Lane, Robert W. 1949–
Robert W. Lane
Chairman, president, and chief executive officer, Deere & Company
Born: November 14, 1949, in Washington, D.C.
Education: Wheaton College, BBA, 1972; University of Chicago, MBA, 1974.
Career: First National Bank of Chicago, ?–1982, vice president and branch manager; Deere & Company, 1982–1996, various positions; 1996–1998, senior vice president and chief financial officer; 1998–1999, senior vice president and managing director of operations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and the countries of the former Soviet Union; 1999–2000, president and chief operating officer of Deere Credit, then president of the Worldwide Agricultural Equipment Division; 2000–, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
■ Robert W. Lane was named chief executive officer of Deere & Company in 2000, after a long and varied career with the company. During his many years with Deere, Lane had been responsible for directing nearly all of the company's operating divisions around the world. He became CEO at a critical time in Deere's evolution as one of world's largest manufacturers of heavy equipment for the agricultural, forestry, and construction industries. Economic downturns in the early months of his tenure prompted Lane to take aggressive, innovative actions to protect the company's bottom line.
RISING THROUGH THE RANKS AT DEERE
Lane came to Deere & Company in 1982 from a commercial banking career with First National Bank of Chicago. He held the position of vice president and branch manager for First National's Frankfurt, Germany, unit. In his first position with Deere, Lane was responsible for managing U.S. government and national account sales. Lane subsequently moved through progressively more responsible positions within the company.
In 1996 Lane became senior vice president and chief financial officer of Deere, and in 1998 he was named senior vice president and managing director of Deere's operations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Lane's next move, in 1999, was to become president and chief operating officer of Deere Credit. This was quickly followed by a shift to the position of president of Deere's Worldwide Agricultural Equipment Division. In May 2000 Lane was named president and CEO of Deere & Company, and he was elected chairman of the board the following August.
GROWTH IN A CHALLENGING ECONOMY
When Lane stepped in, the positions of president and CEO had been vacant for more than four years. Economic conditions had not been good during those years, and Deere was attempting to turn around a yearlong decline in sales of agricultural equipment. The breadth and depth of Lane's experience managing Deere's various operating units, together with his previous career in commercial banking, equipped him to build and protect the company's standing in global markets. With little choice other than to take immediate aggressive action, Lane implemented reductions and cost-cutting measures designed to preserve the company's bottom line. Within his first year leading the company, Deere reported a profitable income significantly higher than the previous fiscal year. Despite a struggling economy, Deere was able to regain income stability. Sales were projected to continue rising in the coming years.
Lane's goals for the company's continued growth were considered ambitious in a sluggish economy. His plans focused on increasing the technological sophistication and diversity of Deere's product line. Research and development efforts were devoted to producing machinery that was able to gather, process, and use information while on the job. Designs were also developed specifically to appeal to the European markets, where customers often wanted features in different combinations than buyers in the United States. The company also began investigating possible acquisitions that would help expand its market share and global presence. Increasing efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing process was also part of Lane's ongoing plan to position Deere for success. Deere began to produce equipment in a modular fashion, which allowed for a greater range of customized products and special orders. While still working to successfully contain costs, Deere was able to reduce order-fulfillment time by several weeks. Once Deere's costs and expenses were under control, and technical advances were underway, Lane turned his focus to customer service and satisfaction. By measuring against benchmarks from companies like Microsoft, Xerox, and Nike, Deere was able to substantially improve its efforts to increase customer goodwill.
Lane's leadership philosophy and management style were described as innovative and experimental. Even in unfavorable economic conditions when the company was faced with declining sales, Lane pushed for change and new development as the best path to revenue stability. In a mature and often predictable manufacturing sector, he encouraged constant research and development. Lane recognized the potential for innovation in every facet of the company's operations and encouraged employees to look for opportunities to change, improve, and grow. Lane told the Financial Times, "We should not just be looking to do things a little bit differently but be prepared to change completely the way we do business" (March 9, 1999).
Away from his position as an industry leader, Lane was a private man. He served on the board of directors for Verizon and was a trustee for the Committee for Economic Development. He was also a member of the Business Roundtable and the Business Council. He served on the board of directors for Deerfoot Lodge Wilderness Camp in New York and cochaired the Capital Campaign Committee for the Davenport Museum of Art Foundation in Iowa. He was also a board member for the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
See also entry on Deere & Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Arndt, Michael, "Robert Lane: Digging Out Deere," BusinessWeek, December 8, 2003, p. 46.
"A Deere Heart for Ingersoll," BusinessWeek, February 19, 2001, p. 107.
"Deere Names Ag Leader as Company President," Feedstuffs, January 24, 2000, p. 8.
Marsh, Peter, "Difficult Furrow to Plough," Financial Times, March 9, 1999.
—Peggy K. Daniels