There are only 24 women running Fortune 500 companies. Beth Ford is one of them. Her rise to the CEO job at Land O’Lakes last summer, marked a few firsts. Ford is the first women to lead the Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota dairy company in its nearly 100 year history, and she’s the first openly gay woman to head a Fortune 500 company.
“I believe I bring my best self to work because I’m just myself,” she tells Fortune. “I can tell you my employees at Land O’Lakes, our members, are just excited. They’re proud. They’re excited because what I say is ‘Just bring your best self to work. Be a good teammate. Do your best work.’ That is what is most important.”
Before Land O’Lakes, Ford held leadership positions at Mobil, now owned by Exxon, Pepsico, Scholastic, the publishing house, and International Flavors and Fragrances. She says that her upbringing was central to her career success. She was one of eight kids, growing up in Sioux City, Iowa. “I was number five,” she says, adding, “we were very much a working class family.” Her father was a truck driver and her mother, a nurse, and there was an expectation that you had to work hard to get what you wanted.
So, it is not surprising that Ford says “resilience” is her favorite word.
“Everybody has failures in their life and in their careers. I can certainly point to many,” she explains. “Resilience is so central. Confidence is so central to a career, that you learn from that and you move forward.”
Watch the video above for more from my interview with Ford.