From Farm to (Executive) Table: Q&A with Excavation Vice President Zach Kauk

Zach Kauk is one of Caterpillar's newest executive leaders. He became the vice president of Caterpillar’s Excavation Division on January 1. Zach has worldwide, end-to-end responsibility for track and wheeled hydraulic excavators and purpose-build forestry machines. As he takes on this new role, Zach recently shared some personal and professional insights.

Where did you grow up?

I was raised in the USA in a rural community in Northwest Kansas (Hoxie, Kansas). My father ran two large confinement cattle feeding operations (feedlots) in the area and we lived in a small trailer house located on the property of one of the feedlots.

Tell us about your family.

My wife and I have three children – twin 17-year-old boys and a 15-year-old daughter. It is an ongoing lesson in diversity to have three teenagers in the house with different interests and wildly different views on the world, life and politics.

How did you choose Caterpillar as the company you wanted to work for?

I grew up operating Cat wheel loaders, motor graders and scrapers. Cat has a strong brand in rural communities throughout the U.S. and the brand elicits a great deal of emotion. My family always talked about Cat with reverence. At the beginning of my senior year at the University of Kansas, I saw an opportunity to interview with a Caterpillar recruiter and I jumped at the chance to join a company that allowed me to stay close to big yellow machines. We talk a lot about "yellow blood.” I've got it.

What about the Excavation Division makes it an exciting organization to be a part of?

Excavators are a work tool platform that most of Caterpillar's customers around the world utilize. The Excavation Division is well positioned to take care of this broad customer base with a solid product portfolio and future growth strategy. We lost our way for a while but in 2008 started to turn our business around. Since 2010, we have delivered increased market share every year for six years as well as continuously improved quality and reliability. That’s the great news. The fantastic and exciting news is that we have an extremely robust business and strategy that I believe will enable us to continue our market share and profitability increases for the next six years and beyond. We've come a long way, but I see opportunity to improve every day. That is truly exciting to me.

What are your first priorities as the new Excavation vice president?

The division has a solid strategy that is producing results. Therefore, I do not plan to make any major changes to our direction. My priority is to insure that the strategy is clear to everyone and that we address any engagement issues that may impede our ability to be successful. The past few years have been difficult for our teams around the world. We need to rebuild our employees' confidence in the company, our strategy and our direction.

What can employees expect from you as their leader?

Consistency and steadfastness. We have a solid direction and strategy. We will modify our strategy when appropriate, but not because of politics or opinions. We will modify our direction only when it is clear that it will create a long-term, competitive advantage that results in higher short-term or long-term OPACC returns.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

Leaders provide structure and guidance to an organization while being a servant to the organization that they lead. Leaders are human and fallible, and make many mistakes – but they treat mistakes as learning opportunities for themselves and others. A leader strives to make each individual better than they think they can be and the organization stronger than the sum of all of its people.

How have your experiences living and working around the world helped to shape you as a person and as a leader?

My many years working all over the world for Caterpillar have helped me understand that we, our business, and our society, can be stronger if we embrace the diversity that all of the people and cultures of the world have to offer. Although I have strong opinions and convictions, my global experience has caused me to consider, value and embrace the diversity this world has to offer – and to use it to make our company stronger.