If a lifetime of experiences in agriculture, finance, operational management and corporate commerce prepare someone for running a major part of one of the biggest and most iconic companies in the meat and poultry industry, then Jon Nash was more prepared than most to do just that. But he’s the first to admit that all that education, training and experience were not the only reasons he wanted to work for Cargill.
“There were two other factors,” he explained. “One is, I grew up with Cargill. My father worked for Cargill; he knew a lot of people who worked at Cargill. And second, to be more specific about it, the company’s core values and guiding principles made me want to be there – and nowhere else.”
For those reasons, and many more, Cargill is where Jon Nash has worked, in many prominent roles, for the past 22 years. Most recently he took over as the lead for Cargill’s Protein and Salt business, a major company division operating in 17 countries, with more than 60,000 employees. His team carries out the production of beef, a case-ready business, value-added meats, chicken and turkey, egg products, deli, cooked meats, and distribution for food makers, foodservice companies, and retailers of food. His division also produces salt that is used in food, agriculture, water softening and de-icing.
Nash, who is 46, married and has one daughter, became head of Cargill Protein and Salt in Wichita, Kan., three months ago, succeeding Brian Sykes, who is now Cargill’s chief operating officer. Before heading the company’s global protein operations, Nash led Cargill Protein’s North America Business during the initial and worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s prioritized the health and safety of the company’s food workers while maintaining the dependability of the food system for the entire supply chain, including farmers, ranchers, customers and consumers.
Nash is known for putting people first, ahead of anything else, and delivering for his customers. He’s a humble leader who focuses on hard work, which is why he is where he is in the company. He’s trained leaders and cultivated winning teams in Cargill’s protein business for more than 20 years. And by bringing a mix of commercial, operational and financial education and experience to his roles, he provides a vast and broad amount of expertise at Cargill.
Nash received his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Missouri in Columbia, and his Master of Business Administration degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He has also completed the Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School. He joined Cargill in 1998 on the “money” side, starting his career there as a financial analyst in the company’s Schuyler, Neb., beef processing plant.
He went on to lead multiple company acquisitions and helped integrate newly purchased beef processing facilities into the business, before becoming controller, then general manager of the company’s Fresno, Calif., beef plant. He also served as vice president of operations and later as president of Cargill’s North America protein foodservice plants, where he focused on strengthening relationships with customers.
But Nash’s connection with Cargill really goes back almost to the beginning of his life, when as a youngster in Concordia, Mo., about 55 miles east of Kansas City, he watched his father have a great career working in the feed division at Cargill.
“In my early childhood and beyond, I grew up knowing a lot of people who worked for Cargill,” Nash said. “I’ve always thought how fortunate we were that my dad worked for that company. I wore a Cargill hat to school and everywhere, every day. I really grew up, wanting to work for Cargill.”
In addition to his father supporting the family by working for Cargill, the Nashes made their living as family farmers in Concordia.
“We were contract turkey growers for Honeysuckle White, Cargill’s major turkey brand,” Nash said. But by the age of 12 or so, the family was no longer growing turkeys. “We left farming and were moving around. But I decided in my teens that I was going to have a career with that company.”
At that time, it wasn’t unusual for people to spend their entire careers working for one company, Nash said. And while things have changed – today people tend more to move from one company to another for various reasons – at Cargill it’s different. People tend to stay there, to spend their entire working careers there. That’s certainly true of Nash.
“I was a single person, right out of school from the University of Missouri, and Schuyler, Neb., was my first job. Returning from Virginia Tech, I was coming back to the culture here, and that was especially important to me. I was integrating businesses and learning a great deal about what makes businesses work successfully.”
But Nash is quick to point out that he didn’t stay at Cargill because of a lack of opportunities elsewhere. He wanted to stay at Cargill and grow with the company. Not only did he like what he saw, but during his time with the company, he took many actions to move the company ahead, despite all the growing challenges corporations in the food industry face today. He sees a purpose in what people can do for a company.
“If they stay there, then their purpose, what they could do, and what they are doing, is greater than themselves or their personal goals,” Nash said.
By working across the Cargill protein business, Nash became a role model and mentor to many Cargill employees, developing excellent leaders, and encouraging co-workers to make full careers at the company, whether their interest was at the executive level, management, or on one of the teams operating one of the company’s plants.
Responding to the challenges facing the meat and poultry industry, Nash took steps to transform Cargill’s North America protein business, which led to the same steps he’s carrying out for Cargill Global Protein.
“Our most important step, I think, was restructuring Cargill Protein from separate business units into one customer-driven business made up of channels, like retail, foodservice and protein ingredients,” he explained. This has been happening all through Cargill’s global protein business worldwide, which operates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Poland, Russia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia.
“We wanted to change from a supply chain-based organization, with separate units, to a customer driven business,” Nash said. “That is a massive movement for a company’s operations. A major reason for the opening of the new Cargill North American headquarters is to help convert Cargill Protein from separate units to products approach to a unified business, both here and around the world.”
And there is no doubt that Nash has taken steps to meet food industry challenges, by expanding Cargill’s protein offerings in a world that is demanding more protein. This expansion includes the company’s emerging seafood business as well as growing alternative proteins. For his leadership of Cargill’s global protein business, he’s thankful for being part of the Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School, which he completed about four months ago.
“It’s important to understand the needs of our customers, our people, and what the markets are calling for,” Nash said. “In diversifying, we focus on these markets, which include meat, value-added, plant-based and cell-based products. Consumers have the right and need to have the ability to choose what they want to eat. And we are focused on growing our share of all these markets.
“There will be tension in how protein is made,” he acknowledged. But he emphasized the great support that Cargill gives to help livestock farmers and growers, manufacturers of feed and distributors, all important sectors of the protein industry.
“Protein will always be an animal-based business,” he pointed out. “No matter what happens, there will always be demand for animal-based and plant-based protein. Growing up on a farm, I know farmers and ranchers are the foundation of our industry, and I know how hard it is to do what they do.”
When Nash thinks about his long, close ties to Cargill, the company culture is likely the most important part of his connection.
“Cargill is a family-owned company,” he explained. The company is 156 years old, dating back to its founding by William Wallace Cargill in 1865, when he bought a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa. “So, an important part of that heritage are core values and guiding principles governing how Cargill operates,” Nash said. “Our core values are very simple, because they are based on our culture here. Do the right thing. Put people first. And reach higher in everything you do. And it all starts with people. Companies are designed to be competitive, winning organizations, that create opportunities to grow. But it all has to start with our people.”
There are also guiding principles that play a major part in the company’s operation and success. “One is the importance of being a responsible global citizen. Our commitment to sustainability is an extremely high priority in our operations,” Nash said. These other guiding principles are extremely important to Nash and how Cargill is run.
“We obey the law. We conduct our business with integrity. We keep accurate and honest records. We honor our business obligations. We treat people with dignity and respect, including the people who work for and with us, our customers, and our consumers. We are concerned about the company and its prosperity, so we protect Cargill’s information, assets, and interests. I was in plants for 17 years, and I know how important it is to take care of our workers, so they can provide for their families. If you think about it, all of this really comes down to the importance of people. That is our top priority.”