At the end of June, John Deere held a
“technology summit” in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Members of the
farm media were invited, so I along with the usual gang of writers
working for publications in Canada and the U.S. showed up. But this
time the majority of attendees were financial securities analysts. To
say that gave this event a different flavour would be an
And the people attending the event from
putting in an appearance was none other than David Everitt, the
president of its North American Ag and Turf Division. Senior
executives of that stature don’t usually show up for ordinary product
launches. But this launch was aimed not only at getting the
information out to farmers about some of the company’s new telematics
products, but also to the investment community to demonstrate the
progressive nature of the firm and bolster investor confidence.
Typically, farm journalists understand
agricultural machinery and how farms work. When an equipment
manufacturer introduces new products at an event like this, the
questions asked tend to be about the nuts and bolts of how the new
machine or technology functions, what it costs and what advantages it
offers farmers over what they have now. With the Gucci-clad gentry
that made up the group of securities analysts crowding the room, the
questions took a decidedly different tack.
Deere holds these get togethers for the
financial crowd on a regular basis, and the simplified way Deere’s
product managers talked about the new products was much different
than the way they would have presented them when only farm writers
are in the crowd. In a way, it reminded me of the summers when
distant cousins from the city would show up at the farm for a visit.
Walking around the yard with them, you’d have to explain the function
of everything from the tractor to a pitchfork.
I interviewed Martin Richenhagen,
AGCO’s CEO a few weeks ago in Jackson, Minnesota, and he commented
that by and large members of the investment community seem to know
little if anything about agriculture. After attending this event, I
can see what he means.
The Q&A segment of Deere’s
gathering was dominated by questions from the financial people. And,
to milk profits out of its products and services. One question asked
by an analyst that would never have been spoken by a farm writer was
this one: could Deere capture some of the data being transmitted by
farmers through the use of its telematics products and sell it to
other firms? Anything for a buck, I guess.
Deere executives were quick to distance
themselves from any suggestion they would ever involve the venerable
old firm in any of that.
One Deere executive said privately this
was a routine gathering intended to help keep the company’s share
prices up and ensure investment interest remains high, something that
historical accounts say the former Canadian manufacturer Cockshutt
didn’t do decades ago. As a result, equity firms moved in and
plundered the company which had undervalued share prices. At least
that is how one account of the company’s demise described its
downfall. Massey-Ferguson fell victim to a similar problem in the
1980s, nearly making that brand extinct.
The contrast between the analysts and
the farm writers was pretty noticeable. I don’t even recall seeing
any members of the two groups talking to each other. We didn’t have
much in common, other than we were sitting in the same room. The
event certainly highlighted how different the worlds are in which
farm writers and securities analysts live.