From Childhood in Colombia to Global Executive: The Experiences That Rattle Your Walls Also Strengthen Your Foundation

Michigan Ross Alumni First Person

By Pilar Cruz, MBA ‘02
President and Group Leader, Cargill Feed & Nutrition

Imagine yourself in a college classroom, listening to a lecture in economics from a prominent professor. Suddenly, you hear a large explosion and the room shakes. The walls vibrate. Some students scream and hide under the desks.

After a few minutes of assessing if anyone is hurt, and seeing that no injuries occurred in our class, the professor calmly continues the lecture. These few minutes feel like a slow motion movie, but it’s part of my real experience. I can replay this scene in my head as if it were yesterday.

While the size of that particular explosion was greater than normal, dangerous events were a periodic occurrence when I was growing up in my native Colombia. And in the times before mobile phones or easy communication, there was no way to contact loved ones that we were safe and alive.  But we kept carrying on with our business and really, what else could we do?

We had to keep moving forward with courage and optimism.

It was in this challenging environment during the 80s and 90s in Colombia that we had to develop our resilience — learning to endure and overcome obstacles. I have tried to apply that to my life as much as possible and this has allowed me new experiences. Through the example and encouragement of my father, I came to value education as the thing that will help me move up and be able to make a difference.

When it was time to go to the United States to further my education, I chose Michigan Ross because it seemed like the best fit. Although, I must admit that I was not entirely aware of a midwestern college experience — there was nothing to compare it to in South America. But the new experiences at Michigan were amazing, meeting fellow students, being challenged by professors, and of course, home football games on Saturdays!

After Ross, I joined Cargill where I have had the opportunity to take several leadership roles in various businesses — including living and working abroad in six different countries. As the largest privately held company in the world, Cargill is a global multi-national and this has afforded me and my family some very unique opportunities.

Every place we have lived in, we have been able to contribute to the local communities and make a difference, not only through our work with Cargill but also as a family. My husband (also a Ross alum) volunteered with organizations in Central America and the UK that work to alleviate poverty through education.

I have been so fortunate with what I have been able to get out of life. While my home is now the United States, I am proud to be from Colombia and a large part of who am I will always have been forged in those tumultuous times of my upbringing.

But through resilience and resolve, we can all learn to lead better lives — and help others along the way.

Pilar Cruz is president and group leader for Cargill’s animal Feed and Nutrition business, leading more than 11,000 employees across 25 countries.

Image copyright: Guerrero Howe, LLC. 2017