The Deere Strategy

A visit to John Deere World Headquarters served as an unmatched opportunity for BVU business students.

 “What if we became the institution in the state which focused on helping educate students that helped rural communities thrive?”
–President Joshua D. Merchant, Ph.D.

It has an internationally-recognizable green and yellow color combination, facilities in more than 30 countries, and a history of opening the Midwest to wide-scale productive agriculture. Deere & Company (“John Deere” or “Deere”) is as committed to those linked to the land as BVU professors are committed to providing hands-on, value-added student learning. In April, 35 BVU business students and three professors earned themselves a temporary seat in the Deere executive headquarters’ board room.

Students began their visit in Moline, Ill., with a tour of Harvester Works where John Deere manufactures its remarkably innovative combines. Throughout the tour, students watched as parts were cut with lasers, welded by United Automobile Workers, painted in a multimillion-dollar paint system, and assembled into a final product. The group then took a tour of corporate headquarters where they learned more about Deere & Company’s history and witnessed presentations from company executives in areas of corporate strategy, finance, investor relations, economics, and parts services. For the students, the most valuable aspect of the trip was expanding upon what they had already learned about the company through the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business (HWSSOB).

Unconventional Coursework

The invaluable experience began inside a classroom for the business policy and strategy capstone class. The course was team-taught by Professor Lisa Kesting Best, interim dean of the HWSSOB and professor of business law, and Dr. James Falter, former dean of the HWSSOB and professor of finance. Corporate strategic planning is a primary focus for this senior-level class, which included individual and group case studies on businesses such as Amazon, Costco, Air BnB—and John Deere.

“The students conducted relatively complex analyses of more than 50 predominantly publicly-traded companies, which ran the gamut from manufacturing to financial companies,” says Best. They analyzed how the companies approach competition, handle success and failures, and were also asked to make recommendations as if they were running the companies themselves. Student teams prepared formal presentations on Deere & Company, which were presented on the eve of the John Deere tour in Illinois.

Accounting and business major Allison Kestel, Class of 2018, says she gained a better understanding of her research and appreciated seeing how the company implements and utilizes its business strategy within each division. “I applied the critical thinking skills and accounting, business, and human resource management knowledge from my classes, and I really enjoyed seeing the operations and strategy in place that make them so successful in the global economy. I’ll be applying this to my future career,” she says.

Inside the “Rusty Palace”

Known for its rusty red steel and beautiful plant-filled atrium, the innovative Deere & Company headquarters building was where students heard directly from executives about the complexities of the international strategy. “As students completed the Deere project, they had to think strategically about a company that feels ‘local’ to their experience, but that actually competes globally,” says Best. For example, students carefully considered real-time, real-world events such as steel tariffs ordered by the President of the United States just a few days prior.

Through conversations with Deere executives, including a director of finance and manager of corporate strategy, students had a front row seat to a world-class seminar about corporate culture and effective strategy. They learned directly from some of the country’s most successful industry leaders how business strategy makes its way from the corporate level to production floor. An interesting takeaway for the students was Deere’s personalized process in which a sheet indicating the name of each owner and their farm is placed in the front window of each manufactured machine, and owners of the machines are presented with their own Gold Key jacket. The Deere team also shared the importance of the company’s living corporate strategy document which is in a constant state of improvement and shared with thousands of employees around the world.

According to Jacob Jensen, a business major and Class of 2018, quality and integrity are at the core of Deere’s values. “To see how they apply their mission and values was really interesting to me, and I learned that it’s something I should look for in a company,” he says. “We learn so much in the classroom, but you can only go so far with knowledge. Students need hands-on learning experiences that can only be gained through hard work and connections.”

Campus Connections

BVU faculty members’ industry experience was instrumental in making this trip a reality. Thanks to Jennifer Hecht, assistant professor of accounting, her corporate connections as a former CPA and controller within the Cylinder Division at Deere & Company provided special access to the right people and exclusive opportunities. Hecht was instrumental in the planning process and attended the trip to guide students and further expose them to more than they ever thought possible.

Best says that value-added experiences like these set BVU apart from other schools, but also come with a great price tag. “The professional connections of our faculty and two generous donors gave these graduating seniors the opportunity to enjoy a remarkable networking and learning opportunity at no cost to them,” she says. “Between donors, faculty, and loyal alumni, we are able to create a network that exposes students to the people and connections that lead to internships, jobs, and success.”

Regardless of their financial or professional background, experiences such as visiting Deere & Company’s headquarters and meeting industry leaders are available to all students at BVU. Best considers opportunities such as this a privilege to faculty and a benefit to students. “To share our professional lives with students and to benefit them professionally is what it’s all about.” She also stated that a significant percentage of BVU students have backgrounds in agriculture and have an interest in agricultural business. “BVU’s business and accounting programs are strong, and we look forward to building on that foundation by offering new high-quality programs in the area of agri-business.”