This case was written by Professor Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. The case was
based on research sponsored by the William F. Achtmeyer Center for Global Leadership. It was written for
class discussion and not to illustrate effective or ineffective management practices.
© 2008 Trustees of Dartmouth College. All rights reserved.
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The John Deere 8030 Tractor
Just after sunrise on a brisk February day in 2006, in the rolling hills south of Waterloo,
technological marvel: a modern, 8000 series John Deere tractor. Until that moment, I
suppose “tractor” meant not much more to me than “big lawn mower.” I grew up in
suburbia. I had a lot to learn.
The tractor I climbed aboard was not just big, it was
big. The rear tire alone stood 7
feet high. The tractor weighed 12 tons, five times more than an average sport-utility
vehicle (SUV). It was also comfortable. My mental picture of a tractor included a driver
sitting in open air on a metal seat. I discovered this picture was out of date. This tractor
had an enormous enclosed cab and a cushioned seat, with an independent electrohydraulic
suspension that eliminated 90 percent of the vehicle’s vertical motion as it passed over
bumps, ruts, and rocks.
Once situated in the cab, Mr. Recker fired up the engine and off we went. I suppose some
measure of disappointment was inevitable. Tractors are slow, and we were on wide-open,
featureless terrain. This ride would not qualify for an e-ticket at Disneyland. The tractor’s
top speed—26 miles per hour—I could easily exceed on a bicycle.
Still, when Mr. Recker began to describe some of the features inside the cab, my interest
level picked up again. It quickly became evident that I knew as little about the business of
farming as I knew about tractors, and you couldn’t understand one without understanding
the other. For example, the tractor is the workhorse of the farming operation, a vehicle
designed to tow a variety of farm implements, including tillers, planters, sprayers, cutters,
scrapers, and harvesters. Further, to earn a profit, farmers needed to make every process in
the operation as efficient as possible.
Farm economics, strangely, explained the high-tech seat. Initially, I was perplexed about
why farmers would need such an expensive creature comfort. Perhaps that attitude
allowed Deere, and even Deere’s customers, to overlook the importance of comfort for
many years. In harvesting season, farmers rode tractors from dawn to dusk before retiring
to office work, and every minute counted. The fewer rest breaks the operator needed, the
better. Plus, operator fatigue led to errors, and errors translated directly to the farmer’s