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Powering the Future of Global Enterprise

David Farr has transformed a Fortune 500 company

David Farr
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Emerson

Vanderbilt MBA 1981

When he addressed Owen’s about-to-be graduates at Commencement 2018, David Farr began with a confession. Thinking back to his own graduation day in 1981, he said, “I was excited, I was grateful, I was scared, and I was a bit uncertain.” 

Perhaps that initial nervousness might seem unjustified, given Farr’s track record at Emerson Electric, the company he joined upon completing his Vanderbilt MBA. Progressing through a series of corporate staff and business unit management positions, he was appointed president of Emerson’s Asia-Pacific operations in 1993, which grew to represent nearly 40 percent of the company’s business under his leadership. Six years later, Farr became the company’s chief operating officer. In 2000, he was named Emerson’s CEO, and he has also chaired the Fortune 500 company’s board since 2004.

During his tenure, Farr has transformed Emerson from a diversified manufacturing conglomerate into a two-platform global enterprise that provides innovative technology and broad service solutions to customers in industrial, commercial and residential markets. In 2008, Institutional Investor magazine named him one of the Best CEOs in America in the electrical equipment and multi-industry field. He has chaired the board of the National Association of Manufacturers and is on the boards of the US-China Business Council and IBM.

What the excited and somewhat scared new MBA took from Vanderbilt in 1981 that served his career so well, Farr believes, is the “breadth of education” he received from Owen: “I came out with a very good core foundation in business — which I did not have coming in.”

For that reason, he adds, Emerson still recruits actively at Vanderbilt. “Owen has always done a good job of teaching the fundamentals and teaching teamwork, and people who come out of the school are good people to work with.”