The ethical CEO

UND alumnus, former Cargill CEO Greg Page shares insights on family culture he enjoyed and worked to instill for more than 40 years

Greg Page

Former Cargill, Inc., CEO Greg Page came back to UND to speak at his alma mater’s 12th Annual Olafson Ethics Symposium. The symposium, established and supported by UND alumnus Robert Olafson and SEI Investments Co., is designed to engage students, alumni and local business leaders in conversations regarding ethical decision-making. Photo by Richard Larson.

When Greg Page applied to work for Cargill, Inc., as a young man fresh out of UND’s College of Business & Public Administration (CoBPA) in 1974, he told the interviewer he only planned on being there two years before going to work for his father.

“His answer to me was, ‘Well, we’ll see about that,’” said Page. “At the end of two years, I liked the people; I liked the work.”

Page got the job anyway, but a lot happened in the 42 years since he was first assigned as a trainee to the agriculture and industrial support giant’s feed division. He recently retired as Cargill’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“I stayed because of the family and the way they treated the organization from a growth standpoint,” Page said.

Cargill — one of the largest privately held companies in America — provides food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services to the world, according to its website.

Though he graduated from UND with a degree in economics, Page attributes his success at Cargill to the UND Department of Accountancy.

“I studied economics and accounting, and it proved very serviceable for what I was doing,” he said. “Cargill is a trading company, so the concepts of elasticity and regressions and business law and leans and bailments, all of the things that I learned here (at UND), were useful on the first day.”

Page, a native of Bottineau, N.D., also credits his roots for helping him develop the work habits needed to succeed.

“I think growing up in a small town helps you,” he said. “You realize if you want something to happen, you better pick up the shovel yourself.”

Thomas DiLorenzo and Greg Page

Page (right), a native of Bottineau, N.D., credits his roots for helping him develop the work habits needed to succeed as a longtime businessman and head of one of the nation’s largest privately held companies. Photo by Richard Larson.

Everyday ethics

On Thursday, Nov. 3, Page came back to UND to speak at his alma mater’s 12th Annual Olafson Ethics Symposium. The symposium, established and supported by UND alumnus Robert Olafson and SEI Investments Co., is designed to engage students, alumni and local business leaders in conversations regarding ethical decision-making.

“A lot of good things happened in my life because of UND, so it doesn’t seem too much to ask for me to come back,” Page said. “It’s a small recognition that the tuition I paid was clearly underpriced…in the outcome and totality of my work experience, I got a lot out of the University.”

More than 350 people attended Page’s lecture in which he discussed his experiences at Cargill, as well as the ethical standards the company highly values.

Both Page and Olafson feel that ethical decision-making should be a part of everyday life.

“Ethical values are something that are always there, but it’s not something that you always sit down and take the time to think about,” Olafson said. “I hope it’s helpful to the students to have these opportunities to really think about it and be a little bit more prepared as they go out to start the rest of their lives.”

Page’s visit came less than a month after Sally Smith, another high-profile business alum, was the featured speaker at this year’s annual Mellem Business Symposium, also hosted by the CoBPA. Smith is the CEO of the popular bar-and-grill franchiser Buffalo Wild Wings.

Giving back

In addition to donating his time to UND, Page gives back financially. He is a frequent donor to the CoBPA in the form of student scholarships and other support gifts. For the 2015-2016 school year, Page awarded scholarship money to 29 different students.

“It’s so fun to get the (‘thank you’) letters from the scholarship recipients,” Page said. “They tell me where they’re from, what they’re studying, and what they want to do when they graduate. It really personalizes the fact that it’s not just a financial gift. It comes through in a lot of the letters — how delighted they are to receive it. But more importantly, I’m delighted to hear what they’re doing with this education and what their aspirations are.” 

Though he’s recently retired, Page says he’s finding ways to stay busy.

Page currently serves as a member of the board of directors of Eaton Corporation, Deere & Company, and 3M. He is a past chair of the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and immediate past president of the Northern-Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Page is a past winner of the Sioux Award, the highest honor given by the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, and he also received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from UND this year.

Averi Haugesag
College of Business & Public Administration