FFA Leaders at Caterpillar

With the National FFA Convention & Expo right around the corner, we took some time to visit with a few FFA alums at Caterpillar about how the FFA experience gave them a leadership advantage in their careers.

Down to Earth: FFA Leaders at Caterpillar
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Down to Earth: FFA Leaders at Caterpillar

 


Ben Rice | Agriculture Industry Representative


 

This year’s National FFA Convention & Expo is all about growing the next generation of leaders. So we thought, what better way to celebrate the impact that FFA has on not only your leadership style but your future career than to get some input from some of the FFA alumni in leadership positions at Caterpillar. I caught up with six other FFA alums at Caterpillar to put together some inspiration for all the current student members out there attending the virtual convention this year.

 

Growing New Leaders

The first thing I wanted to ask my colleagues was how they felt that FFA shaped their personal growth and development of leadership skills.

For me, FFA gave me everything. It took the shy kid from the back of the classroom to a chapter leader and then on to a state officer. It gave me public speaking skills, Parli Pro knowledge, and allowed me to make friends all over the country.

Michael is a Cab Architect with Caterpillar and he believes that FFA gave him excellent exposure to different career areas, from plant sciences to mechanics. He says, “It helped me experience a sample of opportunities and solidify the direction I ultimately took.”

In terms of leadership development, several people commented on how instrumental FFA was in building their present-day leadership skills. Bill, our Motor Grader NPI Manager, told me about how he learned responsibility, accountability, and business acumen through livestock management projects. He said, “FFA and the examples of the teachers and community members provided me with a strong example of work ethic, responsibility, and putting community and caring for animals before myself.” Bill now leads a team of 15 people responsible for innovation in our Cat® Motor Grader product line

Deion, a Manager with Cat Reman Operations in Mississippi, learned a lot about the value of leadership: “You can lead from a place of authority, but you can also lead effectively from a place of influence. I was not an FFA officer, but I learned that leadership is influence and if people want to go where you’re going, you are an influence they respect. If you only lead from being in authority and no one is following you, then you’re just out for a walk.”

FFA leadership advice from Caterpillar

 

Putting Skills to Use

We all seemed to agree that we acquired some important skills during our time in FFA, so how have been putting them to use at Caterpillar? Any time I step in front of a group of salesmen or customers (which is almost every day in my job), I remember back to all my public speaking tricks. I’m instantly comfortable speaking about our products in front of an audience, and I have FFA to thank for that.

For Chelsea, a Business Development Consultant with Cat Financial, the general knowledge of construction and agriculture that she acquired has been really valuable in her Caterpillar career. 

FFA leadership advice from Caterpillar

 

For Casey, our D7 Lead Engineer, it’s skills like I mentioned, “I present and speak a lot during the day, leading my team and working with various groups all around the world.”

Michael mentioned practical skills, “From keeping records to delivering a result through an SAE (supervised agriculture experience project), I’ve been able to apply that hands-on knowledge at Caterpillar. It has helped me connect with the perspectives of our customers to help develop better solutions for them.”

Amy, a Drivetrain Engineering Manager, talked about the confidence FFA gave her as a woman in traditionally male dominated fields. “When I was a part of FFA it was 90-95% male, no matter where I went. I was the only female in the group every year. Honestly, I learned how to be a part of a predominantly male organization – how to be seen as an equal, how to insert myself into their discussions.” Women in leadership is an intentional focus area at Caterpillar, because gender balance in the workplace is an important way to build the best teams and diversity of thought drives innovation. FFA is one organization that is growing female leaders who will make huge impacts on our organizations worldwide.

 

Speaking of Skills...

I asked everyone what was one stand-out skill or lesson they learned in FFA that has helped them in their career. Here’s what they had to say:

  • All members of an organization are important and can contribute to being successful. - Bill
  • How to give feedback. Being able to apply constructive criticism and positive reinforcement encourages you to keep trying and bring your best effort. - Chelsea
  • Public speaking! - Casey & Amy
  • Communication. Having the ability to listen and understand. - Deion
  • Leading by example and having a servant-leader mentality. - Michael

 

Here's Some Advice:

I thought we’d leave you with some advice from those of us on the other side. If you’re a current FFA member and you’re looking for ways to grow as a leader and make an impact on the world, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Check out what our alums have for you:

“Get involved, keep learning, and don’t be afraid to try new things. There are many opportunities to solve problems and make positive changes. No one has all the answers and you might be the key to the next big thing.” -Michael

“Learn time management and your areas of strength, those are two things that you can apply to any position you land in.” -Chelsea

“Read as much as you can about leadership. One of my favorite books is Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal.” -Deion

 

Want to Work at Caterpillar? 

My first day at Caterpillar was as an intern, and I remember meeting our Vice President in the hallway that day. She was genuinely interested in my past and what my goals were (as an intern!) and invited me to her office any time to discuss my long-term career goals. If a company cares that much about its interns, I knew that I was in the right place.

Casey loves that a company of this size offers so many opportunities. “Caterpillar is a place where you can find your passion and then work on developing that while working with a global team that helps you grow. I personally have worked with teams all around the world, and even lived in China for 3+ years. I grew up around farm equipment and a love for machinery, and now I get to develop a product that helps develop the world while also being an industry leader, all thanks to my team’s hard work.”

FFA leadership advice from Caterpillar

 

Michael mentioned that he was able to take his love of ag mechanics in FFA and turn it into a career in engineering. “I now get to lead the design of cabs on our medium dozers, and that makes a difference to anyone who operates one. I carry the leadership skills and practical knowledge from FFA into everything I do.”

Bill said, “Caterpillar recognizes and rewards employees with an FFA approach and mentality. The characteristics of a strong leader and someone who can get the job done are built within the FFA, and those are exactly the types of qualities needed to be successful at Caterpillar.”

FFA leadership advice from Caterpillar

 

If you want to learn more about internships and career opportunities with Caterpillar, please visit www.caterpillar.com/careers. We’d love to have you!

 

We’re going to be sharing even more great advice from our FFA alums on social media the week of the National FFA Convention & Expo, so be sure to follow Cat Agriculture on Facebook and Instagram.


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Ben Rice
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Ben Rice

Ben Rice

Agriculture Industry Representative

Having spent his formative years on a tobacco farm, Ben Rice went on in the agriculture field to earn degrees in Agriculture Business Management and Agriculture Science from North Carolina State University. Rice now brings his invaluable expertise to Caterpillar as an industry sales and service representative.