Kim Skanson Modernizes a 153-Year-Old Company With Business Services

Cargill's President of Global Business Services Tells Us How

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Kim Skanson

Leadership with an Eye on Agility

How do you take a 153-year-old company that is one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S., has grown by acquisition, and has long been used to siloed operations – and turn it into a modern, agile, organization?

That's a challenge, but one that Kim Skanson, President of Cargill Business Services, embraces. Providing streamlined support to Cargill’s operations in 70 countries, represented by 155,000 employees, has been her leadership objective for the past two years. Kim brings with her a strong IT background, having previously led turnarounds of IT infrastructure departments at both Target and Cargill, and those experiences gave her the right skills to lead a relatively new business services group into the future.

"I was comfortable taking on this new role as I had led our IT transformation for the previous two years and had proven my ability in driving improved transparency and streamlining services. So I understood the model well," explains Kim.

Her biggest achievement, she says, was to get through the change management aspect of transforming a traditional and highly fragmented enterprise and help move it into a more modern, integrated landscape. For Kim, that meant centralizing operational work like finance, HR, trade execution and ocean transportation into the seven global centers that are currently in place in India (two centers), Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Brazil, China and Argentina.

"The businesses were used to having control over their own services,” she explains. “Taking that away from them required a lot of reassurance."

Since taking on her role, Kim's focus has been on driving quality, optimizing services, enabling the company’s broader transformation, introducing scorecards and transparency across metrics, and managing the centers through strong governance.

Another focus is promoting agility.

"Every enterprise needs to be more nimble and agile these days and one way we've driven that at Cargill is by driving common processes,” Kim says. “When I arrived, invoice processing had 380 different payment terms in APAC alone. You just cannot drive an agile agenda if you are being held back by that kind of complexity. So process discipline came first."

Much of the value being driven through business services is tracked through scorecards and KPIs. "We track all of our services by location and business unit, and drill down into these metrics while sharing them publicly with senior-level leaders across the enterprise," explains Kim. "We also share our own customer service and satisfaction metrics.”

The centers’ success, Kim says, is to a large part due to culture. “We encourage innovation and reward people for taking risks. It's not about asking permission. As such, business services is a great place to work and a great place to develop a career.”

Kim has built a strong team to take on the work that was transferred: 80 per cent of her staff are Millennials and a large segment are MBA-qualified. “They like to work fast and expect to have a real-time impact.”

The marketplace globally is becoming more and more competitive as larger numbers of enterprises adopt a Shared Services model and are looking for the right talent, Kim says. Traditional location hotbeds are under pressure as competition for talent heats up. Still, opportunities remain to take advantage of labor arbitrage, notwithstanding the fact that India no longer offers the differential it did 10 years ago.

"The labor market is changing, there's no doubt, but there are still plenty of opportunities to tap into quality talent around the world," she explains.

When it comes to talent, Kim is also focused on placing women into leadership roles. More than half of her leadership team members are women. "But diversity is more than just gender," she points out. "We’re promoting diversity of thought, diversity of culture, diversity of age. With global operations needing to collaborate closely, building bridges is key to getting our work done."

Meet Kim Skanson at Shared Services and Outsourcing Week Autumn, in Scottsdale, AZ this September. She will be sharing tips on how to build an agile Shared Services center that supports an enterprise’s global objectives in her keynote PLENARY: Shared Services Agility – Are You the Pro-Athlete or the Benchwarmer? Get more information