Monsanto’s Steve Mizell: Finding the Right Talent to Solve Global Problems

July 1, 2015 4:02 pm

By Barbara Frankel


                              Steven C.  Mizell

Steve Mizell is a businessman who takes a pragmatic approach to helping solve world problems like hunger and regional problems like getting top tech talent to work in the Midwest.

As the head of Human Resources at Monsanto, he is focused on hiring highly skilled technical people, with diverse backgrounds and ideas. “What is it we are trying to help solve on our planet? There isn’t as much arable and sustainable land and there are limited resources, like water. To solve this, you really need bright and passionate people. And that requires diversity and inclusion,” he said.

The company’s talent needs are evolving, he noted, adding, “the journey from seed to biotech to digital has transformed us. Five years ago, we didn’t have much need for data scientists or classical marketing talent.”

For Monsanto, headquartered in St. Louis, attracting skilled technical talent can require getting them to reconsider their notions about the region. “People tend to gravitate towards the coasts when you think about tech talent, but the Midwest has a strong and growing technology base – including biotech, start-ups and research institutions,” Mizell noted. “And we make sure Monsanto has an environment that can attract that talent, too.”

Current Position
Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Monsanto (No. 43 in the DiversityInc Top 50)Previous Positions
Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Resources Officer, AdvancePCSSenior Vice President, Chief Human Resources and Real Estate Officer, ZiLOG, Inc.

Master of Science, Management and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

Bachelor of Science, Management, Georgia Institute of Technology


Youth in Need

March of Dimes

National Kidney Foundation


Saint Louis Opera Theatre

Inclusive Culture

That means building a culture focused on three areas – sharing, leadership development, and volunteerism.

• The sharing part is unusual for most large companies – every employee of Monsanto, including hourly workers, has a bonus opportunity (varying percentage of base salary) based on the company’s financial performance. “As we’ve grown from 7,000 to 22,500 employees it’s important that we all feel we are in this together,” he said. Sharing also means communicating and when Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant and leaders share financial performance with Wall Street, they give the same information to all employees globally the next day via a virtual town hall.

• Leadership development, which includes a focus on identifying and helping high potential employees, is aimed at ensuring leaders “really know the proven best methods to manage people.” Every quarter, through the company’s Pulse employee-engagement survey, 25% of the workforce is polled anonymously and asked about their confidence in senior leadership and whether they would invite one of their best friends to work at Monsanto. Any manager with at least three subordinates has his/her employees surveyed every 18 months about the manager’s abilities. The company also identifies the top 10% of managers and recognizes their strong leadership. “People don’t leave companies because of benefits. People leave because they don’t have confidence in the people they work for and they don’t feel cared for or developed,” he said.

• Monsanto understands that its employees, especially Millennials, want to give back to their communities. The company has a formal volunteerism program and encourages all employees including senior executives and high potentials to make non-profit work part of their development. Mizell personally set an example by having served on a local board for youth in need, the National Kidney Foundation, and most recently established a new program to attract underserved high school students into agriculture.

The Impetus

Mizell’s desire to help others and succeed in business stems from his early life. He grew up in a small suburban town in the Boston area with very few minorities and was able to thrive and maintain a strong self and family identity, he says.

As a child, he and his sister and brother often visited relatives in Georgia, so he had an early exposure to agriculture. He attended Georgia Tech and majored in industrial management and then went to Carnegie Mellon for graduate work in public-policy leadership.

He was hired into his first job at Westinghouse as the field of “personnel” was being transformed into “human capital.” “They said they wanted five or six people with MBAs so they could teach them HR but from a business focus,” he recalled.

Mizell, his wife, and their two daughters, moved around a great deal as he worked in technology, energy, pharmaceuticals and private equity before coming to Monsanto 11 years ago.

He believes Monsanto is making a difference in the world – and finding the right talent is making a difference at Monsanto. “We treat it like a business. The vice president of Talent Acquisition runs it like a sales department; they are out developing strong relationships and they treat prospective employees like customers,” he said.

Monsanto, he added, is trying to grow its own future talent through programs such as the Agribusiness Institute, which is currently helping 12 rising high school juniors get exposure to agriculture and the opportunity to get scholarships for college.

“Without agriculture, none of us would be here; so we take the opportunity to contribute and support our farmer customers in meeting this challenge with a lot of pride and determination,” he said.