Monday, February 27, 2012

John Deere versus RFA

Rogers, Freels and Associates/Minnesota Engineering also known as RFA is my current employer. They have hired me to provide engineering services to John Deere, and last week John Deere offered me a job as a direct employee. At the risk of ruining my career with both companies, but providing a real life example to scores of others my age who will experience a similar situation, I am going to talk through it. If they do all fire me I have a year of unemployment saved up and I know that I add value in relation to structural analysis. The question stands: do I leave RFA and work for John Deere or stay where I am?

First, my midterm (1-5 years) career goals:

  1. Spend time working abroad experiencing at least one other culture. I am particularly interested in China because of it's population and unique governement. However, I will go anywhere. While I was unemployed I applied to jobs in Afghanistan. I have a different risk tolerance than most Americans. You could say I seek out risk, but I digress, I have not gone BASE jumping or tired to raise a kid yet.
  2. Work on difficult leading technical problems. This could happen with either company. It is more likely with John Deere if I were to transfer to the Moline Tech Center. It is most likely if I left industry and went back to school.
  3. Learn more about business. For that I have applied to UD business school to get my MBA.
  4. The invisible gorillia in the room that only I can see... Maybe they will let me have a leave of abscense or sabatical for six months, but realistically I plan on being unemployed again after I suffer in the wilderness. The gorilla actually trumps the first three items on the list, but I feel mentioning it at work is career suicide.
The rundown of positive and negatives for both companies:
  • In order to travel and live abroad for months or years at a time, John Deere is the clear choice. However, I feel they are most likely to send someone with years of demonstrated leadership and technical experience. I feel I brag about myself enough so I'll just say that I doubt I would be their first choice for any traveling assignment. Solution: John Deere.
  • As far as difficult technical problems, I feel there is a resistance in industry to embrace the most advanced tools or address the most minute details, such as understanding crack propogation in the heat affected zones of welds when the predominate stress are parellel to the weld. Tradition says the crack should propogate perpendicular to the stresses, but if the heat affected zone is soft enough might the path of least resistance be parallel to the stresses? Solution: go back to school.
  • Since the actual work that I will be doing in either position for the next year or two will be exactly the same as I am doing now there is a logical question: which has better compensation? The base pay that I will receive with John Deere will actually be slightly less than with RFA. John Deere does offer more vacation days throughout the year, but only a few more. RFA has an incredibly flexible system where you can work unlimited overtime and get paid your strait hourly rate for it. You can build up hours and get a quarterly bonus or take more vacation days. You get paid for the time you put in. John Deere offers a strait salary, and overtime if you work more than 53 hours per week, and a yearly bonus, which can be significant, or it can be 0%.  Both offer similar health and dental plans, but my healthcare cost in 2011 was $0 anyway. John Deere gives life insurance, but RFA charges me less than a dollar per week. RFA has mediocre 401(k) matching, but it is vested immediately. John Deere has fantastic 401(k) matching, but you have to be there for three years before any of it vests. (Three years with no retirement benefits!) John Deere has a pension and RFA does not, but realistically I don't plan to retire. In summary the only financial benefit to joining John Deere is based on the possibility of a large yearly bonus, which depends on the company performance, and thus tractor sales in China, backhoe sales in India, combine sales in North America, and the price of grain being high enough for farmers to afford new equipment.
  • The opportunity for leadership experience is strong within RFA because it is growing and expanding rapidly. I have already started helping to train new employees. At John Deere there is a long line of people ahead of me with more years of experience and more connections to management. Although there are more total positions of authority with a company of 60,000 people. Short term solution: RFA. Long term solution: Deere. Mid term solution: uh...
  • People often say that one employer or another is prestigeous similar to universities. My experience with RFA and John Deere points to RFA as the more prestigeous. RFA fires people. John Deere I'm sure does fire people but I have not heard of it happening since I have been there. Once you are a Deere employee they have a hard time getting rid of you. Frankly, I feel that if you don't pull your weight after several opportunities to improve you should be out.
  • The motivation for success and fear of being fired is strong when one is a contract employee. I went through a 45 week long job interview. I have not yet figured out how that motivation will translate to John Deere. Solution: get a therapist.
  • I really like heat treating. I have a masters degree in heat treating steel and I've seen how powerful it is. In the division I work in now we do very little heat treating. However, our major competitior does a significant amount of heat treating. Two PhDs from my lab group (the best heat treating graduate program in the world?) work at our competitor and a friend and associate of mine from Kohler will start working there as well in the fall. Why is any of this significant? Heat treating has the ability to save tens of thousands of pounds from machines and make them last longer. The initial cost is significant, but it saves hundreds of thousands in fuel costs down the road on lighter machines. Solution: go work for the competitior.
  • Job security in Dubuque is best with John Deere. It has been around 175 years and is growing. RFA offers the opportunity to relocate in the event of a staffing need change, but Deere is more stable in the microcosm that is Dubuque, Iowa. (I still can't belive I live in Iowa...) Solution: Deere.
  • Does loyalty matter? RFA has been amazing to me! I do not think I have been very needy, but RFA has accomodated me very well. I despise the idea of jumping ship for the opportunity to get a bonus and marginally better job security. After all, I applied to John Deere in the first place and they did not offer me a job until over a year after that first application. Solution: RFA. 
  • Finally there is the unmentioned, but subtle, difference in respect between contract employees and direct employees. It is minor and people still listen to the things that I have to say, but there is a difference in terms of which meetings you are invited to, the free jackets and shirts for working on a project, and the office gossip you are privy to. Solution: Deere.
So what am I going to do? I am not sure yet. I tried in my too subtle way to get more money out of either side to sway me, but alas my salary negotiation skills are about equal to my ability to sprint 200 meters. To be honest, I make plenty of money now, I feel greedy asking for more.

Stay tunned. 

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