BETH E. FORD is an American businessperson born this month. Ford is most notable for being the CEO of Land O’Lakes, an American agricultural cooperative which she assumed leadership of in 2018. She is the first out gay female CEO of an American Fortune 500 company.
Ford was born in Sioux City, Iowa, the fifth in a family of eight children. Her father was a truck driver and a used car salesman, and her mother was a nurse. She started working in the agriculture business at age 12, making $2 an hour de-tasseling corn.
Ford completed her undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, where she pursued her interests in marketing, finance and operations. Her first job was with Mobil Oil Company when she was in her 20s on the tanker, the marketing and refining side. She then worked in supply-chain management at ExxonMobil, Pepsi, and Scholastic, among other companies.
Ford joined Land O’Lakes in 2011, being named as chief supply chain and operations officer. She continued at the company, eventually being promoted to COO, and in August 2018 was appointed as President/CEO by an all-male board. At the time Ford became CEO, she was one of 25 women leading Fortune 500 companies. She is the ninth person to hold this position. She became the first openly-gay female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a fact remarked upon by several sources. As CEO, Ford has invested heavily in Land O’Lakes implementation of new technologies in agriculture as well as the vibrancy of rural communities.
Ford has stated that the biggest challenges facing American farmers is policy uncertainty, weather and the changing climate, and a lack of broadband access. In Ford’s view, the key to preserving American agriculture relies upon innovation, technology, and political stability. Ford has been an advocate for getting high-speed Internet access to rural and underserved areas, calling on the government to provide funds to close the ‘digital divide’ that is impacting employment, education, and progress. She has also called on major companies and organizations to join the American Connection Project, an effort started by Land O’Lakes to advocate for three main principles: robust federal funding for broadband infrastructure, improved broadband connectivity mapping and better coordination of federal and state agencies to deploy funding.
Ford sits on the Board of Directors of the Business Roundtable, US Global Leadership Coalition, Paccar, and the Columbia University Deming Center as well as Iowa State University College of Business.
In August 2019, Ford was one of 181 leading CEOs in the United States to sign Business Roundtable’s new Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation. The new Statement include that companies should serve not only their shareholders, but also deliver value to their customers, invest in employees, deal fairly with suppliers, and support the communities in which they operate. Ford is quoted as saying the new Statement matches the history of Land O’Lakes as a farmer-owned cooperative.
In February 2020, the Land O’Lakes company removed the Native American woman as its logo on its butter and cheese products. Ford is quoted as saying the removal of the “butter maiden” to the words “farmer owned” was more about what the farmer-owned co-op wanted to communicate rather than what it didn’t, that the change did not come from pressure placed on the company.
Ford was named to the Fortune Most Powerful Women List in 2020 for the third year in a row.
Beth Ford is married to Jill Schurtz, who is also a businesswoman. Schurtz is an executive director and the CEO of the St. Paul’s Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association. The couple has three teenage daughters and the family lives in Minneapolis.