As a kid growing up in rural southern Ontario, Bill Buckner enjoyed the Canadian winters. Living amongst 100-acre farms, alongside neighbors with kids about his age, a nearby pond, frozen solid by months of sub-zero temperatures served as a rink of dreams for Buckner and his hockey-loving buddies. Summers saw the same kids playing baseball on pasture-based fields of dreams.
Buckner shared his thoughts and reflected on his eventful career and upcoming retirement with MEAT+POULTRY for an exclusive report in the February issue. Below is an excerpt from this feature:
Fifty-plus years later, Buckner still enjoys hockey, and looks forward to spending more time competing on the ice, after retiring from Cargill later this year, where he serves as one of five members of the company’s leadership team (CLT), capping a 28 year career there. From the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993, to the discovery of BSE in the US in 2003, to the more recent “pink slime” debacle, Buckner has seen his share of challenges face the beef industry during his tenure. He’s also been a key player in the growth that has made Cargill a global force in the meat industry, and beyond. On a chilly winter day last December, Buckner shared some of the highlights and challenges of his career from his Cargill office in Minnesota.
Growing up with two brothers, one a twin and the other older, Buckner was like most kids raised in the many rural parts of Canada, embracing an agricultural lifestyle based on hard work, family loyalty and the stability of good friends. A born entrepreneur, while attending college in Canada, Buckner learned about business in the classroom but also found an opportunity to apply what he was being taught. Capitalizing on the ambition of some cash-hungry fellow students, Buckner’s business delivered flour bags off the back of Robin Hood Multifoods trucks to nearby bakeries, donut shops and pizzerias where union rules prohibited drivers from entering the businesses.
After completing his studies, Buckner went to work with Canada Packers Maple Leaf in Toronto, the largest food processing company in Canada’s largest city, as part of its university management recruiting program, with plans of starting out in transportation logistics. On his first day on the job, however, HR director Art Devlin asked Buckner to come work in his department. “I spent the first two-and-a-half years of my professional life learning everything about people,” Buckner says.
“In the summer of 1987 my phone rang and it was Cargill, and they asked if I’d be interested in possibly building a beef business in Canada,” says Buckner, who accepted the challenge and the job about a month later. He loaded his wife, three kids and the family dog into an old station wagon and made the long drive from Canada to Cargill’s meat business headquarters in Wichita, Kan., relocating to a much flatter environment in America’s heartland. The ensuing years would see him work in a variety of leadership positions in Canada and in the US.
What Buckner will remember most fondly about his career are the people he worked with during the past 38 years and the customers he’s served during that time. Through it all, Buckner says he is an optimist who looks for opportunities and loves to work with others who share his belief and passion for work. “It’s about creating high-performance teams and coaching them and empowering them and giving them the opportunity to create magic,” he says. He considers himself a servant leader with a mission of serving his team, their customers, supplier companies and even communities.
Officially, Buckner’s final day is Aug. 31, 2015, but he says he would advise and assist during the transition. By the end of December Buckner had already handed off most of his animal protein responsibilities. By the end of February his responsibilities with the salt and deicing part of the business will also be handed off.
Looking forward, “I’m going to spend more time on my schedule instead of someone else’s schedule,” he says, with plans to spend more time with friends and family and enjoying many outdoor sports.
“I plan on keeping my mind active and my body active,” Buckner says.
Read the entire story in MEAT+POUTRY's February issue, now available: http://www.nxtbook.com/sosland/mp/2015_02_01/#/70.