by Phil Schneidermeyer

Land O’Lakes Seeks IT Candidates With a Cultural Fit

May 27, 20143 mins
IT JobsIT Leadership

The CIO at the $14 billion company hunts for job candidates who understand cloud, big data -- and the special nature of the food business.

Mike Macrie became CIO of $14.2 billion food and agriculture cooperative Land O’Lakes in June 2013, moving up from his position as VP of the company’s Agriculture Services IT unit, where he helped develop precision agriculture and big-data programs.

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Land O’Lakes, which ranks 194 on the Fortune 500, is a member-owned cooperative that runs the gamut from farm production to consumer foods.

What challenges does Land O’Lakes face when hiring for IT?

Here in the Twin Cities, we are in a hyper-competitive market, so we have to be constantly recruiting both locally and nationally. Targeted recruiting is critical. Locally, our people and their professional networks can be a great source.

We encourage them to develop their networks by joining and playing leadership roles in various professional organizations. When recruiting nationally, we offer an extremely competitive relocation package and try to make it as painless as possible for the new employee’s family.

How do you motivate people to join the company?

We articulate an exciting vision for the company and for the IT organization. Many other companies cannot clearly articulate their vision for IT and seem to be more focused on using compensation as a motivator. Compensation may be a short-term motivator, but that employee is not likely to make a long-term commitment to the corporation.

Recently, we’ve also been successful in hiring and retaining employees because of a $100 million program that’s transforming our IT culture to one that is focused on our customers, both internal and external. This type of connection between our business objectives, our actions and our vision lets our team see the effects of their work on the performance of our business.

What’s your strategy for partnering with HR or the business when hiring?

We have a very tight partnership with our HR representatives. Typically, we’ll sit down together and discuss the job opening, how difficult the skill set is to find, and what companies or regions of the country are likely to have viable candidates.

We also highlight the most critical job openings to our internal IT leaders so they can reach out to their networks to help find qualified candidates. This dual approach has helped us focus our efforts, or in some cases revise our expectations, faster than we had in the past.

Are you assessing for technology skills or something else?

Cultural fit is critical. We work with farmers who typically grow crops once a year. Everything is done within a season, and time constraints become very critical. If you miss the season, you miss the whole year. Unlike most organizations that are measuring in months and quarters, our results are very much weighted toward annual metrics. This can be a big adjustment in time horizon that some people aren’t able to make.

Many job candidates want to work with cloud or big-data technologies. What can Land O’Lakes offer them?

We are aggressively embracing software-as-a-service applications and reducing our on-premise footprint. This requires new skills in cloud integration, cloud security and business intelligence, which are difficult to find.

In big data, we continue to invest in two of our most innovative platforms that are focused on market and agricultural field insights, and we are continually looking for candidates who can blend agricultural, marketing and data sciences together to help our members succeed.

Phil Schneidermeyer is a partner with Heidrick & Struggles, where he specializes in recruiting CIOs and CTOs for all industries.

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