Planning and preparing for the next generation of leadership is something many dealerships must consider in order to keep pushing forward into the future of the business. One roadblock many dealers cite is the need for the next generation to gain experience before taking on a management role within the dealership. This is necessary both for the success of the next generation and the dealership, but also to gain the respect of other employees.
The following group of next generation dealers met this challenge by spending time away from the dealership working at other companies within the industry to gain experience and knowledge that has translated back into their current work at their dealerships.
Rick Rank, Case IH senior director of regional sales, says he sees this happening at many of the successful dealerships he works with. “It’s becoming a business model at the progressive dealerships,” he says. “It gives the next generation a good perspective on the other side of the table with the manufacturers.”
Exploring Your Options
Ritchie Implement, a 3-store Case IH dealership headquartered in Cobb, Wis., is in the midst of planning for its management succession with current owners Ron, Jon and Connie Ritchie bringing their children in to bigger roles within the dealership.
Ron’s son Tony Ritchie is currently in sales and management at the Cobb location and says he knew from a young age that he wanted to work at the dealership, but he also wanted to explore his options and gain some experience elsewhere before returning to the family business. After going to college and earning a business degree, Ritchie interned at Case IH in the combine marketing department and then worked full time in sales support for the farm equipment manufacturer.
“I always planned on coming back to the dealership, but I also wanted to get to know the ins and outs at Case IH and get to work for a different company,” he says.
Taking time to gain some outside experience before retuning to his family’s dealership helped prepare him with broader knowledge of how the industry works and gave him valuable contacts within the company. “I definitely benefitted by getting to know the product better and the people within the company, as well as the computer and ordering systems and processes,” Ritchie says. “I learned how to order products and also who to go to if you have questions.”
Working for the manufacturer also brought him into closer contact with other dealers. “I made lifelong connections within the organization and with the Case IH dealer network,” he says. “They’ve helped give me new ways of looking at the business and more broadly at the industry, both on the corporate and the dealership side.”
Gaining Exposure to the Industry
As a managerial student with over five summers worth of dealership experience under his belt at Birkey’s Farm Store, a Case IH dealership with 12 stores throughout Illinois and Indiana, future manager Dusty Foster had already established a strong familiarity with the day-to-day operations of a dealership in 2006.
So when CNH Parts and Service offered him a summer internship in parts marketing during his last summer of college, Foster was intrigued to say the least.
Anxious to see the industry from a new perspective, Foster took a break from the dealership and entered the fields of insider sales and liaison consulting. What followed was a 6-year journey full of experiences that took him across the country.
Learning on the go, Foster found himself quickly transitioning to new positions under the corporate umbrella. After joining CNH full time following his graduation from Purdue University in 2007, Foster utilized his foundation as an intern to jump into a sales support specialist role, stationed in Racine, Wis.
Almost a complete 180 degrees from his responsibilities back at Birkey’s, Foster describes a high-gear experience that saw him travel from Illinois to Oklahoma, meeting key players in the industry and learning the trades of equipment procurement, lead times and discount strategies, among others.
“Working corporately, you work farm shows and are constantly interacting with customers and understanding what they’re looking for,” Foster says. “Whether it’s a show where they talk about issues with a product and understanding how to handle it, it’s all about keeping a customer happy in the end.”
Foster eventually worked his way up from a liaison between dealers and the corporate office into an inside sales role, where he acted as a sales rep for smaller volume dealers who didn’t have an extended foundation of customers. After a few years of honing his sales abilities, Foster finished his corporate years as a marketer for combines.
While the working titles changed at Case IH, the opportunities to meet, interact and bond with a wide range of customers and coworkers remained a constant for Foster, and once he finally decided to come back to Birkey’s as a manager in 2013, he felt as if he was more than capable to take on the job as a result.
“Working with so many people who have so many years of experience in all kinds of situations, I would have to work 40 years to get the same experience,” Foster says. “Learning to handle some of those things has made it a lot easier for me to relate to customers and understand where they’re coming from, and build relationships where they can count on us as their dealer.”
Aside from the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of business management from a corporate perspective, Foster is also thankful for his years at Case IH because it provided him the outlet to see different parts of the industry firsthand.
Without it, Foster is unsure if he ever would’ve been able to reach his current position and level of experience.
“It was just something I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. I still keep in touch with a lot of them, and it’s not just work relationships, but getting to know people,” Foster says. “I really dove into what I was doing up there, really enjoyed it and made the most of it.”
Bringing Lessons Back
Jason Huber, general manager of Central Equipment Co. in Lexington, Ky., had spent more than 10 years working at the single-store John Deere and Kubota dealership owned by his uncle and father, Paul and Joe Huber, before leaving the dealership to gain outside experience.
In the June 2014 Farm Equipment article, “Transitioning to the Next Generation of Dealers,” Huber explained, “By the time I was nearing 30, I wasn’t happy with where I was as far as my growth at the dealership. I’d been offered a position with some of our shortline distributors we were doing business with and took a position with Pace Distributing and became the Ferris representative for Kentucky, southern Illinois and southern Indiana.
“It was a great experience because I was visiting 50-60 dealership regularly and got to see a lot of really good and some bad things at those dealerships,” he says “I saw things I never would have thought of had I stayed in our little area at our one store. I saw different management styles, different brands of equipment and different ways of doing business. It was a really good 4-year training program out in the real world.
“I brought a lot of the lessons I learned back to the dealership after working at Pace for 4 years. Working there was the best thing I could have done for myself. It was good to get away from the dealership for a while and not only work for somebody else, but to learn from somebody else.”
Finding New Ways to Operate
For Sean Young, branch manager of Young’s Equipment Inc. in Weyburn, Sask., the conversation of whether he was going to join his father, Tim Young, owner, at the 9-store Case IH dealership happened when he was just 12 years old. He knew even then that he wanted to pursue a career in farm equipment, but never felt tied down to the decision.
In the June 2014 Farm Equipment story, “Transitioning to the Next Generation of Dealers,” Young said in 2007 he went to work for Farm Credit Canada to learn a different aspect of the industry, and along the way reconfirmed that this was the industry he wanted to be involved in.
“I started out working in the lending department and then, after a year and a half, moved into process management and redesign, which involved finding efficiencies and creating policies and process documentation,” he said.
He said he was able to apply his experience as the dealership embarked on a program to document policies to make sure everything is written and clearly understood by all employees.
“We didn’t want to get stuck doing things the same way we had always done, and that was a big part of why I spent time working away from the dealership,” Young says. “That allowed me to see how other people do things and make sure that we’re doing things as efficiently as we could. It also gave me the opportunity to make sure it really was something that I still wanted to do.”