An interview with John Neppl

Thursday, September 30, 2021
by Jeffrey Q.

What the CFO of Bunge Ltd., an industry leader in agribusiness, has to say

Author- Jeffrey Q.
To start off our third day, August 25th, we spoke with John Neppl, currently the CFO of Bunge Ltd., one of the industry leaders in agribusiness. His education includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a major in Accounting from Creighton University. He began his career in audit at Deloitte and attained his Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation, although it is now inactive.

John mentioned that of all the possible fields or careers that he considered in his preferences list during freshman year, accounting was at the very bottom. However, he ultimately still decided to pursue accounting post-graduation as accountants are consistently in demand in the workforce and he needed a job in order to pay off student debt. Despite this, he was still able to advance and transition to where he is today as the position of Bunge CFO, even without a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. John attributed the opportunity for this position to his connection with the Bunge CEO from much earlier on in his career.

For me, this anecdote highlights the importance of making difficult decisions, facing necessary challenges, and building relationships and connections with everyone, even if they may initially seem to be insignificant. In turn, these connections may yield future benefits in various forms such as, in John’s case, career change and career acceleration. Even though he had met the Bunge CEO almost two decades prior to attaining the position, he maintained their relationship through that time, and it paid off. However, it’s important for me to keep in mind that I shouldn’t be keeping relationships with the sole expectation of future benefits. If anything, future benefits will be a natural occurrence. It’s impossible to definitively predict who I may cross paths with in the future, but I can increase any chances by doing my part in keeping connections intact.

Listening to John speak, something that caught my attention was that he demonstrated phenomenal leadership qualities. One aspect of this was exemplified when he openly stated that he always makes sure to have people on his team that were smarter than him. This really resonated with me as it highlights one of the most important elements that I value with regards to my own leadership style - leaders should empower their team and enable them to do their best work, not simply actively monitor and direct them. A leader should be someone who works with and adds value to and for the team. This ideal is further corroborated by John when he discussed how Bunge streamlined their employee structure. Many senior and executive positions were deemed unneeded and thus eliminated as they were considered not accountable for anything and were simply monitoring their teams or subordinates. They were not effective leadership positions and did not fit under the philosophy of having leaders empowering their team. While supervisory positions are necessary for a number of applications and environments, there are important distinctions between them and a leader.

John also noted that several of his team members hold CFA designations and that he relied on these members a lot. This is further evidence of how he utilizes his colleagues’ skills and qualifications, which he recognizes he lacks, to bolster himself and the team. John is effectively saying that he does not see his team members as below him, nor as disposable resources to do laborious work, but rather as valuable assets necessary to account for his own shortcomings. It demonstrates that even as a leader, he is incredibly humble and does not see himself as an immediate superior to those on his team, despite them likely not having as much seniority or tenure in the company hierarchy.