“Although we’re a very large company, many people have never heard of us,” she says.
Nevertheless, the 200-year-old company that has its roots in Argentina and is now headquartered in White Plains, New York, is responsible for moving agribusiness, food, ingredients, fuel, and fertilizer in various territories throughout the world. The company’s estimated thirty-two thousand employees are spread throughout forty different countries. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and when Borg arrived at the company in November 2015, it was in the process of expanding even further. Bunge was in the midst of negotiations to acquire a large global specialty food business. Two years later, Bunge welcomed Loders Croklaan to its business. There were also a number of smaller acquisitions underway in other markets, and as chief HR officer, Borg found herself immediately tasked with the due diligence work of ensuring these acquisitions would smoothly integrate into Bunge’s culture.
It’s a tall order for the first few days on the job, but Borg notes that her predecessor remained on the job for Borg’s first three months—allowing her to travel the world, talk with management and employees, listen to where they felt the company needed to go, and identify the company’s talent and management needs.
The “learning tour” was a huge help to Borg, but it also made clear that as these companies were being acquired, bringing everyone in line with the culture of a company that few people knew by name presented its own unique challenges.
“Every one of our markets had operated in a fairly decentralized capacity for the company’s history,” she notes. “They built their own HR infrastructure around that, and as we’re trying to absorb this large business in a global fashion, it quickly became apparent that we needed to build more of a global backbone.”
To that end, Borg got to work immediately, hiring employees who had more of a global mind-set with regard to HR and to strengthen key capability gaps and communications.
Thankfully, she had a lot of experience to help her navigate this undertaking. Prior to joining Bunge, Borg worked at the Dow Chemical Company and General Motors, both of which gave her experience in terms of finding the right people for the company and cultivating a culture at an international level.
Still, she says that while there are lessons that can be carried from one job to the other, the old way isn’t always the right way.
“History can be a hindrance and a help,” Borg says. “I worked at my former company for seventeen years. You take for granted that things just work—and you stop questioning why. Then you’re in a new place, challenging yourself why what used to work doesn’t anymore. You have to unlearn. What do I need to forget about the past? What do I need to borrow from the past? What do I need to learn to move into the future?”
If there is one lesson she’s carried time and again throughout her career, it’s that no matter how much experience one has, there’s always more to learn.
“You have to listen first before you can offer a solution,” she says. “You have to know what the business went through, what got them to this place, what they were proud of, instead of coming in with a preconceived conclusion. Changing jobs and working internationally gives you that perspective that just because something works in one place doesn’t mean it will work in another.”
When it comes to making sure the right people are in the right place, Borg says that certain qualities present themselves on paper (e.g., technical expertise, management experience), but there are also harder-to-identify qualities that are important to consider. Cultural fits can be more challenging to identify, but Borg says it usually distills down to whether a candidate for the job wants to join the company for the right reasons and if their key motivators will fit in to the culture of the organization.
In a day and age when employee retention can be just as challenging as recruitment, Borg says she has to stay on her toes and help the company do more to keep its talent happy. Nevertheless, where some companies might invest in high-tech break rooms or interactive meeting spaces to appeal to employees, she says Bunge’s engagement tool is really the company itself. As Bunge connects farmers to homes around the world, the company revolves around the concept of feeding the world—a purpose that it further cultivates through philanthropic work and employee events—which is something that a lot of employees simply buy into wholeheartedly.
It’s also something that can make a hard job pretty enjoyable—even if it’s not easy.
“I love to get the right people in the right place and maximize their potential,” she says. “There’s never a dull day here. Feeding the world is both a tremendous challenge and an incredible responsibility. There’s always something unique happening, and always ways that people and communications can contribute to the bigger business agenda.”
Accenture solves complex business challenges and drives innovation by combining human ingenuity with groundbreaking technologies. We are proud to partner with Bunge Limited and celebrate Deborah Borg as a business-outcome driven leader in Human Resources. Congratulations Deborah!