Running toward new challenges

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Michigan Law alum follows path to senior VP at Deere

By Kristy Demas
Quadrangle

Nothing Runs Like a Deere. The tagline that originated in the 1970s—first with John Deere-made snowmobiles—has since become iconic. It’s also a phrase that could aptly describe the career of Marc Howze, Deere & Company’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer.

Howze’s story is one of uninterrupted success but also one that took twists and turns.

Growing up on Detroit’s east side, Howze always wanted to be a lawyer, and the U.S. Army afforded him the opportunity. He worked for Michigan Congressman Sander Levin in the mid 1980s, handling problems that veterans were having with the Veterans Administration. After that he worked at Wayne State University helping vets enter post-secondary education. The work inspired Howze to serve his country, he says.

“My wife and I decided to take our two children on an adventure. So, I enlisted in the Army.” Howze attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an artillery officer. During that time, he became aware of the Army’s Funded Legal Education Program, which invites select active-duty officers to receive a legal education.

First, though, he had to take the LSAT and submit a good score. Howze, an active-duty artillery officer during the Gulf War, didn’t have time to take a prep course. Instead, he studied on his own during field exercises, using a CliffsTestPrep LSAT guide he could fit in his pocket. His strategy worked, as he was accepted into the legal-education program and later enrolled at Michigan Law.

After graduating in 1995, Howze served in a Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) in Washington state, working in several roles, including special assistant U.S. attorney. Later, while stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois as a government contract attorney, he decided to seek a job that would require fewer relocations and offer more stability for his family. John Deere was a large global company headquartered in nearby Moline, Illinois. It seemed like the perfect move, but it wasn’t until a friend from church hand-delivered Howze’s resume to Deere’s then senior vice president and general counsel, Jim Jenkins, that he got an opportunity to work at the company. He started at Deere as an attorney in 2001, later serving as senior attorney and then senior counsel.

In 2004, Howze was offered a developmental assignment that would require him to uproot his family again, this time to North Carolina. He wasn’t sure he should do it.

“It was a tough choice,” he recalls. “I felt like I was a really good lawyer, but I didn’t know much about the intricacies of running a business.”

As he pondered the move, Howze used the same litmus test he gives those who seek his advice on their own careers.

“I ask four questions,” he says. “First, will I learn something I don’t know? Second, will I develop relationships I don’t have? I believe relationships are the currency of business. Third, will I have the opportunity to be impactful? Finally, will the experience make me more marketable? If you answer yes to those four questions, but still don’t take the job, it’s likely your ego standing in the way.”

With regard to the offer facing Howze, all four answers were affirmative, so he soon found himself as manager of business development and strategy in Deere’s Commercial and Consumer Equipment Division, based near Raleigh. He worked on strategy, strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and divestitures. He also went back to school, earning an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

“I lived in North Carolina for two years and never once saw the ocean or the mountains because I was always working or studying,” he says.

In 2006, Howze headed back to Moline for a new job, as Deere’s corporate secretary and associate general counsel. The role required him to oversee the company’s legal and regulatory matters and Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and gave him a chance to work closely with the company’s senior leaders and board of directors.

Two years later, Howze was assigned to Deere’s agricultural marketing group in Lenexa, Kansas.

“I was asked to lead a project in our largest division in an area about which I knew very little,” he says. “But it was an opportunity for me to learn, develop relationships, and be impactful. What better way to learn the business?”

Soon thereafter, Howze was offered a chance to run a factory and gain manufacturing experience — something he felt he needed to do to advance his career. He was appointed factory manager of John Deere Turf Care in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.

“The senior vice president who offered me the position was someone I had worked with previously in business development. And he evidently liked the work I did there. Again, relationships are the currency of business.”
After serving successfully in that role, Howze was appointed global director of Deere’s cotton harvesting business.

In 2016, Howze assumed his current role and joined the company’s senior officer team reporting directly to Deere’s chief executive officer. As senior vice president and chief administrative officer, Howze has wide-ranging responsibilities overseeing human resources, labor relations, public affairs, communications, brand management, security, and the John Deere Foundation. In addition, he serves on the board of directors for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

Not long after being named to his current position, Howze was invited to be a guest on Wanda Wallace’s Internet talk show, “Out of the Comfort Zone.” The appearance was fitting considering that Howze has spent a lifetime setting, then achieving, goals that made him a successful executive, but at times took him to places and roles that weren’t natural fits.

It’s that desire to run toward new challenges that keeps Howze moving forward. You might even say, nothing runs like Marc Howze.