At this year’s General Management Club Symposium, the Fuqua community had the unique privilege of listening to Sam Allen, Chairman and CEO of John Deere. Dean Bill Boulding (moderator) and Mr. Allen discussed leadership, expanding into emerging markets, and disruptive technologies in business. They also took questions from students. It was an awesome talk with a pretty powerful guy who is heading a company that is literally changing the way farmers plant, grow, and harvest the food we eat every day!

Sam Allen of John Deere
Sam Allen, Chairman and CEO of John Deere, chats with Dean Bill Boulding.

I thought I would share some of the cool points I gained from listening to Mr. Allen:

Your Company’s Culture Should Complement Its Customers

John Deere’s main customers are farmers. These farmers are often known as some of the hardest working and humble members of our community. For John Deere to succeed with such a unique target market, it has to have a culture that prides itself on humility and hard work. The customers demand it and the John Deere culture must be one that reinforces these values.

Firing People Is Never Easy

Mr. Allen vividly described a moment he still remembers to this day – firing an individual. Mr. Allen remembered the actual date over 20 years ago (Valentine’s Day, 1983) when he had to let someone go and how that moment has stayed with him to this day. In addition, he narrated a moment in John Deere’s history where due to economic conditions, a large percentage of the workforce was let go. Once he became CEO, he made it his mission to build an organization where layoffs would, hopefully, never happen again.

Doing The Right Thing ALL The Time Is Hard

Mr. Allen discussed how expansion into emerging markets has been extremely difficult because different countries have different standards on ethics and transparency. However, he reiterated that John Deere is a place where they try to do the right thing ALL the time as opposed to judging each situation individually. It’s hard, but it must be done to set the right example in all markets!

John Deere is a big recruiter in the halls of Fuqua, and it was fantastic to learn more about this organization and Mr. Allen’s leadership.