Learning From a $115 Billion Company

I like numbers as much as the next person and know their value in business, but I’m not really big on those top 10 lists or top 500 lists, I certainly don’t spend my time reading them on a regular basis.  So when I happened upon an article sometime at the end of last year I read it because of the fact that it was talking about how a big company was planning to get bigger, not because I wanted to read the top 10 list that it turns out it included as part of the article.  I don’t think we should always compare ourselves and our businesses to others out there, but I do know that we can learn from their success and this article reminded me of some truths that I think we sometimes ignore or forget when it comes to business.

The article, which you can read here (and I suggest you do), is talking about Cargill, “the $115 billion-in-sales agricultural giant that has topped Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies for 28 of the past 30 years.”  Some interesting things for you to consider: first and foremost it’s a food business.  Second, they’ve been in business since 1865.  Third, in the past 5 years they’ve consistently earned between 107 and 134 billion in sales and revenues.

So next we have to talk about the top 10 list.  What does it say? 3 of the others in the top 10 list are grocery stores and a 4th and 5th are also in the food business to one degree or another.  6 of the top 10 companies on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies are in the food business, the industry known for seriously small margins.

So what does all of this tell us?  First, that it’s possible to be very successful for a very long time in just about any industry.  It also tells us that what everyone says isn’t always correct, and sometimes you can beat the odds.  Finally, if you do want to succeed you have to keep learning, trying new things and growing.  Even if it’s not your goal to end up on one of these lists, I still think that the insights about Cargill can be encouraging and insightful.  Who have you learned from lately?

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