Meet the Plant Manager
Director of Gulf Operations for Bunge North America oversees logistics, production and manpower at the Port of South Louisiana with a new dock to facilitate enhancements in the global producer-to-consumer food chain.
A lifetime in agriculture allows Cal Williams to meld his farming and logistics expertise with the new technology streamlining the industry today.
A career of experience working in agribusiness, both along the river and at mammoth terminal elevators inland, enables Cal Williams, Director of Gulf Operations, to oversee the 24/7 operations at Bunge Grain Elevator in Destrehan, Louisiana. Here, his role is dynamic. As one of Bunge North America’s busiest ports, the company estimates that over 60% of their United States agriculture exports leave through the Port of South Louisiana. “A huge piece of our business is the logistics piece,” said Williams. “Around 98% of the grain that we unload comes in via barge from facilities up the Mississippi River. We have a lot of barges en route to us daily so we have to manage quality and quantity against what vessel is coming in to load next.”
This streamlined, flexible logistics schema relies on a strong line of communication. For Williams, the workday kicks off with a “change over” meeting at 6:30 a.m. The meeting is so important that, Williams jokes, “If I miss that meeting, I miss half of the day.” Beyond just logistics and managing customer needs, the Director of Gulf Operations oversees the entire operation from production to safety to Human Resources.
“Managing people is probably one of my toughest challenges. We have 110 employees here and you’ve got different people from all walks of life and you have to manage each person as an individual, not as a collective group.” Despite the challenges, it seems that Williams’ awareness of the different types of people that are drawn to work in such a demanding field also lends to his success as a leader.
Leadership skills began developing at a young age. For Williams, growing up on a small farm in Mississippi imparted the strength of character necessary to work in the demanding agriculture industry. “My father, Carl,” he said, “Was not only a father but a mentor and a friend. He taught me the value of work. He said, ‘Work hard, be honest, and that will take you a long way in life.’”
The family moved to “town,” Clarksdale, MS, when he was 12. In 1989, a youthful Williams went to work for ADM Grain in Memphis, TN on the river. “This industry is all I know,” he says. “This [Bunge Grain] is my ninth move. I’ve gone from really bad to some of the best in the country.”
In May 2017, Bunge Grain tested their newly constructed ship dock that will replace the original, constructed in the early 1960s. “Currently we are only running it at night,” says Williams. “It is an unbelievable piece of equipment. We have three spouts to load ships with; before, there were 8 but small and antiquated.”
“This new ship dock is definitely going to be environmentally friendly,” says Williams. “There is zero dust emissions so we are all really excited about it.” It is still in testing mode, but Williams and the leadership team expect the improvements to be great for business. Safety procedures have progressed leaps and bounds in the past 30 years, and Bunge Grain is no exception. “We want people to go home safe every day to their families,” he says. Williams also oversees ARROP, a reliability management system that helps ensure equipment is in good shape, preventing breakdowns.
A lot has changed in the agriculture industry during Williams’ career. “Everything is more about speed. It is about being able to put out more volume. When I started, you used to have a lot of elevators lifting 10,000 bushels per hour. Now everything is bigger. Everyone is in a hurry; 30 years ago they’d [farmers] just as soon stand around, talk and carry on.” Williams is working to embrace change while imparting the community and family mentality of the past.
This July, he will celebrate 25 years of marriage to his wife, Tracie. They have two kids together, neither going into the business. Cal seems comfortable with being the last generation. “I’ve had a long road,” he says. “It is a very demanding business that requires a lot of time. Especially when I was at inland facilities. During harvest season you work 7 days a week for however long the harvest lasts. It is a lot of long hours, a lot of time away from family. This business is not for everyone.”
- Andrea Blumenstein