A Case for Growing And Refining Talent

Case McGee is one of HR's Rising Stars for 2011.

His greatest challenge: Ensuring that topics such as succession planning and workforce development become part of the "everyday language" among managers at ADM.

His greatest achievement: Oversaw the company's first comprehensive job-mapping initiative; cut relocation costs and increased retention rates among key groups of employees.

Friday, July 8, 2011
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Growing up in central Illinois, Case McGee assumed he'd end up managing the family scrap-salvage business. But at a job fair at his college, he met a recruiter from Archer Daniels Midland Co. and, instead, went on to forge an HR career that's an inspiring example of how the function can effectively partner with a business unit.

ADM, headquartered in Decatur, Ill., is an organization of 29,000 employees that touches nearly every aspect of agriculture and food processing. Chances are good that, if something's grown in a field in the Midwest (or any other part of the world), it will eventually pass through one of ADM's facilities, which turn crops into food ingredients, animal feed, alternative fuels and chemical substitutes.

McGee joined the company as a commodity trader and eventually moved into HR after spending some time recruiting other traders and finding that he liked it.

"The beauty of it was I'd been there, I knew the lingo and could give potential hires a true idea of what the job was really like," he says.

Thirteen years after joining ADM, McGee today holds the title of vice president of human resources, responsible for compensation and relocation. He also serves as the HR generalist for the Corn Business Unit, one of ADM's largest divisions. He works closely with the CBU's president, Mark Bemis, in building up the division's talent-management processes, including leadership development and succession planning.

It's not the first time McGee and Bemis have worked together: McGee served as Bemis' right-hand man in strengthening the talent-management processes at ADM's Cocoa, Milling and Financial Services unit.

Much of the work McGee and Bemis did involved getting the business unit's managers to devote serious thought to issues such as succession and workforce planning.

"We really pushed deep into the organization with a series of 'talent talks,' " says McGee.

"These were opportunities," he adds, "to get managers to think about the people who worked for them: who's ready for a new opportunity, who the potential successors for a given position might be [and] what their development plans should consist of -- to make this sort of thing part of the everyday language at our company."

The talent talks also served as a way for managers to share more information with each other about their employees, he says. "We have this vision of ADM as a place where world-class talent comes to do its best work, [and we want] talent to be transferable across organizations and functions."

Talent transferability was one impetus for a project McGee and Bemis worked on together at the Cocoa, Milling and Financial Services division: ADM's first-ever job-mapping initiative, a process designed to create a consistent global approach to job titles, responsibilities and pay ranges.

It's intended to spur career paths throughout the organization "so, for example, an employee in our Sao Paulo office who wants to transfer to a position at our Decatur location can determine whether it's a lateral move, a promotion or a step back in responsibility," says McGee. "The end result is guiding managers and employees in better understanding the career opportunities within and outside their job functions."

Prior to the initiative, job-mapping at ADM had been more of an ad-hoc affair. Thanks to the initiative, about 8,300 jobs have been mapped so far, including a variety of executive, professional and non-professional roles at company locations in the United States, Europe and South America.

McGee is also leading a job-mapping program that will be targeted to the company's top 100 HR professionals to ensure they'll be ready to support the process.

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Bemis praises McGee's deep knowledge of the business and his communication skills. "[Case] brings a practicality to these discussions. He has an uncanny ability to boil complex problems and situations into relatively simple terms and concepts, which is extremely effective," he says.

With a global workforce, relocation is, not surprisingly, a big issue for ADM. Here, too, McGee's efforts have yielded results. He led a relocation overhaul that includes incentives for ADM relocatees to rent, rather than buy, a new home -- thus freeing the company from the costs associated with helping employees purchase new homes and sell their old ones -- with the company reimbursing them for up to $10,000 in rental costs over a two-year period.

McGee also implemented a program that encourages ADM employees to purchase homes from co-workers who are relocating in order to free the relocating employees to focus on their new assignments.

Under the program, the HR department notifies all employees about houses in ADM's inventory as well as homes owned by relocating employees. Workers who purchase any of these homes receive a 3-percent bonus of the purchase price up to $10,000, plus reimbursement of up to $4,000 in closing costs.

The company credits these and other McGee-led initiatives with nearly $2 million in relocation savings.

McGee also helped lead the creation of a new compensation program for ADM's commodity merchandisers, who buy and sell commodities, such as grain, and tend to be heavily recruited by competing firms. ADM's senior vice president of HR, Michael D'Ambrose, says ADM's business leaders credit the new program with helping them retain merchandisers.

D'Ambrose, who is McGee's boss, sees him as a potential successor.

"Every senior HR leader hopes to find a colleague who may eventually succeed him or her, then continue to lead the next generation of the organization," he says. "During the course of my 30-year career, I can say with certainty that very few -- inside or outside ADM -- have been as impressive as Case."

See all of the 2011 HR's Rising Stars.

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