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When Becky Guinn, factory manager at John Deere Waterloo Works, talks about "unlocking value" she might not be referencing a core business strategy. Instead, she might be talking about the factory's role in addressing hunger, housing, economic growth, diversity, and workforce development in the communities that surround it.

Because with Guinn, it can be difficult to tell. To her, that value is often one and the same — the facilities that make up John Deere Waterloo Works (where the company builds its largest agricultural tractors) and the communities that surround them. She's made it her mission to enable everyone she's responsible for leading to see it that way, too.

Guinn took the factory's leadership role in September 2019, nearly a year after the financial website 24/7 Wall Street called Waterloo the worst city in the U.S. for Black Americans to live.

"When I came to Waterloo, being involved in the community was a primary focus from day one," she said. "And that focus continues today."

Where Guinn stands out is in how she leads by example. Sure, there is high energy and visibility, both throughout the factory and in the community, and plenty of engagement on both fronts. Where it's different, however, is if you report directly to her, she makes sure you lead by example, too.

"As one of my leaders, you have two jobs," she explained. "One inside the factory and one in the community. It's that simple."


Guinn has "partnered up" members of her leadership team with outside non-profit groups — like Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity or the Northeast Iowa Food Bank — and helped strengthen that link between the area's largest employer and the identified areas of greatest need in the community.

"We have a responsibility. That's how I see it. We need to show our employees and the community the two should be working together to solve many of these issues," she said. "It's about showing we care, we're involved, we're asking questions, and we're listening. How can we change the culture here?"

Much of what she's focused on aligns with the John Deere Citizenship strategy, making it seamless to strengthen and communicate the message to employees. To add rigor to the plan, Guinn established a community relations manager position and formed the Waterloo Citizenship Leadership Council. It's all part of the "intentional presence" Guinn said is needed within John Deere’s home communities.

Guinn has earned the admiration of one fan for sure — Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart.

When the mayor laid out three important initiatives to Deere leadership, he was candid. He wanted a partner in creating equitable access to jobs for Waterloo's minority community, being more intentional in reaching minority students as they need to see and interact with minority engineers and skilled workers at Deere, and addressing neighborhoods in desperate need of repair and reinvestment in the families that live there. Hart said he knew the list was daunting and wasn't sure what would happen next, "until Becky Guinn arrived."

Hart said Guinn, with the help of the John Deere Foundation, understands the responsibility and opportunity Deere has within the community to creating lasting change in Waterloo. "And," Hart said, "she bears this role with urgency and practicality."

"Over my 15 years serving in Waterloo's city government, I have worked with numerous local business leaders and corporate heads," Hart said. "Never before have I worked with someone with as sincere intentions to use the influence and resources of their company to improve this community as Becky."

Despite the challenges brought on by a pandemic, Waterloo Works employees continued to remain active in the key areas of community engagement, workforce development, and economic development. The employee champions in these areas have targeted goals around alignment and delivering results.

Some examples include ensuring access to basic needs, increasing employee involvement, expanding programs intended to build skills and awareness for education and employment, and working collaboratively on plans to attract and retain top talent and make Waterloo a pipeline for diverse talent.

Through the current reporting cycle, the numbers are growing as there has been a 32 percent increase in volunteerism over the previous year with a 6 percent increase from production employees.

In short, it's working.

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