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An “unexpected executive” at Caterpillar reflects on leadership

When Stuart Levenick was named group president at Caterpillar Inc. in 2004, he was charged with managing customer and dealer support at the company.

“What we didn’t do was go out and hire a consultant to tell us what that meant,” Levenick told students at a Nov. 4 talk on campus. “We formed a small group of employees—from the factory floor to the executive office to our suppliers, dealers, and customers—and we came up with four simple words: integrity, commitment, excellence, and teamwork.”

“These are things you can basically put into any language and communicate to employees,” he said. “‘This is how we run our business. This is our DNA.’”

Part of the process, he said, involved executives taking on more of a teaching role with employees. “As executives, we would spend 25, 30, 40 percent of our time teaching our business plan, our business model, our values, our leadership styles. It helped us create a much more vibrant body of leaders.”

Levenick, SF ’95, retired from Caterpillar last year after 37 years with the Peoria, Ill.-based manufacturer of construction equipment, mining equipment, and a variety of engines.

An Illinois native who attended both undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Illinois, Levenick joined Caterpillar in 1977 in a sales and marketing position. He rose through the ranks and was selected by the company to attend the MIT Sloan Fellows program, an immersive, one-year program for mid-career executives and leaders.

One of Levenick’s fondest experiences at the school, he said, was the Choice Points class that he took from Professor Abraham Siegel, formerly dean of MIT Sloan. The class explored ethical decision making through classic novels. Levenick said the course was invaluable in guiding his thinking when he returned to Caterpillar.

When he did, he was sent to Singapore to head Caterpillar’s Southeast Asian operations at a time when the company was set to begin major international expansion. Three years later, the company sent him to Moscow as general manager of company operations in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Then he headed back to Asia to head Caterpillar’s Asia Pacific Division before returning to the states as group president.

His globe-circling path of leadership surprised no one more than himself, he told students. He was, he said, an “unexpected executive.”

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