Five Minutes with

Robert Lane, ’74

Published: September 28, 2007
Robert Lane

Image by Matthew Gilson

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I think it was a great accomplishment to get Deere’s 6,000 top managers to want to become an aligned, high-performance work team. These are ordinarily talented people such as myself with a few geniuses thrown in, thankfully. You can’t just issue a memo; it takes a great deal of effort for people to work together effectively. Once it starts happening, though, the momentum is really powerful. Most everything sustainable—innovative products, global market share gains, worldwide growth in business performance—comes from that. High-performance teamwork is very difficult to copy, and it is one reason things look so promising for Deere far beyond my time.

On the personal side, I have had the great privilege to forge a friendship with Patty, my wife of almost 35 years, and with our adult children—a daughter who’s 32, and two sons, 30 and 28. Our oldest son is going to become the assistant rector at St. Paul & the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Hyde Park. I’m grateful for our kids and their spouses’ sense of mission in the world and what they do—and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences with me. I’m also thrilled the foundation is laid for a strong relationship with Simon, my grandson, and other potential grandchildren.

What’s been your most humbling experience?

I was too optimistic when I first came into my current job about what could be done fast, and it was humbling to realize how much basic brick-and-mortar work had to be done to get this great group aligned and the proper work sequenced. I had to readjust quite a bit to deal with reality. I’m fortunate that others helped me realize the facts; nonetheless, it would have been nice to call it right the first time.

What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?

I probably knew this, but I know it very strongly now. It’s all about talented people and principled people that you have around you and how they work together. Get the right people—not just smart people, or dedicated people, but remarkable and rooted individuals who also can work together well. Every other good thing comes from that.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

To be sure that we’re properly understanding the way the future is developing, and getting everyone aligned and executing toward that future together. If you’re marching in the wrong direction, alignment is insufficient. Properly understanding global trends and how the world is changing is demanding, and it’s equally hard to create the high-performance team to execute a plan adapted to that future.

A lot of people have pursued other things and aren’t on the team anymore. That’s a challenge. What’s distinctive at Deere is how we do business: “No tricks, no mirrors, no smoke, right down the middle of the field.” Not everyone cares to compete in that way, and if they don’t, they won’t like working here.

What’s the best part of your job?

Best and hardest are not opposite! Often the best things are some of the hardest things. Maybe the best part is to get the privilege to look into the eyes of our global employees, many new to Deere, when I tell them we’re a high-performance team seeking to get things done in the right way. When I visit our employees in China, Turkey, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, or India, and talk candidly about their opportunities and responsibilities in building a great business, it’s very satisfying.

If you had to choose another line of work, what would it be?

I’d be associate editor of Chicago Booth Magazine! I do enjoy working with words and concepts. Actually, I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to be in the line of work I’m in and consider myself privileged to be able to do this work every day. There really isn’t another choice.—P.H

Last Updated 5/14/09