Deere In The Headlines

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Deere & Company, the iconic American manufacturer of farm and lawn equipment, has asked three of the four credit unions using a portion of the John Deere name to change their names by the end of 2007.

The company, which stressed was not related to any problems at the credit unions, said it wants to avoid any implied direct affiliation or subsidiary relationship between the corporation and the credit unions.

The three credit unions are John Deere Community Credit Union, Waterloo, IA; the Deere Harvester Credit Union, East Moline, Ill., and the Deere Community Federated Credit Union, Ottumwa, Iowa. While all were chartered to serve employees of Deere & Co., they have all expanded their charters and now serve a variety of communities and SEGs.

The fourth Deere-related credit union, Deere & Co. CU, Moline, Ill., will also change its name but will be allowed to maintain the "Deere" reference because its field of membership is limited to Deere & Co. employees and their families.

"Deere & Co. continues to value the great services provided by the credit union to employees and to others in the community, and Deere will work cooperatively with the credit union to assure a smooth name transition," said Curtis G. Linke, VP-corporate communications at Deere & Company. "I wish to emphasize that the credit unions have done nothing wrong to bring this about. On the contrary, the credit unions have grown and become even more valuable to their members over the years. Deere & Co. recognizes this success and the quality of service, but simply needs to clarify the relationship with the company and avoid trademark confusion."

Linke told The Credit Union Journal that the company has been discussing this move internally and with the credit unions for a few months. "Part of my job is brand management. About five years ago we changed our brand for the first time in 30 years, and since then we have been focusing more on our brand and managing that brand," he offered. "We realized that there were a lot of issues all around the world (with respect to the Deere brand) and we just wanted to clean that up."

Linke suggested the entire process has been amicable between the corporation and the credit unions. "When we came to them about this, they said, 'Well, we can understand that, but if you want us to change it within six months, that's going to be a problem,'" he related. "But we told them we could be flexible about this. We understand they want to use up the rest of the checks and other stuff that has their current name on it. We didn't want this to be ugly in any way."

While credit union name changes are exceedingly common, CUs changing their names at the behest of their corporate sponsor is less common. Perhaps the most visible case was that of Northwest Airlines getting into multiple legal disputes with the former NWA FCU, in which the sponsor company initially asked the credit union to pay a licensing fee to continue using the NWA name. When the credit union refused to pay, the airline announced plans to force the credit union to move its offices out of Northwest Airlines-owned sites.

While the real estate issues were cleared up, the bad blood wasn't, and NWA FCU recently changed its name to Wings Financial FCU.

But such has not been the case with Deere & Company and its related CUs. "This wasn't like that all," Linke said. "If we had intended for this to be a fight, we wouldn't have given them until the end of 2007 to change their names. We didn't want this to be ugly. We value these credit unions."

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