At a time when almost half of LGBT Americans say they’re not out at work, Land O Lakes Beth Ford has become the first out lesbian CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Land O Lakes is one of America’s largest food and agricultural cooperatives, a $14 billion business sitting at number 216 on the Fortune 500 – the annual Fortune magazine ranking of the USA’s largest corporations measured by revenue.
Ford has worked her way up in the company since 2011, being named COO in December 2017 and taking her new position as president and CEO from August 1. She becomes one of only 25 women running Fortune 500 companies and one of only three openly gay CEOs, joining Tim Cook from Apple and Jim Fitterling at the Dow Chemical Company.
The 54 year old has three teenagers with her spouse, Jill Schurtz, and told Fortune magazine that she wasn’t seeking to be a role model but “if it gives someone encouragement and belief that they can be their authentic self and live their life and things are possible, then that’s a terrific moment.”
“I think I’ve been fortunate since my mid-30s of being just who I am,” she told the magazine. “I think it must be really hard if you feel like you’re in a culture where you can’t be who you are. Work is hard enough, and then when you have to feel as though you can’t be who are, that’s got to be incredibly difficult.”
Ford’s sexuality did not come up in discussions with the board, however she told Fortune magazine that she knows “it’s not nothing.”
"I am extraordinarily grateful to work at a company that values family, including my own," Ford said in a statement to CNN. "The Board chose the person they felt best met the criteria to drive success in the business. I realize this is an important milestone for many people and I am pleased to share it."
“I made a decision long ago to live an authentic life and if my being named CEO helps others do the same, that’s a wonderful moment”
Ford, who has an MBA from Columbia Business School, takes over the cooperative at a time when the dairy industry in America is dealing with trade tariffs in retaliation for President Trump’s trade war.