North Park University Breakfast Features Former Deere CEO on Business Leadership

Robert Lane Speaks
Robert W. Lane, retired chief executive officer and board chair, Deere & Company, spoke Oct. 25 at the North Park University Breakfast Series.

Robert Lane focuses on service, ethical leadership to achieve success

CHICAGO (October 27, 2011) – A former chief executive officer and board chair of Deere & Company told a North Park University audience Oct. 25 that solid, consistent customer service and ethical, visionary leadership are keys to success in business.

Robert W. Lane led Deere & Company, which builds agricultural, construction and forestry equipment, for 10 years until he retired in 2010. He spoke to about 80 North Park University students, alumni and friends as part of the University's semi-annual Breakfast Series at the University Club of Chicago. Lane's topic was "Human Flourishing: The High Call of Business Leadership."

Lane focused on four qualities he brought to his leadership of the Moline, Ill. –based company: high aspirations, "gritty" ethics, uncommon teamwork, and integrated metrics.

  • High aspirations: Lane said he once asked Deere leaders to come to a company meeting with their Blackberries and smartphones. He asked them to check one date, March 17, 2037,  Deere and Company's 200th birthday. He invited all to be present for the celebration.
    "The point was that as an enterprise, we were aiming to be a thriving, prosperous business in 2037," he said. There were no tricks, no financial gimmicks to get there, Lane said. "The only way to get there over the long run is to do a 'delighting of customers.' You've got to serve customers exceedingly well over a period of time, and then there has to be financial results that will come from that," he said. It is a "high calling" to deliver to people all around the world the kind of products they will pay for and will recommend to others, Lane said.
  • "Gritty" ethics: During his leadership, Lane said he emphasized how Deere & Company behaved. "How we did business was indispensable. No tricks. No mirrors. No smoke. Right down the middle, totally transparent," Lane said. "What you say isn't what matters. It's what you do. We wanted it to rub like sandpaper."
  • Uncommon teamwork: Lane said it was essential for all of Deere's employees to work together to achieve success. "We talked about all pulling together," he said. Lane also said North Park University students, faculty and staff are doing the same things. "It seems like you're taking such advantage of your position in the city and the opportunity to be where multiple cultures come together. It's a great opportunity," Lane said.
  • Integrated metrics: "There have to be measurement systems, as you all know," Lane said.  

Lane commented on differences between business leaders that ascribe to high callings and those who don't, many of whom have been discredited or criminally prosecuted. The distinction is focus on steward leadership versus focus on self-interest, he said. In the business world, the concept of a trustee or steward is well-known, Lane said. The biblical description of stewardship in 1 Corinthians says that a trustee or steward must be faithful, he said. "As soon as you begin to think about the fact that you are a trustee, a steward of the earth, the business, your employees, you are no longer the number one," he said, and adding that trustees or steward leaders do have "derivative benefit."

Lane said three people that influenced him at young age were a Wheaton (Ill.) College professor of philosophy, Arthur Holmes, who taught him that "All truth is God's truth;" John Stott, an English Christian leader and Anglican cleric, who said that the primary ambition is God's glory and that all secondary ambitions are legitimate only if they serve God's glory; and Mark Hatfield, U.S. senator from Oregon, who wrote that people are not called to success, but are called to faithfulness.

"I was privileged to try to apply those things. I urge you to be faithful in what you're doing," Lane concluded.

Each year, the North Park University Breakfast Series brings industry leaders together with University students, alumni and friends. The next series event will be held in April 2012.


For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.