Ethan Jong • Published June 27, 2024

Out of the Boardroom (Closet) – a series of blog posts dedicated to shining a spotlight on the brave, intelligent, and pioneering lives of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and their coming out stories.

Beth Ford gay CEO of Land O'Lakes, Inc.

Beth Ford - First Openly Lesbian Female CEO

In August 2018, Beth Ford became the CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. making Ford the first woman who is openly gay to head a Fortune 500 firm. Her journey from growing up as one of eight siblings to being named by Fortune as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and Most Powerful Women is a story sure to inspire you.

Cleaning Toilets and Being One of Eight Children

Beth Ford Gay CEO - Image by

Before Beth was leading a billion-dollar company, she started with humble beginnings.

Beth grew up with seven other siblings in a small city named Sioux City, Iowa. Her father worked both as a truck driver and a used car salesman. Ford’s mother worked as a nurse and later as a psychologist.

To receive an education in Beth’s family, you had to pay for your own tuition. To fund her college degree, Beth worked a variety of roles including:

  • Janitor
  • House Painter
  • Convenience Store Cashier

The First Breakthrough

Oil Tanker

After graduating with a BBA from Iowa State University (and later a Master’s degree from Columbia), Beth landed her first post-grad interview with Mobil Oil – a subsidiary of the Fortune 500 firm ExxonMobil. Beth was asked to meet at a hotel to take the interview.

Wearing the only suit that she owned, and entering a hotel for the first time in her life, Beth walked into the interview with confidence and walked out with her first post-grad job!

Beth’s new job? She was tasked with marketing and refining oil – oh, and she worked the night shifts on the oil tanker that saw an oil spill, a man shot, and the tanker going over…

Goodbye Oil, Hello...

Starbucks Logo, PepsiCo, Scholastic

After nearly a decade with Mobil Oil, Beth moved on.

Beth went and held senior positions in seven companies across six industries with a focus on delivering financial performance including:

  • PepsiCo (miscellaneous)
  • Scholastic (Senior Vice President)
  • Starbucks (board member)

In 2012, Ford was asked to join Land O’Lakes as the Executive Vice President. And so her climb to president began…

Land O'Lakes Or Land O'Opportunities?

Land O Lakes logo

Beth’s career journey at Land O’Lakes, Inc:

  • EVP, Chief Supply Chain and Operations Officer (2012-2015)
  • Group EVP – COO (2015-2017)
  • COO – Land O’Lakes Businesses (2017-2018)

After steadily climbing the ranks for nearly seven years with Land O’Lakes, Inc., the position for president opened and Beth, along with other strong candidates, jumped on the opportunity to interview for the position.

The Interview

Beth Ford - Image by CNN

What followed was hours of intensive and on-the-spot interviews and case studies that would push Beth to her limit. Once all was said and done, all that Beth could do was wait for the decision to be made.

To stack the odds against Beth, the Land O’Lakes, Inc. board of directors was made up of 100% men. The board of directors had the final say in who was to become the new president.

On July 26, 2018, the all-male board of directors revealed who the new president of one of the nation’s largest food and agricultural cooperatives would be…

Beth Ford is the New CEO of Land O'Lakes

Beth Ford - Image by OutSmartMag

Beth Ford had made CEO! After all the hard work she invested in growing her skills and network, she could finally say that she was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Later, a press statement was released announcing the appointment of Beth Ford as CEO. At the bottom of the statement read:

"Ford and her spouse, Jill Schurtz, have three teenage children and live in Minneapolis."

That was all.

There was no special coming out statement because, for Beth, she did not see being a gay female as a matter that conferred a special announcement. She expected everyone to simply accept her as she was.

One Crying Man, and Several Calls of Support

Beth Ford - CNN Image credit

After coming out in an understated fashion, Beth received multiple phone calls from parents of gay children thanking Beth for becoming an inspiration to the gay children.

Beth even found herself speaking to a man in tears thanking her for coming out and showing his gay child that gay people can reach great business success.

Gay Female CEO of a Fortune 500

Lesbian CEO Beth Ford Land O Lakes

Being a gay female CEO of a Fortune 500 is uncommon. But with Beth carving a path for LGBTQ+ people and showing the world that LGBTQ+ people can be amazing, we will begin to see more LGBTQ+ come out of their shells and become a force not to be reckoned with.

Fortune 500 Lesbian CEO Beth Ford - Wikimedia image

So the next time you find yourself doubting whether you can get that job promotion, land that client, or become that leader that you always wanted to be despite all odds being against you, just remember that if Beth could do so, then so can you.


What does the American Connection Project do that Beth Ford supports?

The American Connection Project aims to bridge the digital divide by providing broadband internet to the 42,000,000+ Americans who do not have access. Some of the Americans without access to broadband internet are farmers who live in rural communities.

Is Winfield United a subsidiary of Land O'Lakes?

Winfield United is a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes that collectively touches half the harvested acres in the U.S. through the provision of crop inputs and insights.

What did Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford First Work As?

Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford first worked in the agriculture business with other farmers detasseling corn.

Land O'Lakes operates out of which city?

The company’s headquarters are in Arden Hills, Minnesota.

Out of the Boardroom (Closet) Series

Calan Breckon

Calan Breckon

Calan Breckon is an SEO Specialist and Organic Content Marketer who uses search engine optimization tactics to generate more website traffic and leads for his clients. Calan has worked with companies such as Cohere and Canada Life and has been a guest on the "Online Marketing Made Easy" podcast with Amy Porterfield as well as featured in publications like Authority Magazine and CourseMethod.

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