Bill Lane: The Leader I’ll Follow Anywhere

As the USGLC Board of Directors gathers this week, we honor our outgoing co-chair, Bill Lane, who has just retired from Caterpillar after 40 years.

I first met Bill when he was running the USA Engage Campaign, a highly successful initiative to stop unilateral sanctions that were hurting American business and our foreign policy. It was during this work that Bill realized he couldn’t just be against something — he wanted to be for something.

I tried to bring him into our small but growing coalition at the USGLC that works to support International Affairs programs, since everyone wanted Bill Lane in their coalition. He didn’t make it easy — after all, 20 years ago, Caterpillar used to say, “trade NOT aid.” Either I won him over, or wore him down, but he’s now not only one of the biggest advocates for foreign aid (and of course still trade), but he’s also one of my dearest friends.

Bill just has “it”. He’s the total package: smart, savvy, personable. He has a story for everything, but he also has the facts to back it up. I’ve probably gone to more meetings with Bill than anyone else in the last two decades. I never know exactly what he’s going to say, but I know I will always learn something and I will always laugh.

His impact is unmatched. He’s highly respected as the premier trade lobbyist of our time, and anyone entering the field wants to emulate Bill. He knows the issues, builds alliances, mentors others, and knows how to make the sale.

For the USGLC, Bill has led the way in engaging the business community. At our State Leaders Summit last year, he shared why America must remain engaged:

We’ve done studies at Caterpillar. We’ve looked at what are the threats on the horizon that could really derail us. We only came up with one and that is if the U.S. were to turn inward… What we’ve found is that engagement and development actually pays huge dividends.

As one of the members of the HELP Commission in 2006, he brought thoughtful leadership and a curiosity that pushed the group to think beyond conventional norms. He was a catalyst for bridging the political divide, for driving consensus, and bringing commissioners to a common position — leading to a number of game-changing reforms that we see in our foreign assistance programs today.

On behalf of the USGLC, he’s met with everyone from Secretary Condoleezza Rice to Vice President Joe Biden, and most candidates running for president. He has traveled across the country speaking at forums as we have grown the coalition. And I know he’s met with literally hundreds of members of Congress to explain why “trade AND aid” together create opportunity around the world and here at home.

All along the way, he never forgot where he came from, always reminding us as a 40-year-long Caterpillar veteran that “the road to development begins with a road.” Fortunately, he remains as Chairman Emeritus, and he’ll have more time for us!

As he steps down after eight years as our Co-Chair, I’m reminded of the millions of people around the world who don’t just have a road — but a path out of poverty — thanks to the lifetime work of Bill Lane. I’m sure lucky to have been along for the ride.

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