Jun 15, 2017

The Halpern Lecture: Tom Linebarger, CEO of Top Diesel Company, Revs Up the Audience

The annual Ariel Halpern Lecture on Ethics and Social Responsibility presents prominent individuals who have exemplified principled business leadership in their work and life.

By Rachel E. Brooks

Building high-performing teams in a global industry is no easy task, but Tom Linebarger of Cummins, the largest maker of diesel engines in the world with over fifty thousand employees and operations in one hundred and ninety countries, certainly knows a thing or two about leadership. The Chairman and CEO gave this year’s Halpern Lecture, a talk hosted by the Center for Business, Government & Society to feature individuals who have exemplified principled leadership. Linebarger was visiting campus for Professor Curt Welling’s Business & Society mini course that explores the roles of governments, corporations, and markets in creating social impact.

During the Halpern Lecture, Linebarger shared how he brings his personal values and a global mindset to leadership and decision-making. In sharing his own personal leadership journey, he walked the audience through his childhood to the present day as well as what draws him to the work at Cummins. The emphasis on diversity and inclusion is what first attracted Linebarger to the company over twenty years ago. With manufacturing happening on six continents, Cummins has to think critically about how to create a unifying company culture while existing in so many locations and cultures. Linebarger stressed the importance of balancing global expansion with adherence to the core values that hold the business together. “The how,” he said, “matters as much as the what.”

When considering personal values, Linebarger points to three areas that drive him: justice and fairness, hard work, and fun, family and friends. His personal statement, “Solving problems that matter with people I care about,” guides his work by unifying the different aspects of his life and sparked me to brainstorm thoughts for my own personal statement. Those who aspire to become strong leaders, Linebarger says, should work to achieve alignment of who they want to be, who they are, and how people perceive them. When those areas are the same, leaders need not concern themselves with others’ perceptions and can focus their energies on creating positive outcomes and collaborating with other smart minds.

I was moved by Linebarger’s willingness to share the challenges along his personal leadership journey with others. While company barbecues and teambuilding exercises have their place, real trust comes from exposing one’s own vulnerabilities, says Linebarger. He points to the previous Chairman and CEO of Cummins, Tim Solso, as a guiding force in his success. Solso, he says, “worked really hard on trying to make me better.” Linebarger’s leadership development journey yielded benefits that affected more than just the diesel company. He believes he became a better father and husband, too.

Inspired by working for a company that has a positive impact, Linebarger leads with purpose in issues as diverse and complex as international trade and investment, technological change, equal opportunity, and environmental sustainability. In that spirit, the Center for Business, Government & Society partnered with Tuck Sustains to make the event’s catering more sustainable, too. All items were compostable, and students were encouraged to bring their own water bottles.

If the chatter in the hallway immediately following the Halpern Lecture is any indication, students are drawn to opportunities at companies with a strong sense of purpose and reflecting on Linebarger’s insights for their own leadership journeys. I know I am.

Rachel BrooksRachel Brooks is the Program Coordinator for the Center for Business, Government & Society at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Prior to Tuck, she spent two years in South Korea as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. A native of Virginia, Rachel graduated from the College of William & Mary with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and honors in interdisciplinary studies.

The Center for Business, Government & Society is focused on meeting the evolving complexities facing business leaders in today’s global economy. In the context of globalization and technological advancement, business success increasingly depends on reconciling the interests of its immediate stakeholders with the broader, deeply intertwined interests of both governments and society. Business leaders adept at navigating these many interests will be better equipped and empowered to help build a more sustainable global economy.