Tammi Guldenpfennig has played a key role in the growth that Kemin Inc. has experienced during her 30 years with the company. 

When Guldenpfennig joined Kemin in 1990, the Des Moines-based nutritional ingredients manufacturer had fewer than 100 U.S. employees and operated in just a handful of countries in Europe and the Far East.

Now a global company with more than 2,600 employees worldwide, including over 650 at its Des Moines headquarters, Kemin does business in more than 90 countries. As it continues to build its portfolio of more than 500 food, feed and nutrition ingredients, Kemin’s products are used by or touch a growing majority of the world’s population. The company’s worldwide sales now exceed $800 million annually. 

Seated at her desk in a glass-walled office at Kemin’s $30 million headquarters campus in east Des Moines, Guldenpfennig pauses a moment from the interview for a quick wave to the company’s founders, R.W. and Mary Nelson, as they depart for the evening. As CFO, Guldenpfennig reports directly to their son, CEO Chris Nelson. The corporate campus is located at the same site where the Nelsons began producing the company’s first products — in an old wool barn — in 1961. 

Guldenpfennig, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Kemin since 2002, oversees a 115-person global finance team for the company, as well as a 70-person information technology group. In her leadership role, she provides oversight for the strategic direction of Kemin’s various divisions and has helped lead the company’s annual revenues from $50 million three decades ago to more than $800 million.   

Among her accomplishments, she has successfully negotiated acquisitions for Kemin in the United States, China, Europe and Canada, and was instrumental in establishing new companies in Russia, Brazil, Mexico, China and South Africa. 

Her experiences have included living and working in Brazil to select a local manufacturer for Kemin’s products and developing a factory site and hiring that unit’s leadership and consultants. She also served as the interim president of Kemin’s Mexico division, and in Thailand conducted a critical business assessment that led to ending operation in that country due to market risks. 

Guldenpfennig is a frequent flyer throughout the year, visiting each of Kemin’s global offices on average twice a year, or more frequently if the site is facing particular challenges. 

She joined Kemin in 1990 as a financial analyst, becoming the U.S. operations finance director in 1996 before being named to her present positions in 2002. She began her career in 1985 as a certified public accountant with KPMG.  

Guldenpfennig will be retiring from Kemin in April, but will continue working with the company in a consulting role. 

What are some of the key accomplishments you’re most proud of?
I think one of the things that we’re really proud of is just the development of all of our business units outside the U.S. The majority of those all happened while I’ve been with the company. We had Europe early on and we had Singapore, but otherwise we’ve developed most of them since then. Being a part of that and helping to establish the businesses in China and Brazil, and really spend time helping to grow India [as a market]; I think those are the big ones.

Was being an interim market president in Mexico a big step out of your comfort zone?
I get involved in all aspects of a business as CFO, but being the president gives you a totally different perspective, particularly on sales. You’re talking with the sales people and hearing what’s really going on with their customers and how they need to help address things, so it was a fun experience. I think it did [change my perspective as CFO] because there’s always a tension between finance and sales. And I think it actually helped me relate with all the salespeople much better. So in making decisions, I can make them quicker and that would benefit the salespeople a lot more with their customers. 

What are some current projects you’ve been working on?
We’re working on an expansion in South Africa right now in our Johannesburg operation. I’ve spent a lot of time on that helping actually go through the plans, questioning and helping with the design, you know, just because of all the plants that I’ve been at. We’re redoing a new plant in Brazil as well right now. 

Has the company’s size and complexity become daunting at times, or have you gotten accustomed to the scale that Kemin has reached?
When I started at Kemin, I knew everybody here on campus and I could walk around and hand out paychecks. I knew every single person’s name, no matter where they worked in the company. And now I bet I know 20% of the people that are here, at best. That’s when I really realize how much we’ve grown, because people may know who I am, but I don’t always know who they are. 

As CFO, what do you see as the biggest challenge for a global company?
For all global companies today, it is transfer pricing with the BEPS [Base Erosion and Profit Shifting]. It’s a totally new world [in which] to do business, because all the countries share information with each other. So it’s really a point of making sure you have all your documentation lined up to substantiate all of your practices globally. It’s quite different than it was 20 years ago. … It’s how you have to manage your business on a statutory basis for tax purposes. 

There have been many changes for women in the workplace in the last 30 years. Has being a woman made your career more difficult?
At Kemin, no. I’ve always just blended in and become like one of the team. We have several women who are on the leadership team. We have several women that are on the leadership team in our core team as well. … I grew up in a small town and get along great with everybody and I know how to talk with people, so it has always worked out pretty well for me.

What volunteer or civic positions have been meaningful for you?
I was on the board for quite a while of the I Have a Dream Foundation [now the By Degrees Foundation]. Obviously, they recruited me for the treasurer position. During that time I also mentored one of the children in the program. That was really educational. … I didn’t grow up in a rich area or have rich parents, but still I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a lot. When you see some of the children that we were helping, it really does bring a message home, and it’s one that I hope to bring to my grandchildren [of the benefits of helping others]. 

Why have you decided to retire this year?
We [she and her significant other] just decided we wanted to retire while we’re young and healthy and enjoy our lives. And it gives a good opportunity for the younger generation to step up. My retirement lets five other finance people at Kemin get promotions. 

What do you enjoy doing for fun?
If it’s nice out, I just want to be outside. You know, I like to be out doing things. Even at the lake when it’s super hot, I will still sit on the deck or I will be in the water — or be out on the boat. Our house is by the bike trail so that we could go jump on the bike trails and go bike riding. We just never get time to do that anymore. We used to scuba dive, but we haven’t done that for a while.n