The Dirt Podcast: Caterpillar Executive Chairman Doug Oberhelman

March 21, 2017

Doug Oberhelman is days away from wrapping up his nearly 42-year Caterpillar career.  

The outgoing Chairman & CEO joined The Dirt to discuss the leadership transition with new Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby, his recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, putting customers first as well as career moments and lessons learned. 

Doug also talks about his passion for operating Cat® equipment, and what he’s going to miss the most about Caterpillar. 

Show highlights are listed in the program guide below. 

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Program Guide

1:20 – Doug on the leadership transition: “Jim Umpleby and I have been in constant contact as I’ve turned over the reins to him.”

2:20 – Doug’s recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump: “…(it) felt like he was one of us… a businessman. He spoke our language; he talked about issues that are important to us.”

5:00 – On U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Doug knows from serving on Exxon-Mobil’s Board of Directors. “Rex knows how to deal internationally…he’s had a lot of proven success. I have a lot of faith and confidence in what he’ll be able to do.”

5:55 – Interacting with the last three U.S. Presidents – Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. “The one common thread among all three presidents was their knowledge of, appreciation for and I would say love of this company.”

7:10 – How Doug’s desk location had a big impact on his career trajectory. 

9:45 – “That was one of the things that put me on the map early on about how the company works around the world.”

10:30 – Mentors who helped Doug throughout his career. “I’d have to put my good friend Don Fites (former Caterpillar Chairman & CEO) near the top of the list.”

11:20 – Doug’s theory on leadership: “You know a good leader when you see one, and there aren’t that many good leaders.”

12:50 – Moving to South America in 1981: “I watched countries go bankrupt, I watched families go bankrupt, I watched companies go bankrupt, but I learned there’s a way to manage through that.”

16:00 – Doug’s definition of what a CEO does. 

17:30 – On making customers a priority: “I thought it was a priority for our leadership team to get to know our customers and get back to where we once were by putting customers first.”

19:30 – How one customer received a surprise call from Doug after he had an issue with his new excavator. “He couldn’t believe I called. He couldn’t believe it was me, so I had to prove it was me. He was a sheriff, so he was a little skeptical.”

 21:00 – How Doug made his mark as a CEO: “That really set up the accountability message we wanted.”

24:00 – Picking the right people to lead. “Everybody who comes into Caterpillar is relatively smart. That’s who we hire…It’s how those people distinguish themselves ….”

25:15 – How past Chairman & CEOs Don Fites, Glen Barton and Jim Owens made an impact on the company. “Each one of them has done something pretty profound that has led to our success today.”

26:15 – On his management team making tough decisions: “Once we left the room, we were united in that decision.”

27:55 – How the China market has evolved throughout Doug’s Caterpillar career. 

29:30 – Why conservation is important to Doug, and the background on his reclaimed surface mine in rural Illinois. 

31:00 – On operating Cat® equipment on his property: “I like to turn the country music on, and there’s a lot of thinking you can do by yourself.”

31:45 – On having more free time: “I want to get out of the calendar nightmare.”

33:15 – What Doug is going to miss the most about Caterpillar. 

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