Carl Casale at Century Club March 22

The next Century Club event will be held in Emerson Auditorium, Knight Hall, March 22, starting at 7:30 a.m. with complimentary breakfast. Carl Casale (EMBA’92), CEO of CHS Inc. will be the speaker. Link to RSVP.

This article was originally published in Olin Business Magazine in 2013, written by David Sheets.

Carl Casale

Carl Casale (photo courtesy of CHS)

Carl Casale talked while driving to a meeting outside St. Paul, Minn. It was the only chance he had to sit still.

Life moves fast when you’re president and chief executive officer of CHS Inc., a multi-billion dollar Minnesota-based Fortune 100 cooperative with interests in food processing and wholesale, farm supply and financial services, among many others.

Besides that, Casale and his wife run a commercial blueberry farm in his home state of Oregon, and the busy season is just winding down. When he’s not in St. Paul, he trades his suit and tie for a pair of comfortable jeans and heads to the berry fields to get his hands dirty.

“I go out every two weeks when they’re harvesting,” he said by hands-free phone. “My wife’s there watching things, of course, but it’s my chance to get back out in the fields, because that’s my life’s work.”

Executive decision
Casale grew up on an Oregon vegetable farm, studied agricultural economics at Oregon State, then signed on with Monsanto in Washington state to sell herbicides. From there, he worked his way up to chief financial officer, though finance was not his chief interest or skill. Monsanto offered to help him out.

Through its Executive MBA program, “Olin had a partnership with Monsanto. The leadership at the time thought I should take advantage of that, and I jumped at the chance,” Casale said. “Whenever you have an opportunity to expand your skill base, what you probably don’t appreciate at the time is the ability to also expand your perspective.”

The Executive MBA commitment took up many of Casale’s Fridays and Saturdays, several hours of study-group work each week, plus two hours of book study a night, on top of long days at Monsanto. The program, which he finished in 1992, presented one of the biggest challenges he ever faced, he said.

Olin’s impact
Yet Casale gained more from his Olin studies than he expected.

“The knowledge I gained at Olin … not only allowed me to be an effective CFO, it gave me an appreciation and understanding of how to do it better,” Casale said.

That in turn boosted his management profile and made him the optimum choice to head CHS, known as Cenex Harvest States until changing its legal name in 2003.

“(Casale) has a really impressive and broad scope of business experience,” then-Chairman Michael Toelle told the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis upon Casale’s hiring in 2010. Plus, he has “rural values and a commitment to agriculture.”

But Casale credits Olin for making him a better manager.

“The broader growth through my study group was every bit as valuable to my degree as the hard skills I learned in the classroom, and probably had a greater influence on me over time,” said Casale, who has the distinction of being the first chief executive CHS hired from outside the cooperative.

“You know, you can learn skills by reading a book but you can’t gain perspective by doing that, right? You have to interact with others in order to gain that,” he continued. “In my view, what really differentiated Olin when I went through is that a bunch of members of my study group I still consider to be my best friends.”

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