Cargill Internship Experience of a Lifetime
By Nicholas Sweeney
Last summer, I was a financial accounting management intern for the North America Power trading business unit of Cargill. I had a great experience, learning much more than I ever thought I would learn over the course of an internship. While I had many small projects, the vast majority of my time was consumed by a customer database project. I worked extremely hard to get the database completed and implemented, and it was very fun to see something I created be so useful for the business, even after I was gone.
Once I started my internship, my focus was almost immediately on implementing a customer database. To create a useful database, I first needed to gain a strong understanding of the business as a whole. I started meeting specific employees for at least an hour at a time to learn more about their position. During these meetings I would also introduce them to the customer database project, incorporating their thoughts and suggestions into the database. I was able to learn about each position within North America Power, including physical trading, financial trading, accounting, credit, IT, risk, human resources, market development, hourly desk, scheduling, and management. Similarly, I learned a lot about the other businesses within the Cargill Energy, Industrial, and Transportation platform, such as natural gas, petroleum, coal, energy resource management services, and Cargill risk management. The meetings and work I did with employees from across the platform was extremely helpful, allowing me to develop a much better understanding of business as a whole.
When it came to actually putting the database together, my focus was first on collecting all the various customer information from across the business. This was the most time consuming part of my internship because the information they had was spread across the business in old customer lists, credit reports, Christmas gift contact lists, accounting software, group-specific lists, shared drive documentation, and personal client information kept and maintained by the traders. My job was to collect all this information in excel spreadsheets and match the information up by customer, making sure to verify the accuracy of the data as much as I could.
Once all the information had been collected, matched, and verified, the next step was to move everything into a database. We decided to use a Microsoft Access database since it was relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. The database was capable of taking any combination of information, and producing outputs such as queries, forms, reports, and graphs on that information. All of these outputs could be produced in a matter of minutes, as broad or specific as the employee desired.
After the customer database was created the next steps were to teach others about the database. This meant first sitting down and presenting the database to business leaders to get their input. The result was an extremely positive response, which led to managers wanting everyone on their team to sit in on a meeting regarding how to use the database. Eventually I was presenting the database to 15-20 employees at a time, for anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. I would follow up with the traders and other employees, meeting with them individually at their desk to walk through the main uses, and address any questions they had. During this time I would frequently get requests from employees regarding outputs they were interested in seeing. The president of the business would occasionally ask me to put together financial information in the form of charts and reports regarding customers we were considering doing large amounts of additional business with. I even had a few meetings over the phone with employees that lived as far away as Geneva, Switzerland. In the end, the result was very positive, and employees were excited to use the new database. By having employees constantly using the database, the data integrity would constantly improve over time as employees continue to update and verify the information. In an industry like power trading, when a trader leaves it is not uncommon for them to take many of their customers with them. The database allows for the company to have one central location where crucial customer information is still maintained after an employee leaves.
While I was working on the database and teaching everyone how to use it, I was also making sure the database had proper ownership, security, and documentation, and making sure there was training following my departure. In the end, we decided to hand the database over to five employees: two managers who would serve as the primary decision makers, two entry-level employees who would complete the data input and produce outputs as needed, and one IT expert familiar with databases.
I really enjoyed my internship with Cargill last summer. One thing that I really enjoyed was the exposure I was able to receive across the platform. This exposure helped me to develop a strong network, and really improve my communication skills by being pushed out of my comfort zone through presentations and meeting with many employees throughout the platform. I worked extremely hard and was definitely able to see the fruits of my labor through the use of the database, the recognition that I received, and the desire to potentially extend the customer database. Similarly, I really enjoyed the freedom I was given. My manager put the customer database project in my hands to basically take in any direction I saw fit. We had weekly meetings to discuss the direction of the database, and I always had someone to go to if I had questions, but it was up to me to take the initiative to explore new possibilities with the database. It was also very fun to see the immediate impact on business that the database has had and will have as they go forward. There was a level of responsibility and trust that I was given that was well beyond what I have seen or heard from other internships.
While I would not trade this experience for anything, I would think twice about taking a business course while doing a summer internship. Going into my internship I knew my main project involved creating and implementing a customer database, so I decided to take Accounting 460 (Accounting Technology and Applications) to better understand how to develop databases using Microsoft Access. I knew right away that between this class and the database project I was going to be very busy. However, the 8-week time period when I was doing both the internship and the accounting course wasn’t really that bad because I was getting into my career.
All in all, I had a great experience. I learned more about business as a whole than I ever imagined I would. The database project allowed me to create something that the business really needed while also gaining a good reputation, developing a strong network, and taking a lot away from the various learning experiences I had.
In addition to working on the database project, I was able to work with the accounting team on mark-to-market price verification projects, work with credit to improve their customer approval process with the traders, help management to improve various business unit presentations, and assist with many other projects that came about on a daily basis.
Cargill is a great company. I would recommend Cargill to anyone interested in having the option to take their career in any direction they choose—whether that means living anywhere in the world or being able to work in any number of interesting positions over the course of a career.
Nicholas Sweeney, an accounting and finance double major from Bloomington, MN, graduated December 19, 2009 from UW-Eau Claire. Two days later, he started working for Cargill as a petroleum trading accountant.