Women Forging Change: From Determined Engineers to Powerhouse Factory Managers

Cornelia Walde and Jill Riedl share their career experiences and dedication to diversity


Most people don't know their exact career path. Some may start as a writer and end up an accountant. Others may begin on an assembly line then become factory manager. And some factory managers may start their career in one country only to end up living in another.

Cornelia Walde standing in the Combine Audit Area in the Germany factory
Cornelia Walde standing in the Combine Audit Area in the Germany factory

Factory managers like Cornelia Walde and Jill Riedl agree, when it comes to accelerating in any career you must be open to new experiences and leaning into discomfort. Along the way you'll need to learn new skills and value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Cornelia Walde

Walde, who is now our factory manager at Zweibruecken Works in Zweibruecken, Germany started her career with John Deere as a quality engineer in Mannheim in 2005. She later took an international assignment as a business unit manager in Waterloo, Iowa, before later becoming Zweibruecken Works' first female factory manager.

Along the way, Walde learned a lot about leading a diverse team, understanding other cultures, and valuing inclusion. During her two years in Waterloo, she learned to question many things she considered "normal" and reflect on cultural differences. She also discovered the importance of inclusion.

"Being inclusive means that you bring your culture, your thoughts, and your experiences to the table and have a chance to make changes to the system," she said.

Jill Riedl

Riedl has similar experience. Today, she is the factory manager at John Deere Ottumwa Works in Ottumwa, Iowa, but she began her career as a test engineer for combines, before taking on several positions including factory manager in Beit Hashita, Israel.

Jill Riedl (front row, purple shirt) stands next to her Israeli team in 2012.
Jill Riedl (front row, purple shirt) stands next to her Israeli team in 2012.

In Israel, Riedl was known for increasing productivity, reducing turnover, and starting production of John Deere cotton picking units.

"My experience in Israel was extremely positive," Riedl said. "The people were warm, inviting, inclusive, and welcoming – not only into the factory, but into their homes and families."

Riedl also appreciated the Israelis' direct communication style and healthy discussions. "I didn't have to read between the lines and the 'lively' discussions helped us get to the best solution," she recalled.

Ten female factory managers

Walde and Riedl join eight other female factory managers running John Deere manufacturing operations globally. These women are advocates for developing others and prioritizing DEI among their staff.

Walde, in particular, is a Champion for Women in Operations. She talks frequently about DEI and finds solutions to implement it in the workplace, "Different thoughts and approaches allow you to step outside of the 'that is the way we have always done it' environment," she said. "Non-linear improvement and innovation doesn't happen if you do not allow new approaches."

John Deere is dedicated to DEI and has partnered with International Women's Day (March 8) to further support women and equity. To learn more about these efforts, or to hear from other female factory managers, please visit International Women's Day.