John Deere CEO History



  • John Deere (1837-1886)
  • Charles Deere (1886-1907)
  • William Butterworth (1907-1928)
  • Charles Deere Wiman (1928-1955)
  • William Hewitt (1955-1982)
  • Robert Hansson (1982 - 1990)
  • Hans W. Becherer (1990-2000)
  • Robert Lane (2000-2009)
  • Samuel R. Allen (2010-2020)
  • John May (2019-present)


portrait of John Deere founder, John Deere
© History Oasis

As a highly innovative businessman and inventor, John Deere founded Deere & Company in 1837 and served as its president for nearly 50 years until his retirement in 1886.

Achieving immense success by pioneering steel plow technology yet failing to fully realize the company’s later potential by resisting expansion into additional farm machinery.

Though focused predominantly on plows, Deere nonetheless built the enterprise into a reputable implement maker that continued on to become an industrial giant following his lifetime under subsequent leaders who further diversified its catalog.

While Deere's narrow specialization limited the company initially, his technical insights and excellence established a strong foundation for ongoing prosperity after his passing.


portrait of Charles Deere
© History Oasis

Inheriting a successful plow manufacturing firm from his pioneering father, Charles Deere expanded company offerings beyond blades to include wagons, planters, and cultivators as president from 1886 until 1907.

Diversifying but failing to pivot into the tractors that would come to revolutionize farming.

Though Deere remained focused on horse-drawn implements under Charles's leadership, he put the organization on solid operational footing following his father's death, oversight which equipped the enterprise to later thrive in mechanization.

While Charles advanced Deere's breadth in the age of traditional farming, his reluctance to explore budding tractor technology restricted the company as competitors would soon eclipse its industry dominance.


portrait of William Butterworth
© History Oasis

Presiding over Deere during the crucial transition from horses to tractors, William Butterworth demonstrated notable foresight by acquiring tractor manufacturer Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918, yet failed to fully leverage this pivot amid resistance from an implement-focused board.

Although his crucial investments brought vital mechanical expertise into the fold, Deere remained devoted to its traditional wares under Butterworth, squandering its premier position.

While the firm lagged competitively as rivals embraced gas-powered machines, the savvy president laid vital groundwork that successors built upon to revive Deere’s primacy during the subsequent decade.

Despite hesitancy to expand beyond implements, Butterworth’s tractor gamble yielded fruit in the long-term to fuel later dominance.


portrait of Charles Deere Wiman
© History Oasis

The great-grandson of founder John Deere, Charles Deere Wiman confronted the challenge of preserving the family's once-dominant agricultural firm following the inroads of mechanization that disrupted its plow heritage.

Failing to regain market control for tractors yet succeeding financially by leaning into profitable repairs and wartime production.

Though Deere fell to the middle of the pack under his leadership as nimbler rivals out-innovated its machinery offerings, Wiman maintained profitability by expanding the company's repair services and manufacturing military goods during World War II.

Ultimately more custodian than groundbreaker, Wiman kept Deere solvent as times changed faster than the conservative company, though its industry supremacy faded during his long 1927-1955 presidency.


portrait of William Hewitt
© History Oasis

Steering the company through dramatic modernization, William Hewitt successfully pioneered Deere’s first modern tractors ending its obsolescence while failing to best sustain market dominance against competitors more rapidly innovating flagship technology.

Though Hewitt enabled Deere to catch up with four- and six-cylinder machines as well as other advances, rivalry intensified in the 1960s as its lead eroded from 34% to just 23% by the time he exited leadership.

Despite bright spots, Hewitt oversaw declining relative influence and forfeited the premier status the firm long held, even while posting record revenues toward his later years.


portrait of Robert Hansson
© History Oasis

Assuming control of an extended-family led, newly stagnant enterprise during the farm crisis, Robert Hansson achieved limited financial turnaround yet failed to restore long-faded dominance rooted in now-commoditized machinery.

Though cutbacks and fiscal prudence briefly revived profit margins under Hansson's 1981-1990 chairmanship, underlying innovation lagged as Deere relied on brand recognition now outpaced by more nimble competitors.

While stabilizing the bottom line amid an adverse climate, Hansson lacked the vision to recapture distinctive glory for the plow pioneer struggling while rivals of newer provenance thrived.


portrait of Hans Becherer
© History Oasis

Seeking renewed purpose following a decade of mild survival tactics for the machinery giant, Hans W. Becherer successfully expanded into financing yet failed at revitalizing core competency around increasingly high-tech tractors during his pivotal 1990-2000 leadership.

Though Becherer wisely grew Deere's resurgent credit wing to capture one third of profits when traditional equipment offered lean margins, his inability to best leverage emerging precision technology forfeited any resurgence in its seminal domain.

While branching into financial services proved a boon, Becherer must bear responsibility for the company lapsing deeper into legacy status as more progressively managed peers pulled decisively ahead at the dawn of the digital age.


portrait of Robert Lane
© History Oasis

Assuming the helm in 2000 after esteem stagnated against innovating rivals, Robert Lane succeeded at aggressively consolidating supplier networks as a cost-control tactic yet failed in advancing core equipment into the burgeoning precision era which competitors embraced.  

Although acquisitions of key partners enabled greater vertical efficiency amid mounting globalization pressures, Lane missed the industry shift toward computerized machine optimization increasingly expected by technologically adept farmers.  

Ultimately a transitional rather than transformational leader, Lane provided needed supply chain integration but did not position the firm to recapture lost distinction as more prescient contenders surged decisively ahead in the 21st century.


Portrait of Samuel Allen
© History Oasis

Taking the reins after decades of slowly eroding eminence, Samuel R. Allen succeeded in aggressively expanding construction equipment lines and pivoting into high-technology precision farming techniques, yet failed to fully restore the stellar status the firm boasted during its 19th century heyday.

Although Allen belatedly reestablished Deere as an innovation leader in self-steering, data-rich farm implements, its relative dominance continued slightly diminished compared to the undisputed supremacy it long held.

Nonetheless, his decade as president posited an overall reputational recovery despite inheriting portentous trends.

With technology upgrades recharging its heritage brand, Allen placed Deere on a promising yet still-incomplete trajectory to reconquer lost distinction in the industry it pioneered.


portrait of John Deere CEO, John May
© History Oasis

Elevated from within when 2010s gains still paled next to preceded primacy, John May has thus far succeeded in advancing autonomy and sustainability initiatives yet still fails to fully restore the singular status the firm boasted during its 19th century genesis.

While May has prudently extended Deere's push toward self-driving equipment and environmentally friendly processes, its stature remains diminished from the days of undisputed dominance.

Nonetheless as his tenure continues, glimmers emerge of a credible path towards recapturing past elite standing. With his presidency still unfolding, May carries responsibilities both contemporary and profound—not just current profits but the culmination of his predecessors' mixed restoration efforts to rescue this historic brand's legacy.