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Best of NAMA 2020

Young men and women who graduated from college with agricultural degrees in the 1960s often went right back to the farm, or sometimes into agribusiness. R.W. "Bud" Porter's career path took an odd twist before going down the road that would lead him to become NAMA's first Agri-Marketer of the Year for the new millennium.

Right after graduation from The Ohio State University, Porter's first job was managing a bowling alley. He began developing his management skills in employee and customer relations, marketing, maintenance, capital investment, and finance. The job lasted three years, until he joined John Deere in 1964.

The next 20 years saw a steady climb for Porter through increasing responsibilities in the sales and financial arenas throughout the Midwest and South. In 1984, Porter was named Director of Sales Branches, a position he held for ten years. In 1994, he became Vice President, Marketing, and in 1995 was named Senior Vice President, North American Agricultural Marketing.

Porter assumed John Deereís top North American job as competition among agricultural equipment manufacturers reached a new level. The wave of mergers and consolidations that took place in the 1980s would continue, ultimately resulting in the merger of two of the companies' largest rivals. Competition would increase as new challengers emerged in both small- and large-equipment lines.

Other changes were in the works, as well. Technologies like the Internet were to redefine the relationship between John Deere, its dealers, and their customers. And finally, the always-cyclical agricultural economy was heading for another downturn.

Porter responded with a series of initiatives that would keep the company's profitability and market share intact, while maintaining its commitment to product research and development, and customer service.

In 1999, during the heart of the agricultural recession, Porter oversaw the most extensive product launch in John Deere history. The timing was not by accident. Market research, including focus groups, tracking trends, customer satisfaction surveys, and other techniques have helped transform the Agricultural Division into a fully customer-focused company. Porter maintained the company's commitment to research and development, budgeting $1 million per day to keep John Deere a product and technology leader. At the end of the century, John Deere has the most complete line of agricultural equipment ever offered by any manufacturer in North America.

At the same time, Porter set goals to help John Deere dealers reduce their inventories. In addition to special incentives and promotions, Porter also approved the company's development of used equipment auction sites on the Internet for dealers and customers.

Porter also developed strategic relationships with other agricultural suppliers, notably the joint venture with Farmland Systems and GROWMARK that led to the development of the VantagePoint Network. The new company, which launched in 1999, is devoted to providing the agricultural community with data-management services through the Internet.

Porter has also demonstrated leadership outside of John Deere. As Chairman of the FFA Sponsor's Board, he played a key part of the campaign that raised a record $7.3 million for the organization. He also made it possible to have the FFA logo prominently displayed on the John Deere NASCAR entry.

He also has served as President of the Northwest Farm Equipment Association and Chairman of the Agricultural Council of America, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Farm Foundation, and serves on the Agricultural Council of the Equipment Manufacturers Institute.

Porter is proudest of his service to agricultural education. One of his most treasured awards was being named as one of the Most Distinguished Alumni of The Ohio State University in 1999. He's a member of that university's Science Advisory Board for the Vice President of Agriculture, and has served on the advisory board for the Dean of Agriculture for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. AM

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