15 June 2001

John Deeres UK chief sets sights on Europe European mar

John Deere has appointed a new managing director for

its UK operation, based at Langar, Notts. In an exclusive

interview with farmers weekly, Clay Sherrill sets out his

thought and aspirations. Andy Collings reports

TO say it has been a challenging time for Clay Sherrill is an understatement. A move from the US at the beginning of this year to take up his position as managing director of John Deere and the relocation of his family would probably be sufficient hassle to test the patience of most.

And then there was the foot-and-mouth disease crisis which added further unplanned difficulties for his new John Deere UK headquarters in Langar, Notts.

So, with the assimilation into the UK division still a high priority, it seemed timely to ask him just what his aims were for the company.

"Despite the undoubted success of John Deere in the UK and the rest of Europe which has been achieved in a relatively short period of time, John Deere is still perceived to be an American company, which of course it is," he says.

"But I would like to see even further penetration of the European market and our image perhaps just tilted away from the North American scene.

"There is also a need to perpetuate the work we have achieved in the UK which has seen an increase in volume over the past few years."

But is volume more important than profit? "Its a balancing act," says Mr Sherrill. "Like other large organisations we have high fixed costs. The rule is to keep costs under control and produce efficient volumes to pay for these overheads."

In terms of product development, Mr Sherrills views are clear. "We must continue to produce quality products to suit ever wider elements of the agricultural industry", he says. "The aim is to be able to tailor make products to suit individual needs. At the end of the day, whoever provides customers with what they really need, will be successful."

But how do you see product, particularly tractors, developing? "I dont believe horsepower for tractors has peaked. They will continue to be more powerful as farms become bigger and operations have to be more cost effective. In time there will be the law of diminishing returns but I believe we are still some way away from that."

The number of people involved in UK agriculture is diminishing year on year. Where does Mr Sherrill believe the future lies in this respect? "There is no doubt our customer base is less year on year but this makes each of our customers increasingly valuable. We need to ensure that through the quality of our products and services we continue to meet their demands."

Commenting on John Deeres policy of being a full-line company, Mr Sherrill says it is essential to treat each product line as a separate business with expertise available to support them.

"If just one of our products fails to achieve it can reflect badly on the whole company."

And on the thorny subject of rubber track patent infringement – Caterpillar is currently taking legal action over alleged infringement of certain components used in John Deere rubber track systems – Mr Sherrill would not be drawn.

"This issue is an ongoing irritation," he says. "We have lawyers handling all this and it wont get in the way of our business."

So, John Deere UK – the company which now leads the UK market in tractor sales – now has a new managing director. Time will tell if John Deere under his guidance can perpetuate this enviable record. &#42