Berg’s Goodbye To American Crystal Sugar Is Sweetened With Philosophy

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David Berg and his family on Friday said their goodbyes to a few hundred of the friends they’ve made during his time at American Crystal Sugar Co., in Moorhead, Minn.

Berg, 62, the outgoing chief executive, received accolades and  mementos of his nine years as the top manager for the cooperative. Among the gifts was a wall hanging that included numerous tiles that symbolized turning points or issues — either good or bad — that he had to grapple with as CEO. (One of the tiles was a simple “dark tile” square with a padlock, symbolizing the two-year union lockout.)

Duane Maatz, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, presented Berg with an artistic plaque, which included symbolic references to Genetically Modified Organisms, whose consumer acceptance is a current issue facing the beet industry. Maatz referred projects still under way, including a great dome storage area that is under construction to start storing sugar in the Chicago market, starting in November.

Berg’s party was hosted in a Fargodome meeting room, not far from where he and his sister grew up, and near Morrill Hall. After a brief career in television news, Berg studied for a master’s degree in agricultural economics at North Dakota State University.

“From this little bit of geography — because of my association with this great company — I have been able to travel the world, meet all kinds of interesting people, and do fun stuff and interesting and rewarding stuff, and thank this company for the opportunity to do that,” Berg said.

The event was a low-key, who’s who of current and past board members of the cooperative and retired corporate officers. Jim Horvath, Berg’s predecessor and a mentor in the business, was missing from the group because of a cancelled flight from his home in Arizona. It would have been Horvath’s first trip back after his retirement nine years earlier. (Company officials couldn’t immediately say whether Berg had served longer than Horvath, who had been the company’s longest-serving president.)

Berg’s farewell speech was in the form of a “letter” from a 62-year-old retiring executive  to his “28-year-old self” as he had received his master’s degree and started a career in at General Mills and then American Crystal. He said he’d started and abandoned one career, as a news reporter.

In the letter, Berg acknowledged he wasn’t sure whether he “knew enough about agriculture or economics to be committed into the master’s program” but after he acquired the degree, he would need to “continued to be willing to learn and adapt” as he had done in graduate school.

He said that he struggled to not let his life be defined by the job that he has, or consumed by work alone. “Consumed means used up, so if you’re consumed by work, what good are you to yourself or anyone else,” he said. He said that while there are glamorous-sounding marketing and trading roles in agriculture, they are only possible by the larger work by people doing their jobs, starting with the production of beets.

“Creating billions of pounds of pure, natural sugar that people love to eat and doing it efficiently is an honorable and good way to make a living,” Berg said.

Berg is succeeded by Tom Astrup, who  had been named president last spring and will add the CEO title on Sept. 1.

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