with other senior people just to review the process.But at the end of the day, it’s about people being honest. We’ve all read about the trader who stuck a trade in the drawer and didn’t register it. That hardly ever happens here. Our owners came from Scotland [in 1865] and just set the tone. At Cargill, it’s much more important how you behave … than how much money you make for the company."
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