Management Students Meet Deere Executives

UIC Business Professor Michael Miller recently took a group of undergraduates to the John Deere headquarters in the Quad Cities. Anthony Gleeson, a student of Miller's, made a video to document the trip. Below, Miller and Gleeson share a few thoughts about the experience.

MM: These trips began through the Management Leadership Association here at UIC Business. I’m the faculty advisor for the MLA, and Ali Mohammed, who just graduated, is the current president. From the beginning, I wanted to do something that complements the Executives in the Classroom series, part of my MGMT 495 course. This is a course I took back when I was a student here, and it was an important experience for me. So I want to reproduce that for as many students as possible.

The idea behind these field trips is just the inverse of Executives in the Classroom. Instead of bringing executives to students, we take students to executives. Our first trip was to meet Herb Kelleher at the Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas. Last year, we went to Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. And this time, we met Sam Allen at John Deere.

There’s a personal connection to Sam Allen that goes back to my time as a business student here. Fred McLimore taught the management capstone course when I was an undergrad in the department, and McLimore also taught at Purdue’s Krannert School, where Sam studied. McLimore had his management students present case studies, just like I do now, and back then, Sam presented on John Deere. Incidentally, Charles King also taught both at Krannert back then and at UIC Business, where I met him. He was famous for his candor. He’d tell students, “most of you won’t make more than 100K a year,” and he’d said this to Sam at some point too, of course, who’s now at Deere making almost two hundred times that.

There’s another connection to John Deere. Gib Bassett, the head of our finance department, has a former PhD student, a statistician, working at Deere’s headquarters. So we were able to connect with her, and with Sam, as well as with a lot of other Deere executives and staff.

AG: There were two especially valuable parts of the Deere trip for me: seeing Deere’s manufacturing up close, and having conversations with the executives. In Professor Miller’s MGMT 495 class, we ran a lot of management simulations. When I sat down with the Deere managers, I learned just how closely those simulations are modeled on real management, so closely that I could compare Deere’s management strategy point for point with my own strategies in the simulations.

MM: Which is great to hear. When I take students to meet the leadership at these firms, I want them to learn about the company culture, but I also want them to learn about the management strategy. At places like Mercury Marine, Deere, and Caterpillar, which we also visited last year, we get the added bonus of seeing some manufacturing. I know Ali Mohammed loves this stuff, coming from an industrial engineering background, but I think most management students enjoy learning more about complex manufacturing.

AG: Yeah, the Deere plant was incredible. Just seeing the investment in process—for example, the way they paint the combines. What used to be a four-hour job is done in twelve minutes by a mechanical painter. The assembly in general—you have a machine with 1500 parts, not counting the engine itself. At a glance, it seems like chaos.

MM: There’s a limit to what you can expose students to in the classroom. Part of that education needs to happen off campus. My primary goal right now is to expand the program, and to offer more of these trips to more students. For future visits, I’m in touch with an alumna who could help us with a trip to Mountain View, CA, and another alumna, Mary Dillon, is the CEO of Ulta out in Bolingbrook.

AG: And I just want to end with a couple of mentions: first, a big thanks to Ali Mohammed for his work in MLA putting these trips together, and second, to all the UIC Business students who haven’t been on these trips, get involved in MLA! And get yourself a seat on these trips.

For MLA membership information, visit the Management Leadership Association orgsync page at UIC Connection.