Around the World with Cargill
Steven Euller brings a wealth of international experience to his post
Published in Corporate Counsel Edition® 2008 magazine
By Paul Nolan on December 1, 2008
Moving up the corporate ladder has its sacrifices. When Steven Euller accepted Cargill’s general counsel position in 2000, he gave up, for the most part, his globetrotting ways. Not that he was complaining.
For one, he got to move into the company’s tony “Lake Office” headquarters in Wayzata, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. Visitors follow a winding private drive through tall iron gates to a large country home, built circa 1931. Inside, a spiral staircase, imported from Italy with hand-hewn timbers in the turret, leads to Euller’s second-floor office.
It’s a dramatic change from his varied global workspaces—and the lifestyle of a young attorney on his way up. When Euller joined Cargill in 1979 straight out of Harvard Law School, the agricultural giant sent him to Singapore (twice), Geneva and London.
“When I was in Asia, I traveled to Japan for a week, to Australia for a week, to India and Pakistan,” he says. “And it was the same thing working from London; I went to Moscow, Africa and Turkey.”
During his initial stint in Singapore in the early 1980s, he helped lay the groundwork for Cargill’s partnerships throughout Asia when that part of the world was ripe for economic development.
“We were very active in seeking investment opportunities, including setting up joint ventures and pursuing acquisitions,” he says. “Many of these ventures failed, but we learned from them and we began to hire people in those countries who formed the core of our operations today.”
Back then, nascent globalization didn’t make it easy to set up shop abroad. “Laws were in transition in many countries and legal systems were not always in sync with government policies,” he says. “A government official would enact incentives to encourage foreign business investment, but the country’s bureaucracy wouldn’t catch up to the new rules for quite a while. The result would be conflicting rules, and we had to figure out how to comply with inconsistent laws.”
Similar challenges exist today in emerging economies, so Euller’s experience from a quarter century ago continues to pay dividends.
In the 1990s, he served a second stint in Singapore, building on what he accomplished. He is astounded at the development that has taken place.
“When I go back, I see tall, shining buildings and fancy restaurants. This wasn’t the case in the old days,” he says. “On the other hand, the ‘sacrifice’ of living in a city like Singapore was far less than that of a plant manager, who would move his family to a rural area where the amenities were much more sparse.”
Today, Euller supervises nearly 200 full-time attorneys, many of whom work half a world away and practice in all manner of legal areas. Creating a system in which the team can work together—as well as with Cargill scientists and business managers—demands much of his attention. With the joint ventures in which Cargill routinely enters, it’s not unusual for attorneys stationed in Minneapolis to work on a project with attorneys in Shanghai, Sao Paulo or London.
“I think we have a global reach as a law department that most law firms would find hard to match,” he says. “We are aware that we come from different cultures and different legal systems and we want to leverage those differences. We spend a lot of time making sure that we’re not talking past each other.”
In fact, when the company’s entire legal team met in Brazil in September, they spent a full day discussing cross-cultural differences and global cooperation.
“If you want to continually learn new things and have a variety of new challenges, [Cargill] is the place to be,” he says. “We offer cutting-edge work and a high level of intellectual challenge.”
Euller wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve never had any regrets,” he says. “I can’t imagine that I could have had a more exciting or interesting career.”
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