Book Review: The John Deere Way
Jul 29, 2014
My last stop before heading to the lake for summer vacation was to the local half-price bookstore. I was delighted when I found a previously-owned copy of The John Deere Way by David Magee, a book that promised to dive into the corporate culture of one of America's oldest corporations, Deere & Company. This book is a few years old already, but for the most part the topics are still relevant today. Here is my book review.
The author covers some interesting topics. Of course, the book discusses John Deere's original steel plow and how it revolutionized farming the Great Plains' prairie soils. There are also some less well known stories about the history of the company, including why Deere decided to move into manufacturing lawn and garden tractors--to satisfy a growing suburban population that still wanted John Deere products. More recently, this same story line evolved when Deere decided to begin selling lawn tractors at Home Depot, marking the first time Deere sold equipment outside of its dealerships since 1837. The book also covers many non-agricultural ventures, such as Deere's brief entry into and exit from the snowmobile business in the 1970s as well as the more sustained production of the Gator series of vehicles.
The book focuses on four aspects that define Deere & Company's corporate culture: quality, innovation, integrity and commitment. Since 1837, Deere has only had slightly more than a handful of leaders, each of them stuck by these values when making decisions that impacted farmers, dealers, and Deere employees. There were times in Deere's history when the company strayed from its agricultural roots, and the results were not always good. One of the interesting examples described was John Deere Credit's foray into providing financing for the RV industry. The division learned the hard way that financing RVs is different than combines, since the industry lacked the same dealer network that knew their customers and, importantly, could track down a vehicle when repossession became necessary.
But the book falls short to those who grew up on a 4020. It chooses to focus on how Deere maximized shareholder returns on Wall Street instead of how John Deere earned the trust and loyalty of thousands of farmers. The pivotal events in John Deere's history are only briefly addressed: the decision to branch into tractor manufacturing by purchasing the Waterloo Boy factory in Waterloo, Iowa in 1918; why Deere decided not to repossess thousands of tractors in the Great Depression in the 1930s when farmers could not pay their bills; and how the New Generation of four and six cylinder tractors in the 1960s made John Deere the largest agricultural equipment manufacturer in the world. These stories are given a few pages in the book, but to me, how and why Deere leadership made these decisions is the reason behind the company's long term success. These turning points deserved more credit than was given in the book.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to John Deere fans. If you aren't lucky enough to find it a local used bookstore like me, you can purchase on Amazon.com: The John Deere Way