The company and culture of John Deere has held strong through nine subsequent leaders over 180+ years. From the early succession of the Deere family to the modern-day groundbreakers, the person leading John Deere has always been determined to uphold the core values of integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation.
Founder and President from 1837–1886
John Deere was a blacksmith who developed the first commercially successful, self-scouring steel plow in 1837 and founded the company that still bears his name.
Deere was born in 1804 in Rutland, Vermont. After his father was lost at sea when he was four years old, Deere was raised solely by his mother. As a young man, he won acclaim for his workmanship and ingenuity as a blacksmith. When the New England economy collapsed in 1836, he followed other Vermonters to Illinois, where he established a blacksmith shop in Grand Detour.
These descendants of the man himself carried on not only his lineage, but the same dedication to the core values of our company.
Though he wasn’t originally the heir apparent to his father’s company, Charles Deere’s impact is undeniable. After his older brother died, Charles was thrust into the business at the age of 16, with primary management duties of Deere & Company being transferred to him at age 21. He would guide the company for the next 46 years.
Charles Deere used his superb business acumen to establish what we now know as marketing centers. He oversaw the expansion into producing steel plows, cultivators, corn and cotton planters, and other implements.
During William Butterworth’s 21-year tenure, he instituted a reorganization that would create a modern Deere & Company capable of competing in multiple arenas. The expanding company found immediate success in the harvester market before purchasing the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918. With that one move, John Deere was now in the tractor business it would come to define. When he retired as president in 1928, Butterworth’s astute, well-educated experience and personality were put to use as the company’s first chairman of the board.
Starting as a line employee in 1915, Charles Deere Wiman’s career path mirrors the hard work and grassroots triumph of the people Deere & Company have always served. His legacy is one of perseverance and development, as demonstrated by the launch of the Model “A” and “B” Tractors during the Great Depression. After brief sabbaticals from the company to serve in World Wars I and II, Wiman rejoined Deere & Company and remained at its helm until his death in 1955.
William Hewitt joined the company following his marriage to Charles Deere Wiman’s daughter, Patricia, in 1948 and became the last Deere family member to run the company.
Hewitt started as a territory manager in California but became a Deere & Company director within two years. His legacy is marked by global expansion, four- and six-cylinder tractor lines, and the construction of the corporate headquarters in Moline. Hewitt retired in 1982 and used his leadership skills, level head, and quick learning to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.
In opening up the position to visionaries outside of the Deere family itself, we as a company have been able to grow and expand our reach and our perspective of the world we serve.
Robert Hanson began his career in 1950 at John Deere Intercontinental, Ltd., later guiding Deere & Company through the near-crippling farm crisis of the 1980s.
By directing the company’s turn inward, Hanson was able to manage declining sales and inflation. The company diversified in 1985 with the formation of John Deere Health Care Inc. By 1988, the company began a successful run of sales. After steering the company through one of its most difficult periods, Hanson retired in 1990.
Hans Becherer joined Deere & Company in 1962 and spent the next three decades serving in a variety of marketing and management positions in Europe. As chairman, Becherer expanded the company across Asia and South America. He kept innovation at the forefront of the business model with a separate operating division for Deere’s lawn equipment operations. Becherer left behind a legacy defined by the genuine value of continuous improvement and global growth.
Robert Lane began at Deere in 1982, honing his perspective in the company’s core divisions: construction equipment, agricultural equipment, and financial services. Revenues more than doubled from 2000–2008 as he took the company to unprecedented levels for several years in a row. His global banking background helped make Deere’s asset efficiency and return on investment amongst the best in the world. Lane retired as CEO in 2009 and as chairman in 2010.
Samuel Allen joined the company in 1975 and developed a widespread knowledge of the company through his work in various John Deere factories, both in labor and management. As CEO, he increased the company’s global footprint, expanded the company’s customer base, and helped guide the enterprise to unprecedented financial success.
Allen is known for his focus on innovation and precision, especially stressing the company’s reputation as a worldwide technology leader. His accomplishments were both visionary and compassionate, reflecting his strong belief in the power of responsible corporate citizenship.
Great leaders make great companies, and our CEO John May shares the strong guiding forces of his predecessors: our shared values of integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation.