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June/July 2003
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John Deere values technical people now and in the future
About 35 percent of incoming interns will be women and 25 percent people of color. “Those are numbers like we’ve never had,” says the diversity director
Diversity director Michael Addington has twenty-six Deere years under his belt.
Diversity director Michael Addington has twenty-six Deere years under his belt.

John Deere is a leading manufacturer of agricultural and forestry equipment as well as advanced machines, services and concepts for customers on farms, worksites and homes around the world. The 166-year-old firm does business in 160 countries.

“This isn’t your mother’s tractor company anymore,” declares Mike Addington, director of diversity, who has monitored the changing times at Deere for twenty-six years. “We have a whole group in the landscaping market. We have a finance company and a healthcare company. There’s more than meets the eye.”

That, of course, means many more opportunities to leverage a technical background.

“Technical people can work on high-tech products in various equipment divisions in the U.S. or the international arena,” says Addington. “Or if they prefer, they can see their careers leverage into other functional areas like marketing.

“John Deere is a company that values a technical background,” he adds. “We really love having technical people in lots of different functions, like supply management and marketing. It gives instant credibility.”

The company is on the cutting edge of many innovations in its field. How about GPS-directed equipment and remote-controlled driverless tractors?

“With GPS, we’ll get to the point that we know where a tractor wheel is within a centimeter,” Addington says. “At that point the tractor doesn’t need any driver conveniences. It won’t be too long before you start seeing stuff like this.”


John Deere logo
www.deere.com

Headquarters: Moline, IL
Employees: 43,000 worldwide, about 25,000 in the U.S.
Revenues: $14 billion
Business: Equipment for agriculture, forestry, lawns, grounds, turfcare and construction

In another developing technology, computers take input from sensors to monitor soil composition, moisture content and other conditions for specific crops. It’s all linked by satellites, data transfers and wireless technology.

“It’s a great time to come into the company if you have a technical background,” Addington declares. John Deere has 43,000 employees, about 25,000 in the U.S. And about half that workforce is slated to retire within the next ten years.

“There’s going to be a lot of opportunity in this company,” Addington says. “Our goal right now is to attract, retain and develop the folks who’ll be taking the senior spots down the road, and assure that we’ve got a diverse pool of people who can be considered for those roles.”

The company has a number of personnel practices that please technical folks. “We find that technical people are motivated by goals, objectives and measurements, and we’ve driven that into our performance management process in the last two or three years,” says Addington. He also notes that the company offers tuition reimbursement for advanced degree studies.

Deere has relatively new employee networks in place for women, blacks and Hispanics. An Asian group is in the planning stage. And the company recently added sexual orientation to its harassment prevention policies.

The group for black employees, launched last year, has already taken a role in career development planning. The Hispanic network started a local chapter of SHPE. The groups are also getting involved in informal mentoring and recruitment as well as community outreach. Motivating children to pursue technical careers is a particular drive.

A group of summer interns networking during a lunch break at John Deere.
A group of summer interns networking during a lunch break at John Deere.

“We’re doing that in partnership with the South East Consortium for Minorities in Engineering (SECME), which is based at Georgia Tech,” Addington says. “We are sponsoring the first SECME chapter in the state of Illinois.”

John Deere has a new centralized recruiting process that’s very helpful in bringing in diversity, Addington says. Recruiters go to career fairs and universities armed with a list of all current opportunities company-wide. “That gives us a chance to target better, especially at the technical schools. We’re trying to recruit at fewer schools and build deeper relationships, including with the diversity organizations.”

About thirty-five percent of the incoming intern group will be women and twenty-five percent people of color,” Addington notes. “Those are numbers like we’ve never had. We’re really trying to grow the diversity of the intern group.”

Finding diversity in the upper ranks of the company is still a challenge, Addington admits. But recent additions to Deere’s board of directors include an Asian Indian man and a black woman.

John Deere recruits at all levels, Addington says, but prefers to hire people early in their careers when it can. “We are a company that people tend to stay with, and our recruiting strategy matches our culture. You bring people in early and develop them through their whole careers.”

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