“The overarching power of the human spirit” — Chuck Magro: President & CEO of Nutrien

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Welcome to Speaking of Business. I’m Goldy Hyder of the Business Council of Canada.

Goldy Hyder:
The COVID-19 outbreak has put a pause on many aspects of daily life. Kids aren’t in school, office towers are empty and sporting events are on hold but some things can’t be stopped for a pandemic. Take agriculture, for example. Right now, farmers are hard at work planting the crops we will all rely on over the next few months and my guest today is helping them do it.

Goldy Hyder:
Chuck Magro is the President and CEO of Nutrien. The company supplies more than a half a million growers around the world with everything from fertilizer and seed to the latest digital tools that increase crop production.

Goldy Hyder:
Chuck, welcome back to the podcast.

Chuck Magro:
Goldy, thanks. Nice to be with you, virtually, anyways.

Goldy Hyder:
Well look, why don’t we start off with the news of the day. Today is May 11th. Earlier this morning, the federal government announced plans to offer loans to large companies to help them bridge losses during this health emergency. Is this of any use to Nutrien?

Chuck Magro:
Well, certainly the decision today, I think, was welcome and the announcement, that I saw. But from a Nutrien perspective, Goldy, look for us, it’s more or less business as usual when it comes to our business in helping farmers get the crop planted for the spring season here.

Chuck Magro:
So our business is actually operating to plan all of our operations from our mining to our nitrogen processing facilities in Alberta and around the world. Our full supply chain and then our retail business around the world is all fully operational. So the government program as it was announced today, I think, is good for many businesses that need added support in this time of need. But for us right now, we wouldn’t be one of those companies.

Chuck Magro:
We’ve seen an impact on COVID, because I don’t think there’s many companies out there that can say they’ve seen zero impact, but our impact’s been quite muted and we’re very busy right now. Everything that we have in terms of our mining production and distribution and retail businesses are all operating.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, let’s talk about what’s keeping you busy but also the supply chain that you referenced because I believe you are aware that in that supply chain there’s a number of companies that have experienced financial hardship, some of whom are your customers. What have you been able to do to help them bridge to the other side?

Chuck Magro:
Well, that’s right. So for us, our customers are the Canadian, the U.S. and farmers around the world and providing them with everything they need to grow the crops that we come to rely on to make sure that the shelves in the grocery store are full of food.

Chuck Magro:
Nutrien, of course, also is a very big lender to farmers. We lend something like $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year to our customers. We haven’t pulled back on any lending for farmers. In fact, we’re having a very good look at where we can dig a little deeper and support our farmers through these tough times. That’s really what our business model is built on, is to be there for farmers regardless of market conditions and to become a trusted advisor, a key partner for them. Lending farmers money is part of that.

Chuck Magro:
Actually, last year, we launched a separate business unit. We call it Nutrien Finance and that business is completely designed to lend financing to farmers so that they can buy our products and services and help them through the growing season.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, that’s great. Now, of course, you mentioned the business is an essential business and therefore your workers are deemed essential workers. What are you able to do to keep them safe during this crisis?

Chuck Magro:
Right from the beginning of the crisis, we set two overarching priorities. First was the health and safety of our employees, their families and the communities where we live and work while ensuring that we help farmers get the crop planted so that we don’t experience food shortages, that are what I would call structural, come the fall or early next spring. So everything that we’ve done in the last two and a half months now has been focused on those two priorities.

Chuck Magro:
Really when it comes down to what we’ve done with our people … we’ve got 25,000 employees worldwide, 8,000 to 10,000 in Canada. We were one of the first companies to move to a work from home mode. We did it before the government orders. Thank goodness we did that. Now, we’ve got about 8,000 of those 25,000 employees working from home. That keeps them safe but it also keeps the ones that can’t work from home, so our miners and our process operators and our retail employees, that keeps them safe as well.

Chuck Magro:
We’ve done everything that we can imagine. We’ve restricted access, of course, to all of our facilities. We’ve made physical modifications to our lunchrooms, our control rooms, even the elevators for the potash mines. You can imagine that’s a one kilometre journey downward that takes 10 to 12 minutes. We’ve had to reorient how we get people underground now to mine and the elevator was an important piece of that. We’ve embraced the notions of social distancing [inaudible] the protocols that we’ve got.

Chuck Magro:
But really what I would say is we listened to our people. We altered our HR policies. We did a lot there. We’ve invested a lot in technology. But we also just listened to our people and solicited their ideas to ensure that we’re maximizing and optimizing social distancing.

Goldy Hyder:
Has it worked?

