Students, educators, and businesspeople from all avenues of the marketplace converged on Travis Auditorium Monday, February 8, for a lecture featuring Robert W. Lane, chairman of the board of agricultural manufacturing corporation Deere and Company. Mr. Lane spoke on “Human Flourishing: Theological Reflections on the High Calling of Business Leadership” as part of the Max and Esther De Pree Presidential Leadership Lecture series. Lane reflected on his own theology of leadership over the span of his career with John Deere, while emphasizing that his role as a business leader in a capitalist economic system requires the ability to see Kingdom potential in the marketplace. The lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Lane shared the ways in which he was privileged to be like Timothy, having parents and grandparents who followed the Lord in faith and in study and understanding of the Scriptures. “These words become fresh every day, and it’s this freshness that I sought to bring into my workplace,” he said. Lane was strongly influenced in his own leadership development by his days as a student at Wheaton College and by two pastoral mentors, Anglican rector John Stott and Wheaton College philosophy professor Arthur Holmes.
Lane shared that the changes he has brought about as chairman of Deere and Company are focused around four themes: high aspirations, seeking to create not just “good products” but a “great business”; gritty ethics, teaching everyone in the company that John Deere will strive to do business in the most transparent way possible; uncommon teamwork, embracing diversity so that every employee in every plant worldwide is uncommonly aligned to a common mission; and integrated metrics, making global processes more unified, clear, and measurable.
While he demonstrated the importance of thinking innovatively and communicating clear values in order to bring about lasting positive change within a corporation, Lane pointed out that what his company does is also important for generations to come. When employees see their everyday work not just as assembling a tractor, but as building a lasting business that serves to feed coming generations, their work affirms the goodness in the world God has created. As Lane learned from his mentors, “God loves matter; he made it.” We must therefore seek an integrated worldview, that through us and our work, as through Abraham’s faith, all the families of the earth might be blessed. He compared the Christian mission in the world to “the kind of work that is not seen, but comes through in someone in the far reaches of Kazakhstan receiving a really good product with which to seed their land.” This concern for the common good has influenced Lane’s commitment to a model of leadership that has human flourishing as its core purpose.
Robert Lane, who joined John Deere in 1982, has served as chairman of the board since 2000 and was also chief executive officer for nine years. The Presidential Leadership Lecture series is named for Max and Esther De Pree, longtime partners of Fuller. Max De Pree, known for his leadership wisdom, served for 40 years on Fuller’s Board of Trustees. In 1996 the Max De Pree Center for Leadership was established at Fuller to promote De Pree’s understanding of leadership and to extend his legacy.