April 21 2008 12:00 AM

John Deere Landscapes


Within five years, David Werning had his passport stamped at least fifty times in Japan, twenty-five times throughout Europe, and twenty times in Latin America, traveling as director of International Operations for John Deere’s Construction Equipment Division. He battled jet lag by jogging in some of the most interesting places in the world, including Australia, Latin America, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and all over Europe.

Werning grew up in Iowa, graduating in 1976 from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, with a degree in accounting and economics. An action-oriented man, he immediately joined the Deere Company, in Moline, Illinois, where he has remained for the last twenty-five years. His first assignment was to spend several years on the internal marketing audit staff. “I would spend three months observing a marketing unit of the company, learning about the business, and then move on to the next unit.”

After that, he held a variety of assignments, including two years as the controller of marketing in Brussels, Belgium, where he closed down the operation without speaking the language. “A tremendous learning experience, but not one that I would like to repeat,” commented Werning.

He spent a more agreeable experience in Denver, Colorado, during the oil crisis where he served as a financial consultant to dealers. “I helped them focus on the fact that the new machine sales might be the fun part of the business, but what pays the bills, particularly in rough times, is parts and service.”

In May 2000, he traded in his passport and his job as director of International Operations to become president of John Deere’s newly formed division, John Deere Landscapes. Not one to keep dust under his feet, he has already visited forty-four of the fifty branches, and met with the employees to answer their questions about why John Deere was interested in this business, and what the plans are for the future.

John Deere Company acquired McGinnis Farms in January 2001, and in May 2001 announced that Century Rain Aid would be merged under the same umbrella, John Deere Landscapes. Werning credits Mike McGrady, who came to the company from Hunter Industries in May 2000, for their early success. “I firmly believe that it was a combination of Mike and me working as a team that enabled us to plan our strategy and implement the acquisition of McGinnis Farms and Century Rain Aid.”

However, Werning’s acceptance of the presidency of John Deere Landscapes, which is located in Atlanta, Georgia, presented a logistical problem for his family, particularly for his wife, Kathy, who has been with the John Deere Company in Moline for twenty-six years. She could have taken a job at the company facility in Atlanta; however, they have parents, children and two grandchildren living in the Moline area, making this type of change complicated. “Kathy is on a leave of absence from Deere; we are calling it a life simplification move,” explained Werning.

The Wernings sold their home in Moline and purchased two new homes, one more conveniently located in Moline, and another in Georgia. Kathy heads to Moline to spend time with the family, particularly their two grandchildren, when Werning travels for work. A second marriage for both, Kathy has a daughter and a son, Werning has two daughters.

In addition to jogging to keep in shape, Werning takes pleasure in racquetball and golf. And during quiet moments, which have been few and far between lately, he enjoys reading novels, his favorite authors being Tom Clancy and John Grisham. “I also try to read a couple of non-fiction books a year. These include personal development, as well as business and leadership books. Of course, I lost some of my reading time without the overseas travel.”

His reading is paying off, as demonstrated in his management of John Deere Landscapes. The first day of the acquisition of McGinnis Farms, he brought all the store managers
in, established communication, and answered their questions. Before the ink was dry with Century Rain Aid, the same communications were established. “It is my understanding that this was one of the few times that the 70 managers of the company were together.”

Werning believes in empowering people. “Give people the freedom to make decisions. Decisions have to be made as close to the customer as possible.” He gives this advice to managers: Do not wait around for every bit of information. Ask yourself if you have enough information to make the decision, and even if you had additional information, would your decision change? Then make a fact-based decision.

“I believe I have the best job in Deere,” Werning says with a smile. “I have the opportunity to walk out of my office, browse through the trees and shrubs we have on the facility, and then meet with employees and contractors who have a passion for the line of work they are in. That’s about as energizing as it gets.”