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GOODBYE VERSAILLES

Cargill’s top officers are abandoning their executive chateau and mixing with the rank and file

By Oliver Staley

Cargill, the Minnesota-based agricultural giant, has a few quirks that set it apart from other massive companies. Despite being large enough to have annual revenue of $120 billion and 150,000 employees, it remains privately held. In an era when companies are consolidating and spinning off non-core units, Cargill remains active in businesses as diverse as iron and steel trading, oil and gas shipping, and highway-salt manufacturing.

And since 1944, its top executives have been cloistered apart from its corporate headquarters in a mansion on Lake Minnetonka styled after a French chateau.

That last eccentricity is changing, though. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Cargill’s senior leadership is moving out of the mansion and will relocate down the road to the 1970s-era office complex that houses many of its Minnesota-based headquarters workers. About 40 employees will move in the next 12 to 18 months.

The company cast the decision as a cost-cutting move—Cargill’s net profits have fallen over the past few years—but also as a way for executives to reconnect with employees. “I want to be near the team,” Dave MacLennan, Cargill’s CEO since 2013, told the newspaper.

As CEOs are increasingly interested in leading through persuasion—and as transparency and emotional intelligence become workplace values—it makes sense for the executives to descend from Mt. Olympus and rub elbows with the rank and file. And for companies in down cycles that are trimming budgets, it’s hard to justify lavish executive suites when perks are being rolled back for everyone else.

The end of the imperial CEO has been prophesied before, but there’s still plenty of top executives who, after decades of eyeing the corner office, have no interest in relinquishing it. Even after decamping from their mansion, Cargill’s honchos may yet sequester themselves in offices away from the common folk. But it’s hard to fault them from wanting to distance themselves from a headquarters other workers refer to as “Versailles.”

The image above was taken by Bobak Ha’eri and shared under a CC-By-SA-3.0 license on Wikicommons.