Ryan LeGrand joined the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC’s) Washington, D.C., office last month as the organization’s new president and chief executive officer (CEO).
Previously, he spent four years as the Council’s Mexico director during a time of expanding ethanol programs and challenges related to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He was also a grain and feed ingredient trader for 15 years and grew up in rural Oklahoma, a combined set of experiences that have offered perspective on the key elements of the Council’s membership and market development work.
Here, LeGrand talks about his vision for the organization, how his experience informs his approach to leadership and what he has been working on since arriving back in the United States.
What is your vision for the Council? What role do you see the Council playing in the promotion of international trade of U.S. commodities and grains?
My vision for the Council is to add as much value as possible to the U.S. farmer’s bottomline - really to the entire value chain - through market access and the development work we do around the world in more than 50 countries.
The numbers in terms of population distribution and middle class income growth really paint the picture. More than 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the United States, so the major growth in demand for the products we promote is going to come from outside our borders.
We are working in foreign markets to promote trade in a number of ways. Market access is really the first and most crucial step. We simply have to have the ability to sell into a market free of barriers and restrictions, so we work with local authorities in these countries to make sure they are correctly informed when they make policy decisions that could affect the products we represent.
We are also working to maintain and defend our valued markets through market education, trade missions and activities like industry outreach.
It is extremely important to know and appreciate your customers and provide excellent service. That is something I always practiced in trading and throughout my career, and it is something I will make sure the Council does wherever we are operating.
What did you learn in Mexico and as a grain trader that is applicable to this new role?
Working for the Council in Mexico taught me how the organization works on the administrative side - running books and managing programs. All of that translates up, and that knowledge is really going to help me in this role.
Working with the Mexican government and in public relations were also valuable experiences. We cannot take a cookie-cutter approach in every country around the world, but there are certain tactics that will apply.
As far as trading, my experience lies on the grains side, and I am quickly getting up to speed on ethanol trade. Knowing transportation flows, how products physically move around the world, and understanding key issues like basis and arbitrage opportunities are important. I traded Latin America and Asia for a total of 15 years, shipping barges, railcars, containers, trucks, just about every mode of transportation. Being able to go in to talk trade and logistics with our customers around the world, showing them I understand their business by having that knowledge, really helps with credibility.
What does growth under your leadership at Council look like?
We are doing a lot right. We have worked very hard on ethanol promotion over the last four years, and that is not going to change. Ethanol is currently the fastest-growing ag export from the United States. It is a great way to add value to commodity corn right here in the country and then export that product in the form of fuel. You will see the Council continue to innovate, come up with new programs and be on the front lines of ethanol export promotion around the world.
On the grain side, we need to win back markets. We have lost market share in many countries, and we need to work to get those markets back. Every bushel counts when it comes to moving high inventories, so we will be looking to ramp up trade servicing activities, turn over every stone to make sure we are not missing opportunities for trade in the short-, medium- or long-terms.
What has been on your agenda for the first few weeks as CEO?
My first few weeks are focused on getting up-to-speed on the programs and activities we are implementing. Our international directors, staff and consultants are really our eyes and ears throughout the globe, so I will be reaching out to see what is working and what is not and be looking for ideas on how to improve.
We have our annual meeting coming up in Cincinnati at the end of the month. At this meeting, we always hold elections for the USGC Board of Directors and officers, so it will give me a chance to talk with past, current and future board members as well as many of our member states and companies who attend this meeting every year. Focusing on our employees and our membership will be crucial in these first weeks.