5 Questions with Ken Seitz

“5 Questions With ______” is an interview series from executive search firm Amrop Rosin. These are quick-hitter interview discussions between Amrop Rosin’s Partners and Canadian executives on the topic of Purposeful Leadership-  a strategic framework used at Amrop to identify, assess, and position leaders in roles where they can drive impact for business, society and the planet.

In this edition of 5 “Questions With______”, Jeff Rosin, Managing Partner at Amrop Rosin, speaks to Ken Seitz, CEO of Nutrien, on what makes a Purposeful Leader and how he brings this to life at the Saskatoon-based, Global organization.

Ken Seitz

Jeff Rosin: What would you say are the most important characteristics in a Purposeful Leader (leaders that drive impact in a balanced way for people, the planet, and profits)?

Ken Seitz:  If I think about Nutrien and our context, “Feeding the Future” is our purpose. It’s what we are here to achieve. For me, this is about, on balance, driving the company to a tomorrow that will be better than today. The most important trait for me to get there is optimism. Strong leaders need to maintain a sense of optimism about the future. And that sense of optimism, can channel a number of sub-traits: energy, creativity, and passion. Optimism also gives you the resilience to push forward in uncertain times. Without optimism, you can get chewed up and spat out. And I’d add: Purposeful leadership requires hard work. When the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you need to get up, get out of bed and you need to work hard. There are no shortcuts. A sense of optimism around that hard work is essential to sustained success.  

JR: You mentioned Nutrien’s purpose statement, “Feeding the Future”. It brings to mind your comments on Canada’s opportunity to lead the world on sustainable food production. Your words: “To feed a rapidly growing world, we’ll need to produce more food and we’ll need to do it sustainably.” How do you balance short-term performance while ensuring Nutrien prioritizes long-term commitments to sustainability?  

KS: I think if we thread the needle properly, our commitments can lead to breakthrough value for shareholders. We as leaders need to find the intersections between growing stakeholder needs, delivering value to shareholders, and doing good for the planet. The nexus there, if you find that sweet spot, will actually result in breakthrough value.  When done right, everybody wins and it is not a trade-off.  

JR: The data behind Purpose-driven companies outperforming their peers is irrefutable. But according to McKinsey, only 42% of employees think their company’s purpose is leading to positive impact. What can leaders do to close the Purpose Gap? How do you pull your leadership team to go beyond words and into action?  

KS: To close the purpose gap, we need to have 30,000 Nutrien team members genuinely believe it. That's what closes the gap and that is what blows through the gap. So how do you create that? It is critical for leadership to speak authentically and sincerely when speaking about your corporate activities in the Purpose-space. And so you need to assemble a group of leaders that believe it in their hearts, who are trained in it, and who use human language to describe its importance. If they cannot, it may not be the right organization for them – that is how critical this skill is for the modern executive.

JR: You have over 25 years of global management experience working across more than 60 countries. What have you learned about leadership and cultural context given your international experience?

KS: When we tried to assemble Nutrien’s list of corporate values, we asked ourselves: is there a package of values that 30,000 people around the world can agree on? And I think with our process, we truly got to a set of shared values that unite our whole company. So, part of what I have learned: despite our wide-spanning geography, people around the world have so much in common. It is your job as a leader to find that thread and articulate it via your organizational values. For example: Family, a sense of security, and meaningful work is what drives us all. But we must also acknowledge and respect that each market we operate in gets there differently. If you lead with ego and view these differences with judgement, it can be a hugely damaging, destructive trait. As you step out of your borders and you go elsewhere, I recommend that all leaders have the humility to spend time with their team and prioritize spending time to understand their journey and their unique pursuit of happiness.

JR: What do you do outside of work to be the best version of a leader with your team day-to-day?

KS: The friends that I have today are the friends that I've had for 40 years. There is a groundedness in that, which I love. But I also have four children. It's getting a little bit scary because as my kids get older, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel where people are going to be off doing their own thing. But my four children have occupied more than 90% of my life outside of work for the last 21 years. And that's been an amazing, fulfilling thing. I also like to put on a tool belt when I'm not working and build stuff; just don't ask me about the quality of that stuff.