Chuck Magro:
I think so. What I would say is, we’ve had cases of COVID-19, because at 25,000 employees, you can imagine. But thankfully right now as I sit here and talk to you, the numbers are less than a dozen, no-one in the hospital. Most people have recovered and back to work. I’d say right now, I think that our protocols have worked very, very well.

Chuck Magro:
I think the primary reason that our protocols are working are because when people feel that they’re not well, they know that they can just stay home and then they have certain people to contact. But they’re not losing pay for self-isolating or for quarantining. So a lot of our HR policies have changed to support them as well as we’ve invested a lot in childcare for our employees to make sure that, from a family situation, we’re not overly stressing people and they can focus on keeping themselves and their family safe.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s great. So we’ve covered off the customer. We’ve covered off your employees. Let’s talk about the community. I know Nutrien’s very community-minded. So just take us through what it is that you’re doing to support communities during this difficult time.

Chuck Magro:
We are. We believe that it’s part of our core purpose as an organization to enrich the lives of not only all of our stakeholders but the communities as well. So we’ve tried to do basically, what I would say, everything we can to ensure that we’re taking care of each other. We have a very robust community investment program regardless of what year it is. But we’ve increased that, and we’ve allocated about another million dollars towards food programs and to help those most vulnerable groups the access to food, which of course is core to our purpose as a company.

Chuck Magro:
But we’ve also, of course, donated essential protective equipment like the Tyvek suits and masks, but we’ve also donated a lot of computer equipment and even donated our IT people’s time to help some of our non-profit partners get up and running in a digital manner to help them stay safe.

Chuck Magro:
Then, in some of our manufacturing facilities, we’ve adjusted our manufacturing processes to make hand sanitizer where we could and we’re giving that away to our community partners.

Chuck Magro:
Then, from an education perspective, Nutrien has several online agricultural education programs that we’ve made available to literally hundreds of schools to help with the online learning and from a science perspective and an ag-science perspective. That’s had a really good uptake as well.

Chuck Magro:
I’m very pleased with what we’ve done. We’re always looking for new ways to step up and help our community partners. We’ve always had a robust matching program from an employee contribution perspective but we’ve also increased the number of paid days that our employees can take off to volunteer, to help out communities. Through us right now, that’s five pay days that we’ve increased so that our employees can step up and help in the communities and not lose any wage or salaries.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s terrific. Those are great examples of real leadership on your part. Now look, Chuck, I know you to be very future-focused. As you know, part of our podcast is looking at leadership. I’m wondering, what are you learning now that will inform your decisions and your business in the months and years to come as you navigate this crisis?

Chuck Magro:
There’s lots of learnings. I think there’s going to be literally dozens of books written on this. For us though, I think one of my biggest takeaways is probably a little bit bigger than just kind of the crisis and the business and Nutrien, what we did well and what we didn’t do so well. I don’t think I’ve changed my leadership style much, Goldy. Of course, in a crisis, you lead slightly differently.

Chuck Magro:
But what I have been just most, I guess, humbled by is the overarching power of the human spirit. In just a few short weeks, almost everything in our lives have changed. I’ve just witnessed people really stepping up and rising to the challenge. From a Nutrien perspective, I’ve seen our employees just step up their creativity. They’re carrying the reinforcement and focus and commitment that they’ve always had to keep each other, our customers and our communities safe.

Chuck Magro:
I know that these people are worried about the future. They’re frightened about what it could mean for them going forward but I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve seen from our employees. I think that what I’ll take away from that, is that companies that are good companies and I’m involved with a lot of Canadian companies, just seeing it’s not just Nutrien, businesses trying to ensure that we can do what we can to help get past this pandemic and take care of as many people as we possibly can.

Chuck Magro:
Are we getting everything right? Probably not. But I can see it across Canada, I can see it across the US and I see it in my company, that people want to do the right thing and they are truly investing and going above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen before in this crisis. It makes me very proud to be part of that.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, that’s a great note to end on. Thanks for doing this, Chuck, and thank you for your leadership and the work that you and your supply chains are doing to make sure we’re all well-fed.

Chuck Magro:
Thanks, Goldy. Thanks for doing this. Take care, stay safe and be well.

Goldy Hyder:
Chuck Magro is the President and CEO of Nutrien. If you would like to hear more of our Speaking of Business conversations about the COVID-19 crisis, you can find them wherever you get your podcasts or simply go to our website SpeakingOfBiz.ca, that’s biz with a zed. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

“The overarching power of the human spirit.”  Chuck Magro, President and CEO of Nutrien, discusses how they are supporting employees, farmers and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping essential workers safe, and lessons in leadership.

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