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2023 Day in the Life: Jena Holtberg-Benge

April 4, 2023

Posted online

In the John Deere Reman Electronics facility in northeast Springfield, dozens of employees work with small tools and microscopes to repair broken electrical components, everything from engine control units to GPS receivers. It’s delicate and precise work – and jobs that some said couldn’t be done.

“When we started it around 2012, everyone said it wasn’t possible,” says John Deere Reman General Manager Jena Holtberg-Benge as she walks the facility floor. “It’s been very, very successful. It’s our fastest-growing business.”

This is one of six facilities Holtberg-Benge oversees as part of Springfield-based John Deere Reman. On this Tuesday, it’s also where she started her workday, joining a tour of the facility with a couple dozen out-of-town guests. It’s part of a full day of education on the remanufacturing business for John Deere’s construction and forestry division’s customer support team, which works with dealers and large corporate businesses.

Holtberg-Benge and Quality Engineer Aaron Frater take turns fielding queriers throughout the hourlong walkabout.

“Sometimes people who do remanufacturing question whether this is a better product or not,” says Leonel Ruiz, John Deere territory customer support manager for the southwest U.S. “I want to make sure I’m not lying.”

The remanufacturing process updates products with the latest technology, Holtberg-Benge says, often at a lower price. “When we say better than new, that’s what we mean,” she says.

After a 10-minute drive, Holtberg-Benge is at her next appointment: another tour, but this time of what she calls the core center, a 280,000-square-foot remanufacturing facility in Strafford.

As Hotberg-Benge brings up the rear of the tour, she chats with employees on the line. She greets them with a smile and, for many, by name.

She slips away from the tour a few minutes early to join a financial review meeting. It’s a Microsoft Teams call in her office at the core facility. Hearing the numbers, she sits back in her chair, listening closely. She leans in as data and charts pop up on the screen. She lets her team drive the call and offers input with intention.

She works in a tidy office with a few mementos on her desk, like a photo of her son, Kai. She also has a row of personal and team awards, one for community service and another for a company acquisition.

A stack of a dozen books is perched on another corner. She says they are some of her favorites on leadership. “The Courage Playbook” by Gus Lee was one of the first books she read with her leadership team, a practice she takes on once a year.

“The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt was the book that launched her career in manufacturing operations. She’s worked at John Deere for nearly 23 years and has led the remanufacturing team for six.

At 10:45 a.m. she takes a 7-minute drive to her third, and final, John Deere facility of the day. It’s in the Partnership Industrial Center on Mustard Way. She’s just in time for another Teams call. This one’s on battery circularity.

“It’s a whole new space for automotive and for heavy duty off-road,” she says of electrification.

From her borrowed office space at the Mustard Way facility, Holtberg-Benge heads to a conference room for lunch with the visiting group. She connects with many of them, who are visiting from Phoenix to Montreal before they connect for a post-lunch debrief.

Speaking to the group, Holtberg-Benge outlines some of the sustainability goals of the company: “95% of the content of every single vehicle we make in the future by 2030 needs to be recyclable; 65% of that material that we put into those machines should be sustainable content and 50% growth in remanufacturing revenue,” she says. “There’s a sustainability impact as a result of growing the business.”

“That’s a wonderful message,” says Jeff Ehrhardt, who organized the day’s visit. “That should be in every sales packet.”

After wrapping up her presentation, Holtberg-Benge heads to the manufacturing floor around 1:30 p.m. to catch the first shift as they end their workday.

She says she walks the floor every day she can to connect with the team. While she has seven direct reports, she takes time to connect with as many as she can of the nearly 500 others at the shop. Many have worked there for decades. Her familiarity with the team is evident as one employee calls out: “Are you causing trouble again?”

“Oh, definitely,” Holtberg-Benge replies with a laugh.

Back in Holtberg-Benge’s temporary office space, Administrative Assistant Kristy Sweitzer swings by just after 2:30 p.m. to confirm travel plans for two upcoming trips: one to John Deere headquarters in Illinois and another to factory and distribution centers in France and Germany. Holtberg-Benge says she’ll take up to 15 business trips this year.

She gets a hot chocolate from the break room for an energy burst just before she hops on her third, and final, virtual call of the day. This meeting is introducing a recently promoted employee to colleagues in Iowa.

Before a 4 p.m. leadership meeting, Holtberg-Benge takes advantage of a few minutes to check email. She admits her schedule often doesn’t allow for much downtime to respond to the average of 75 emails she receives in a day. She says she often gets to the office at 6:30 a.m. to do just that. But today is Election Day, so she kicked off this day casting a ballot as the polls opened.

She also spends a few minutes wrapping up a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting the following day with a group of female leaders at John Deere. First order of business? A name change from The Derailers.

“We want to help people, not derail them,” she says with a laugh, adding seriously, “I’ve been doing a lot of research on what are derailers for women in leadership and how do we overcome them.”

Her final organized meeting of the day is with her core leadership team. The regular meetings were established during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going forward,” she says to the group, “what we’re going to try to do just to rekindle our relationships as an extended leadership team is to try to do more of these in person.”

After quickly changing out her steel-toed sneakers for flats, she’s off to her last stop of the day before heading home, where she’ll connect with her son, foster daughter and husband, Jeff.

At BigShots Golf, out-of-town visitors have changed into shorts and swapped water bottles for beer bottles. Holtberg-Benge orders an IPA and waits her turn to take a shot. She adjusts her knees, anchors her feet and relaxes her shoulders before hitting straight down the center of the driving range.

“It’s not Jena’s first time,” says Bill Bolton, an aftermarket business manager from Ontario. “You play in a league, don’t you?”

“No, but I should,” she says.

That measured and steady approach follows Holtberg-Benge, in the office and out.


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