Leading With Your Brain and Heart


“Be careful not just to lead with your brain,” said Sergio Rial, Cargill’s Platform Leader of Food Ingredients & Systems and President and Regional Director for Latin America. “You must also lead with your heart. Great leaders lead with both.”  

During his one-hour talk on “Global Leadership” at the Darden School of Business on November 17, presented by Darden’s Black Business Student Forum, Rial shared insights he has gleaned from his career, which began in banking at the Dutch bank ABN AMRO in Singapore and later took him to the Netherlands as a member of the managing board for ABN AMRO V.N. Before joining Cargill, Rial worked at Bear Stearns as a senior managing director, where he led strategic finance and served as co-head of the company’s global investment banking division.

In 2004, Rial returned “home” to his native city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he joined Cargill, a $140 billion privately-owned international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services.

“When looking for a new opportunity, always look for growth,” Rial advised students. Though only 90 shareholders have an interest in Cargill, they take out only 24 percent of yearly earnings in dividends and invest the rest back into the company. “The thing I like most about Cargill is its values of integrity, conviction and courage. This is a company that will never compromise a P&L for values.”

He outlined Cargill’s complex business, which is spread over five major business segments, providing agricultural, food, risk management, and financial and industrial services and products around the globe. The company has interests in salt (“which is completely underexploited around the world,” said Rial), malt, corn, meat and energy. It trades cacao and just opened a new plant in Ghana, Africa, and is the world’s largest trader of sugar.   

Making the leap from the financial industry to such a diverse company, which employs 159,000 people in 68 countries, has crystallized for Rial many leadership lessons.

“Having a great career is about having multiple experiences in different businesses,” he said. “To be a great leader, you have to have the capacity to empathize and to observe. You must listen to your instincts and have fundamental respect for the human being.”

“No one is strong or weak,” he said. “We are all a combination of qualities.”

Rial’s talk was sponsored by the Darden Leadership Speaker Series, General Management and Operations Club, Hispanic American Network at Darden, and the Latin American Student Association.

Founded in 1955, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business improves society by developing principled leaders in the world of practical affairs.

For additional information, contact communication@darden.virginia.edu.

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