Recruited from Chevron (CVX) for her operational prowess and global savvy, Patricia Woertz didn't immediately leap at the chance to run Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in 2006.
The company had pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges a decade earlier and had a reputation for being run as a fiefdom by the Andreas family. But Woertz, who has fond childhood memories of Pennsylvania summers spent touring factories at H.J. Heinz (HNZ), Hershey's (HSY), and U.S. Steel (X) with her mother and brother, says she took the job only after reviewing voluminous records and concluding the company had cleaned up its act.
She says she found ADM staffed by "good, hardworking Midwestern people." While ADM executives saw her as a welcome change, some didn't warm to initiatives such as trust-building programs in which senior staff had to talk about their strengths and weaknesses. But her leadership development programs and rigorous strategic reviews quickly gained popularity.
Her agenda may sound like Management 101, but it had bite. ADM veteran Gary L. Towne, who oversees ethanol sales, says he has been awed at the "spirited debate" now taking place in the company. "She's not afraid to challenge you."
At the same time, outsiders haven't been afraid to challenge Woertz. Some critics say she isn't doing enough to make ADM a good corporate citizen. The company unsuccessfully opposed part of a farm and energy bill Congress recently approved that seeks to eliminate child labor in developing countries through certification. Brian Campbell, a lawyer for the International Labor Rights Forum, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, accuses Woertz of proposing "a Band-Aid" when "systematic change" is needed.
Woertz says she favors helping poor children through such measures as school lunch programs. "Sometimes, someone claims child labor, and it's a family farming issue," she contends. The key, in her view, is to show sensitivity to local customs while trying to improve working conditions.