As president of Cargill Cotton, William Barksdale has his finger on the pulse of agriculture in the U.S. During his 29 years with Cargill, the largest privately held company in the US, William has worked in trading and risk management across the fiber, food and grain, and oilseed space. He’s held leadership roles in Minneapolis, Mexico City, and Shanghai. Cargill Cotton has offices in the UK and China, but Downtown Memphis is home to the company’s global cotton headquarters, where 75 employees focus on the core business of trading and shipping bulk cotton. They buy cotton from farmers and then ship it to textile manufacturers.
The Memphis native is a graduate of Memphis University School and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he obtained a BS in Agricultural Economics. He developed an early interest in agriculture while shadowing his father, a freelance agricultural photojournalist. William thought he’d become an agricultural lawyer until he was exposed to ag trading during a college internship with Sparks Commodities. When he left Memphis in 1986 to start his career as a feed ingredient merchant for Cargill Poultry Products in Albany, Georgia, he didn’t see himself returning. In 2014 he was working for Cargill in China when the opportunity arose to work in Memphis. He found the city had undergone, “an amazing and surprising major transformation” and says returning to the Bluff City was the best move he ever made with Cargill.
William is passionate about Cargill’s initiatives within Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and has been recognized as a leader in the space. He’s also passionate about Cargill’s commitment to moving Memphis forward and points out it is more than a cotton company. “Cargill has a large grain elevator in West Memphis where we buy grain and oils and then transport them. We have a corn milling facility on President’s Island. There’s a common thread with all those businesses of connecting the Mid-South’s agricultural community to global customers via supply chain and connecting the Mid-South to the world.”
He sits on several boards, including New Memphis Institute. “The work the group does, the notion of activating and developing talent in the Memphis area is integral to the growth of Memphis. One of the most exciting things is how people step up and advocate for the city and business in the city.”
William and his wife Stephanie have been married for 28 years. They have two sons, both MUS grads. Christopher is currently attending the University of Memphis. Alexander is a graduate of Texas Christian University. William gives major props to his family for weathering eight moves in 20 years while he pursued his dreams. William and Stephanie currently split their time between Downtown Memphis and Mountain Home, AR.