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Fortune 500 company has bad explanation for all-white, all-male board of directors

CHS Inc.'s board of directors is a veritable 'Who's that?' of white guys.

CHS Inc.'s board of directors is a veritable 'Who's that?' of white guys.

You might not be aware of CHS Inc., though one way or another, you've probably consumed its products.

The largest co-op in the country is a world leader in the international grain trade -- some of it used to feed people, some to feed animals, which are then fed to people -- and also runs the Cenex gas and convenience store chain, among other interests. The co-op has 600,000 farmer-owners in the United States, 11,000-some employees worldwide, and $30-plus billion in annual revenue.

It's also headquartered out of Inver Grove Heights, which means Minnesota gets to claim CHS Inc. (originally the Farmers Union Central Exchange, out of St. Paul) as one of those Fortune 500 companies we like talking about. 

Perhaps, just this once, we should hold our breath before bragging.

CHS Inc. ranked No. 96 on the 2018 Fortune 500 list, a slight fall from its No. 93 spot the year before. Net corporate income was $128 million, down from $424 million in 2017. Fortune 500 says a "tough year" for the co-op could largely be blamed on a Brazilian trading partner's bankruptcy. 

The same day the new rankings came out, Fortune included CHS on a far less illustrious list: It's one of only a dozen Fortune 500 companies with a total of zero women on its board of directors. The ranks of big companies led entirely by men have shrunken rapidly; just a decade ago, there were 69 Fortune 500s with no women reperesented on their boards.

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So, progress! Except for these dozen dinosaurs, which include a handful of energy companies and a couple "financial" businesses, 11 of which declined to speak with Fortune about their testosterone-laden governance meetings.

The only one that did volunteer an explanation? Minnesota's own CHS, which explained its male-ness like this:

"A spokesperson said that the board of the agricultural cooperative is nominated and elected 'exclusively by our farmer-owners.'"

In other words: Hey, this no-women-on-the-board thing is not anyone's fault. It's everyone's fault!

With 17 members, the CHS board is in fact the largest on Fortune's list of all-male leadership teams. A review of those members, who are voted to represent various geographic regions (four represent Minnesota), reveals they're not only all men, but... wait for it... they're white. The closest thing CHS' board has to "diversity" is that nine of them wear glasses.

As of mid-summer last year, 16 of the board's 17 members were over 50, and eight were 60-plus.

Most directors receive more than $100,000 in compensation (in addition to returns earned as member-owners of the co-op), considerably less than the executive officers whom they vote to appoint: Former CEO Carl Casale, who left CHS last year to join Syngenta, made north of $2.5 million in annual compensation.

Upon Casale's exit, the company's 17 directors voted on his replacement. Because that's what boards do: make decisions on who a company's executives are, and how much they'll get paid.

In case you had any doubt, the executive team appointed by CHS' all-white, all-male leadership team looks almost exactly how you'd think -- only this time, six of them have glasses.