Rosalind Fox isn’t a fan of public speaking.

But while she routinely gets anxious before speaking to groups, Fox accepts as many speaking engagements as her packed schedule will allow.

“I’m only here by the grace of God,” said Fox, factory manager at John Deere Des Moines Works’ Ankeny plant, which employs about 1,600 people who design, test and manufacture cotton harvesters and other farm-related equipment. “God has been so gracious in helping me achieve this level of success, I cannot not pay it forward.”

Fox was named factory manager at John Deere’s 3.5 million-square-foot Ankeny facility in September 2016 after previously serving in a similar position at the company’s plant in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., a facility considerably smaller than the one in Ankeny. The North Carolina plant, which produces commercial mowing and golf equipment, has about 400,000 square feet of space and 400 workers.

Few women have been factory managers at John Deere plants. And until Fox became a top plant manager, the position had never been held by a Black woman.

Fox said she realized the magnitude of her achievement after she’d been at the Ankeny plant a few months. 

“I realized that the level of responsibility and the weight of the position was a lot bigger,” she said. “I couldn’t shy away from what that meant, not only in terms of the business responsibilities but also having an impact and being a good corporate citizen from a Deere standpoint and a representative of Ankeny. … 

“So when people call and ask to speak, I just feel the gravity of the position requires me to accept as many of those requests as possible.”

In her teenage years, Fox wanted to be a nurse. Her father, who worked for the aerospace company Boeing, had other plans, she said. The people Fox’s father worked around were innovators “and for some reason, he thought I could do that type of work,” she said. 

“He told me that if he was going to pay for me to go to college, I was going to become an engineer, not a nurse. … I thought, ‘If it gets me to college, I’ll become an engineer.’”

Fox completed her undergraduate degree in five years. She said she wasn’t adequately prepared for the advanced math classes a degree in electrical engineering required. “I spent my first year playing catch-up.” 

She stayed at the University of Missouri to complete a master’s degree program and later obtained a second master’s degree from Northwestern University.

Just three women were in her undergraduate engineering classes.

When Fox speaks to engineering classes at Iowa State University and other institutions, 20% to 30% of students are female, she said.

“When students can see someone who looks like them doing something they’re interested in, they are definitely more confident that they can do it as well,” Fox said. “I always say, ‘You can’t be it unless you see it.’ And that’s why I say yes to those speaking requests – so that people can see a Black female engineer and they can aspire to do that, too.”


Education: University of Missouri, bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and master’s degree in industrial engineering; Northwestern University, master’s degree in business administration 
Hometown: Kinloch, Mo. 
Family: Husband, Claude Fox
Age: 52 
Hobbies: Loves to travel


WORDS TO LIVE BY
“To whom much is given, much will be required.” 
Luke 12:48


THREE AREAS OF INFLUENCE

Rosalind Fox encourages young people, particularly those of color, to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

She helped create the John Deere Inspire program through which company volunteers visit school classrooms where they involve students in activities like robotics competitions.  

She is active in Des Moines-area organizations, including sitting on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Grand View University, Wildwood Hills Ranch and Ankeny Economic Development Corp.