Posted: Mar 1st, 2010

Business lessons sometimes come in the unlikeliest of places. That was certainly true for Mary Jones, head of human resources deployment at Deere & Co., after she visited a “children’s village” in India three years ago. Home to hundreds of abandoned orphans, the village was no mere dead end. Rather, the country had come up with an ingenious system whereby local unmarried women looked after some 10 children each, seeing to their welfare and education. “It really showed me what kind of determination there was for children in these emerging markets,” says Jones. “I started thinking about the impact a decade or two out and what that means to the sources of talent and competition.”

That revelation has stayed with her in the years since and it was not one she could have had at Deere’s corporate headquarters in Moline, Ill., or, for that matter, in the offices and hotels in which she spends most of her time when abroad. The visit was part of Global Leadership 2020, the flagship consortium program of Tuck Executive Education. Designed to address the challenges executives who manage global businesses face, the program consists of class time on the Tuck School’s Hanover, N.H. campus as well as weeklong field visits to India and China, where participants not only visit businesses but also NGOs and community programs. “It provided me with an appreciation that we need to learn in all different ways,” says Jones. “You can have all of the market data and financial data in the world, and it’s really just a small piece of the puzzle.”

Deere’s relationship with Tuck goes back several decades, but it deepened 15 years ago when Tuck professor Vijay Govindarajan, co-faculty director of Global Leadership 2020, began working with the company to plan global strategy. “We went from focusing on yearly operational plans to developing a wider-reaching, further-thinking type of strategic intent,” says Jones. When Tuck launched its global business consortium program in 1998, Deere was a charter member; now the company has more than 90 alumni of the program, more than a quarter of whom are non-U.S. passport holders.

Each year, the team has conducted an “action-learning project” to address a practical problem in business. In her year, Jones and her colleagues developed a process for planning distribution that would both be repeatable and at the same time flexible enough to take cultural differences into account. The project was focused on how the company could position itself for success in emerging markets.

“A lot of people coming into this program have MBA experience or even expat experience. The difference is in how Tuck puts all of these components together, combining the practical side with the theoretical components,” says Jones. In addition to specific projects, Jones says the company has benefitted from the ability to benchmark its business practices against other companies and country norms, and to network with contacts around the world. “This week I am in China, and two of my classmates are here,” she says. “When I need to make a connection in China, I have two people I can readily call.”